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Why India needs to grow more pulses

A study by the Tata Strategic Management Group shows that pulses provide a critical part of the protein requirement of Indians

It's shocking, but, in spite of the green revolution and betterment in standard of living, Indians today are consuming far less protein than they used to. Protein consumption in rural India has dropped from
63.5g / capita / day in 1983 to 55.8g / capita / day in 2005, and in urban India from 58.1 to 55.4g / capita / day during the same period.

A large proportion of the Indian population is vegetarian, and pulses are an important source of protein in their daily diet. India is the largest producer (~25 per cent of world production) and consumer (~30 per cent of world consumption) of pulses. However, per capita domestic production of pulses has dropped from 63g in 1951 to 36g in 2008.

pulses nutrition graph
Source: Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Agriculture Organization

If we consider some of the major sources of protein, pulses turn out to be one of the most economical for human consumption. Pulses are 18–25 per cent protein. Currently, however, only 11 per cent of Indians' protein needs are met by pulses. Their remaining needs are either met through other sources or not at all.

Protein content (by weight) Avg. price (Rs per kg) Avg. cost of protein consumption (Rs per 100g)
3.2% 24 75
Poultry meat 18-20% 100 53
14% 60 42
Pulses 18-25% 85 38
Source: Principles of Nutrition and Dietetics, primary research

Wholesome benefits
Besides high protein content, pulses are beneficial for human health in a variety of ways. Some of the nutritional benefits and corresponding health benefits are as follows:
Low fat / high complex carbohydrate content — weight control
Reduction of plasma cholesterol — cardiovascular health
Low glycemic index —diabetes prevention/control
Colonic bacterial fermentation — bowel health
Phytochemical content — cancer prevention

Pulse crops also increase soil fertility. The benefits from adopting pulses as a rotational crop include:
Increased supply of soil nitrogen through nitrogen fixation — approximately 40 kilogrammes of nitrogen per hectare
  Agronomic benefits for the succeeding crop:
Better crop quality; for instance, protein premium in wheat
Improved yield

Meeting the nation’s demand
The World Health Organization recommends 80g / capita / day of pulses consumption for Indians. Based on this recommendation and expected population growth, India will require about 38 million tonnes of pulses per year by FY 2018. Considering the current domestic production levels (15.1 million tonnes in 2007–08), this is a huge demand–supply gap that needs to be filled.

pulse projected demand grap
Source: Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Agriculture Organization, WHO, Tata Strategic analysis

If India has to meet the above projected domestic demand, it will have to double its acreage at current yield levels or double the yield at constant acreage. Since either of the above may not be feasible in isolation, the country needs to look at a combination of both.
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