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What can branding do for Indian pulses?

By Sreekumar Raghavan
July 27, 2010

My colleague Rutam Vora fresh from attending an ICICI Bank seminar on Indian pulses in Anand near Ahmedabad the other day,briefed me on what happened at the event. And what appealed to me was the thought that pulses could be branded and why no one thought of it before.

To South Indians like me, pulses are very dear -- who can resist the idli, vada combination with sambar or chutney with its appealing taste and aroma. But, in recent years pulses prices are sky-rocketing as supply demand-mismatch continues to be around 3 million tonnes annually which is met through imports from Canada, Myanmar, USA, Australia among others. With the result, percapita consumption of pulses in dwindling and resulting in lesser intake of cheap protein among Indians.

Most of the essential commodites that we use in our daily lives have gone through branding excercises including salt. Branding means creating value and creating value means ensuring more money flow down the value chain beginning from the grower to the trans-national company which markets the premium product. But is it as simple as it appears to be? Have our salt farmers lives improved because Tata or Hindustan Lever started branding salt? Have coffee, tea branding really changed the lives of our growers?

I think we need our MBAs and thinktanks to ponder over it and make an indepth study.

One obvious benefit of branding commodities is surely the value addition it creates and the obvious health benefits it bring. Most powdered salts available in the market are iodised and it has contributed in no small measure to preventing goiter-- the inflammation of thyroid gland that continues to haunt our nation. But crystal salt is still available in plenty for those who want it from our neighbourhoud khiranas.

Pulses are not the only one that has not gone through branding excercise in a major way-- sugar is another essential commodity. But sugar substitutes (zero calorie pellets) are branded and they create immense health benefits for our nation.

If pulses like urad, tur, moong dal, chana are branded-- it may lead to immense value generation and innovation. Just as Spices were added to beverages like tea and coffee to generate value and command market premium. When pulses production is stagnant at around 14-15 mn tonnes and gap with actual demand of 18 mn tonnes met through imports, the farmer in Saskatchewan (Canada) or Myanmar is really gaining as our imports make major swings in global markets. Our farmer is no better off as minimum support price declared by government is often lesser than the market price.

ICRISAT In Hyderabad and Indian Institute of Pulses Research (IIPR) have in recent times come out with some high yielding pulses varieties. Notable among them-- IIPR has come out with new disease resistant mungbean, urdbean, lentil and chickpea which are at various stages of adaptation.
Scientists like M S Swaminathan have pointed out that Green Revolution bypassed pulses in India. May be now is the time to re-orient our thinking with a combination of high-yielding varieties and branding which will perhaps prompt more farmers into pulses cultivation. And this is a hope worth pursuing.

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