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Pulses: A world view

India is strongly dependent on the import of pulses from developed countries, says a report by Tata Strategic Management Group

India is the world’s largest producer of pulses; as much as 25 per cent of the world’s output is grown on Indian soil. Vegetarian Indians drive demand for pulses, making India the largest consumer of pulses at 30 per cent of global consumption.


The Food and Agriculture Organization defines pulses as crops harvested solely for the dry grain (that is, excluding green beans and green peas). Dry beans (including mung beans and urd beans), dry peas, chickpeas and broad beans account for over 70 per cent of world production. Of these, dry peas are mainly grown in developed countries, while chickpea, lentil and dry beans are mostly grown in developing countries.

The global production of pulses has remained stagnant over the last decade, at around 56 million tonnes (2007 figure), primarily due to the flat growth in India’s production.

Across the globe, five countries account for 50 per cent of global pulse production. India is the world leader, with a 25 per cent share of world production; the other major pulse-producing countries are China, Canada, Brazil and Myanmar. The world acreage for pulses was estimated at about 72 million hectares in 2007, with India having 23.2 million hectares under pulses.

India consumes about 30 per cent of global pulses production. China and Brazil are a distant second in consumption, with a 6 per cent share each.

Canada is the largest exporter of pulses in the world, with a 26 per cent share of total exports, valued at $1.2 billion in 2007. Nearly 27 per cent of Canada’s exports are to India. Other major pulse-exporting countries include China, Myanmar, Australia and the US. The Indian government has banned the export of pulses, except for a particular type of chickpea, to ensure availability in the domestic market.

yield major pulses

High yields
The average global yield was 819kg / ha (in 2005–2007), with Canada and the US having yields of around 1900kg / ha. France achieves a much higher yield, of ~4000kg / ha, but on a smaller production base, of less than 1 million tonnes. Indian yields are much lower, at approximately 600kg / ha.

Subsistence farming in developing countries versus a market-driven approach in developed countries, as well as climatic conditions and the level of infrastructure development, have resulted in wide variation in yields across countries. Some of the major factors affecting yield are:

Climate / soil
Timely availability / usage of high-yielding-variety (HYV) seeds
Investment in mechanisation, irrigation, pest management and other farming methods
Crop-specific effects
Changes in cropping patterns, e.g. double cropping, short duration pulses
Level of development / infrastructure, including efficient supply-chain and market mechanisms

India has a long way to go to catch up with the capabilities displayed by best-in-class countries such as Canada and the US.

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