As India prepares to host the second edition of the Pulses Conclave, IPGA Chairman Pravin Dongre provides IFT readers with a privileged preview.

By Dario Bard

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When it comes to the global pulse trade, India is in the driver’s seat. This nation of more than 1.25 billion inhabitants is the world’s top pulse producer, generating an average of 18.5 million MT of pulses each year.

As impressive as this figure is, India’s production falls short of satisfying its domestic demand. This is because, in addition to being the world’s number one pulse producer, India is also the world’s top pulse consumer, with a domestic demand of 22 million MT per year. And because it requires more than 3 million MT to make up the difference between internal production and domestic demand, it is also the world’s top pulse importer. Factor in the rest of the Indian subcontinent and this part of the world accounts for more than 40% of the world’s pulse imports.

Thus, when Pravin Dongre, Chairman of the India Pulses and Grains Association (IPGA), expresses the belief that all pulse exporting nations look to India as their top priority market, he has the numbers to back it up.

It is no wonder, then, that the IPGA’s Pulses Conclave is fast becoming the international pulse industry’s premier event. As industry members from all corners of the world prepare to head to Goa, India for the second edition of the Conclave (February 19-21), International Food Trader had a chance to interview Dongre about this year’s event and the important issues currently facing India’s pulse industry.

IFT: Could you tell me a bit about the IPGA and its activities?

Pravin Dongre: The IPGA was established in 2011 and was formerly known as the Pulses Importers Association. After the 2006 CICILS convention in Goa, the Pulses Importers Association began to consider expanding the scope of activities with a holistic approach and elevating the status of the trade body. Around 2009 or 2010, some of the progressive-minded players decided to transform the association into a truly representative and comprehensive national body to represent the interests of all stakeholders. Grains have synergy with pulses in terms of production, processing and consumption, so we expanded to include them. However, for the moment, our focus remains on pulses.

Primarily, the IPGA provides the government with policy inputs. We work closely with various central government ministries, including Agriculture, Food and Consumer Affairs, Commerce, etc., as well as with departments of various State governments. IPGA has a presence on some of the most important government committees.

Recently, the IPGA has strengthened its secretariat and is expanding its membership base. We have plans to network with research institutions for the benefit of the industry. One important area in this respect is productivity; right now, India produces 600 to 700 kg of pulses per hectare compared to an average of 1200 kgs worldwide and 1800 to 1900 kgs per hectare in Canada. So we would like to boost our production.

Another important area is data collection and dissemination, especially of trade data. That’s a top priority for us. What we’d like to see down the road is an electronic platform that brings Indian and international traders together in a transparent manner.

IFT: What are the origins of the Pulses Conclave?

Pravin Dongre: Because India is the world’s largest producer, importer and consumer of pulses, at the IPGA, the national apex body for the pulses industry and trade, we decided that it would be most appropriate to hold a pulses conclave in India. The purpose of the conclave is to showcase what India and the IPGA are capable of.

The first Pulses Conclave was a mega hit. It was held in Mumbai in 2012 and more than 600 delegates attended, including 150 international participants, representing all stakeholders in the value chain: producers, processors, exporters, importers, traders and service providers. It was a stunning display of India’s capability. It not only turned the world’s attention to India, but also brought renewed focus.

IFT: And what’s new for the 2014 Pulses Conclave?

Pravin Dongre: The purpose is to reaffirm India’s critical position in the world market and our goal is to bring together stakeholders from all over the world. This time around, the content has broader appeal and the topics are more thought provoking. We are expecting more than 800 delegates from India and abroad, with international guests arriving from Australia, Canada, China, Myanmar, and Russia, as well as a number of West Asian and African countries. The conclave will be inaugurated by India’s Minister for Agriculture Mr. Sharad Pawar, a political heavy-weight and an indication of the importance the Indian government places on the pulses conclave. We also have a line-up of speakers, both from India and abroad, that will share their in-depth knowledge and hands-on experience. The topics that will be covered include domestic and world pulse market dynamics, the latest research advances, adding value, managing risks, currency dynamics, origin presentations and much more. There will also be a “Price Outlook” for major pulse products that will feature forecasts by highly respected market experts with hands-on experience. There will also be a gala dinner that promises to be a colorful event, with entertainment and award presentations to honor those who have made outstanding contributions to the international pulses industry and trade.

IFT: Could you discuss the meaning behind the motto for this year’s conclave: Converge, connect, capitalize?

Pravin Dongre: Converge refers to the invitation for stakeholders to come to India to share a common platform. Connect refers to the chance the conclave offers participants to interact and network. And finally, capitalize refers to the business opportunities that can potentially arise from connections made at the conclave.

IFT: What are the biggest challenges facing India’s pulse industry?

Pravin Dongre: The challenges include low productivity, inadequate supply chain management, the need to modernize dal mills to capture economies of scale, and the need to increase per capita consumption, which is currently low, at 14 kg per person per year. We aim to increase that consumption figure to 20 kg, which is the minimum amount recommended by nutritionists. At IPGA, we are working to address all of these issues.

IFT: I understand the Indian Agriculture Ministry had proposed import duties on pulses. What happened there?

Pravin Dongre: What happened is that someone in the ministry thought that imposing custom duties on imports would keep farm-gate prices from falling, because for some pulses, farm-gate prices had fallen below the minimum set by the government. We made an effective presentation to the government advising against the import duty, and the proposal was dropped. We argued that the import duty would be counterproductive because food inflation is still high in India. Instead, we recommended lifting the ban on pulse exports; you see, since 2007, all pulse exports except for the export of kabuli chickpeas, were banned. Lifting the ban on exports will automatically support market prices and help growers earn better profits.

The government heard us. In November 2013, it permitted the import of unprocessed pulses so they could be processed in India and re-exported. That is a positive first step. It allows the dal milling industry, which has a significant part of its capacity sitting idle, to use that capacity for processing. So, India is now in the export market, although its domestically grown pulses are still not exported.

IFT: What does the future hold for India’s pulse industry?

Pravin Dongre:In the world of international pulses, India is a force to be reckoned with. The country has immense potential to produce more and consume more pulses. If there is one country in the world that is primed to take a “quantum leap” in terms of pulses, it is India. The IPGA, as the national apex body, will play a pivotal role and catalyze the transformation of India’s pulses sector, making it globally competitive.

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Dario Bard, IFT Journalist