One of the global pulse industry’s most influential leaders speaks about meeting the world’s future food challenges.

By Dario Bard

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The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that if we are to feed the 9.6 billion people projected to inhabit the planet by 2050, global agricultural production must achieve an increase of 60% over 2005 and 2007 levels. Pulses can play an important role in this regard, according to Huseyin Arslan, who eloquently described how at a side event held at the FAO headquarters in Rome this past October.

“A large yield gap in pulse cultivation persists between developing and developed countries,” said Arslan in Rome. “This gap could be bridged by fostering the dissemination of improved varieties and the adoption of better management techniques. Productivity gains in countries such as India, where kilogram per hectare yield is a third of that achieved in countries such as Canada or the United States, could have substantial positive implications for food security and rural development.”

As Executive Chairman of AGT Food and Ingredients, one of the largest pulse companies in the world, and Executive Vice President of the Global Pulses Confederation (CICILS), Arslan is in a position to convince high-level decision makers about the untapped potential pulses have to address some of the world’s most pressing food-related challenges. In addition to tripling production of a protein source in two of the world’s fastest growing economies (India and China), pulses, says Arslan, can also, “ … lower the risk of diabetes and heart disease, while their lower carbon and water footprint relative to other sources of protein make them ideal for environmentally sustainable farming.”

As the Global Pulses Confederation (GPC) prepares for the fast approaching International Year of Pulses (IYOP) in 2016, the industry is fortunate to have someone with Arslan’s vast experience in a leadership role. His involvement in the pulse trade began in his hometown of Mersin, the biggest port city in Turkey, a country strategically positioned as a gateway to the important pulse markets of the Mid-East and North Africa, as well as a large pulse market in its own right; it is the second largest market for Canadian lentils behind India, and also imports pulses from other important origins, such as Australia, the U.S. and Russia.

Photo (left to right): Katia Sambin of ACOS; Charles Ogang, President of the Ugandan National Farmers Federation; Minister Plenipotentiary Aseffa of Ethiopia; Gord Kurbis of Pulse Canada; and Huseyin Arslan of Alliance Grain Traders.

“Turkey has a long history with pulses,” says Arslan. He notes that the earliest cultivation of pulse crops in the country dates back 7,000 to 10,000 years. It is no surprise, then, that Turkey, together with Pakistan, played a key role in bringing the IYOP motion before the United Nation’s General Assembly.

Arslan’s involvement with the pulse industry began at Arbel Pulse and Grain, an agribusiness company owned by his family. From the 1980s to the 1990s, Turkey’s pulse industry grew dramatically, becoming a major global supplier of pulses, particularly lentils. By 1990, this small family company, through a series of expansions and investments, became the largest processor and exporter of Turkish lentils. Eventually, Arbel evolved into AGT Food and Ingredients, a leading company in the global pulse trade.

IFT spoke with Arslan in depth about his professional experiences and what he sees as the biggest opportunities for the global pulse industry heading into IYOP in 2016.

IFT: Could you tell me about the origins of AGT Food and Ingredients and how it became one of the largest pulse companies in the world?

Arslan: In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Turkey’s lentil production began to wane and production in Canada, particularly Saskatchewan, began to grow rapidly. At the same time, I recognized that in order to remain strong in the global lentil trade, we had to look beyond Turkish production to emerging origins abroad. As a result, Arbel became the largest buyer of Saskatchewan lentils; we would ship product to Turkey to have it processed there. Then, in 2001, our family business, Arbel Pulse and Grain, invested US$ 1 million in Canada to establish Saskcan Pulse Trading, the precursor to AGT Food and Ingredients. As part of that effort, we also provided the technology required to process and split lentils, which we had honed in Turkey over decades of production, as well as our global contacts of buyers in every lentil and pulse market in the world. By 2002, the first large-scale lentil splitting facility in the Americas was commissioned and constructed in Regina, Saskatchewan, and by 2004 Saskcan Pulse Trading had become bigger than our family company back in Turkey, and grew into one of the largest pulse and staple food producers and exporters in the world. In 2007, Saskcan merged with another lentil processor from the province and formed Alliance Grain Traders, which is a public company in Canada on the Toronto Stock Exchange. I was named its Executive Chairman in 2009, the same year Alliance Grain Traders merged with Arbel in what is likely the largest Canadian direct foreign investment in Turkey’s agri-food sector. That’s how we became the global leader in value-added pulses, staple foods and food ingredients that we are today. And then, in 2014, Alliance Grain Traders changed the company name to AGT Food and Ingredients to better reflect our business focus on pulses, staple foods, retail packaged goods and, most importantly, pulse ingredients such as protein, fiber and starch.

Presently, AGT operates 34 facilities around the globe, including Canada, the U.S., Turkey, Australia, South Africa and China, with offices in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Russia, India, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Egypt and Sri Lanka, as well as a network of brokers and agents in virtually every pulse consuming market in the world.

IFT: How did you become involved with Global Pulses Confederation (CICILS) and assume the leadership position you hold?

Arslan: As an important company in the global pulse sector, we have always been a CICILS member. The CICILS Executive Committee suggested that I be named Vice President and the membership elected me at the general assembly.

IFT: What do you see as the biggest challenges and opportunities facing the international pulse trade today?

Arslan: From a global perspective, the challenges that exist are the same everywhere—transportation, supply and the overall economy. Today, for the most part, pulse production takes place far from ports in Canada and the U.S. The biggest consumption markets for those production origins, meanwhile, remain Turkey, the MENA region and India and subcontinent markets. Transportation delays affect the ability of importers to obtain products they want when they want them. This is compounded by long transit periods. So really, the overall transportation and logistics chain is a challenge.

The global economy is a challenge as well, as was demonstrated by the European banking crisis in recent years. Emerging markets, the very markets that are buyers and consumers of pulses, and the importers who are customers of pulses, had difficulty obtaining the credit needed to continue their purchase programs, which affected trade volumes and the pulse sector overall.

Production levels appear to be strong again this year, which is positive news for the global sector as demand appears to not be waning and the overall opportunities ahead, for the pulse sector as part of a solution on food security, nutrition and feeding the world may be significant.

CICILS has identified four major areas that we must address: food security; traditional and non-traditional consumption; health and nutrition; and environmental sustainability.

In terms of food security, as the population grows, the challenge for agriculture is increasing the food supply with relatively little additional cropland available due to increased urbanization. Additionally, the middle class is expected to increase from 1.8 billion to 3.2 billion by 2020, and 4.9 billion by 2030; 85% of that growth will come from Asia. Consequently, global middle class spending looks to grow from US$ 21 trillion today to an estimated US$ 56 trillion by 2030. In India, about 5% of the population is middle class today, but that percentage is set to expand dramatically. India is expected to be the world’s largest middle class consumer market by 2030, adding more than 1 billion people to the global middle class. As the middle class grows, world consumption of high-quality protein will increase. It is our experience that as incomes rise, consumers want not only more proteins and nutritious foods in their diet, but also better quality products. Pulses can address this demand in a sustainable, environmentally-friendly way. This is particularly evident in countries where pulses are traditionally consumed. It cannot be denied that local production, in many of these cases, is inadequate. Demand is rising and with insufficient domestic supply, imports are needed to feed these populations. Pulses can play an important role in an overall strategy to feed a growing population. Additionally, nutrition is a component in dealing with so many other societal issues that may arise—poverty, education, health and disease, and social instability.

IFT: How do you think IYOP can help the industry prepare to meet these challenges?

Arslan: Education about global food security and overall supply, and the trends we are seeing, is going to be vital to the initiatives that so many governments around the globe are undertaking to address these issues. IYOP provides an opportunity to discuss these issues and identify solutions with the goal of effecting change; however, this will require concerted action, partnerships and longterm commitments at the level of national governments, UN agencies, NGOs, farmers and the private sector, including processors, exporters and customers. I believe IYOP will help draw attention to pulses, and to the growers, importers and others involved in the supply and distribution chain, and promote this vital, nutritious food product not only in the markets that traditionally consume them, but also in North America and Europe.

Pulse markets are certainly changing again, as they did when non-traditional origins like Canada began to become major pulse exporters. Today, we see more consumers turning to pulses as a nutritious food that can be grown in an environmentally sustainable way, and global food companies are increasingly replacing other products with pulse ingredients like flour, protein and fiber.

IFT: In your Oct. 8th presentation at the FAO side event on market access and stability, you touched on several interesting issues. Could you elaborate on the need to address trade barriers?

Arslan: Pulses play an important role in food security, they are a trade commodity, moving from countries of production to countries of consumption. This is the new reality in the pulse sector; pulses are no longer grown entirely where they are consumed. In order to facilitate the movement of pulses in this way, the difficulties and unpredictability in trade become major obstacles to increasing pulse consumption, ensuring supply in consumption markets and supporting pulse farmers and the sector overall. This needs to be tackled at several levels. Through the Joint Meeting on Pesticide Residues and the Codex Committee on Pesticide Residues, issues related to Minimum Residue Limits can be addressed. Also, through national policies to strengthen markets and building futures systems to improve visibility, predictability and stability can be achieved. Further, tackling non-tariff trade barriers that impede the pulse trade needs to be part of our priorities. This will require devoting specific attention and resources to this topic to ensure progress is made. We believe now is the time for Codex to start planning for the needs of pulse crops in 2016 and beyond.

A futures system for pulses is a difficult concept due to the number and diversity of pulses traded and consumed in the world. It is further complicated by the fact that different pulses make up the core of consumption in different markets in the world, making them a little different from other agri-food commodities that have their futures market systems. This is an issue that is going to require significant discussion and will require all players in the global pulses sector to agree on how this may be accomplished to the benefit of all involved. CICLS will certainly play an important role in this process and continue its work in advancing the global pulses sector overall.

IFT: What message would you like to leave IFT readers with?

Arslan: Pulses are non-GMO, gluten-free and high in micro nutrients. They are also produced sustainably. This is the message that needs to get out in the marketplace.

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Dario Bard, IFT Journalist

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