In its third edition, this biennial affair is fast becoming the international pulse industry’s premier event.

By Dario Bard

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The India Pulses and Grains Association (IPGA) held its 2016 Pulses Conclave from February 17th to the 19th in Jaipur, India. IPGA Director Sunil Sawla declared the event “a huge success” and reports that more than 1,100 delegates were on hand for the occasion, representing 25 pulse-producing and pulse-consuming countries. These delegates were joined by 300 to 400 international business leaders from the major pulse-producing countries as well as 700 to 800 stakeholders from India’s pulse-industry value chain, including farmers, agri-warehousing and logistics organizations, brand owners and agri-research institutes, among others.

“The response to this year’s Conclave has been overwhelming,” said Sawla. “We are seeing growth of 25% to 30% from one Conclave to the next.”

Pulse Canada CEO Gordon Bacon called this third edition of the Pulses Conclave “the single largest gathering of global pulse traders in the industry’s history.” This is not surprising, given India’s position as the world’s leading pulse producer, consumer and importer. Global Pulse Confederation (GPC) President Hüseyin Arslan was particularly impressed with the growing strength and engagement of domestic market traders and millers.

“This is an important year for our industry,” said Arslan, alluding to the United Nation’s declaration of 2016 as the International Year of Pulses. Events like the Pulses Conclave, he noted, have gotten 2016 off to a solid start. In fact, the United Nations named the Pulses Conclave one of the ten IYP signature events. The importance of IYP was evident in the Conclave’s official slogan: Powering India to Self-sufficiency.

“The Opening Ceremony was by far the best attended portion of the plenary,” reported Arslan. The inaugural event was led by IPGA Chairman Pravin Dongre, who was joined by a number of other dignitaries in a lamp lighting ceremony that symbolically imbued the event with positive energy and success, and protected it from adversity.

For those who couldn’t make it to Jaipur for the Conclave, IFT offers the following rundown of the major events.

Keynote Address by GPC President Hüseyin Arslan

In his remarks, GPC President Arslan spoke of the global pulse sector’s promising future. He noted that current trends are changing the way pulses are positioned in the wider food sector. For instance, plant-based protein sources are becoming increasingly popular with consumers, as evidenced by the growth of the hummus market in North America. Further, the rise in allergies and conditions like Celiac disease, as well as opposition to GMOs and support for sustainable agriculture, have also contributed significantly to the popularity of pulses among consumers. This can be seen in the growth of the market for plant-based protein, which expanded by 61% from 2010 to 2014.

But to capitalize on these emerging opportunities, the industry must do more on the supply-side of the equation, warned Arslan. He closed by stressing the importance of securing greater research funding to improve pulse varieties.

Special Address by G. Chandrashekhar

In his special address, G. Chandrashekhar, renowned agribusiness and commodity market specialist, addressed the proverbial elephant in the room.

“In recent months, India has attracted the world’s attention, but for all the wrong reasons,” he began.  

Chandrashekhar noted that in general India’s food sector is fragile, and this is especially the case for the pulse sector. Demand for pulses is on the rise in India, but production has not kept up. With two consecutive years of subpar pulse harvests, supplies are particularly tight at present and prices have increased accordingly.

“This hurts the poor and compromises their nutritional security,” said Chandrashekhar. “The country faces pervasive under-nutrition with serious protein and calorie deficiency.”

With domestic inventories tighter than usual, India has had to increase pulse imports to bridge the supply-demand gap. In fact, India’s pulse imports are currently coming in at a record pace. In response, the government has stepped in with stock limits in an effort to ease food inflation.

“Recent events have made the pulse industry and trade within India and overseas rather apprehensive about the government’s policy actions,” said Chandrashekhar. “The sentiment has turned negative and the uncertainty is demoralizing. The sooner the trade regains its confidence the better.”   

He concluded on a hopeful note: “I am reminded of a proverb: Tough times don’t last; tough men do. The present crisis provides the Indian pulse trade association an opportunity to be introspective and come up with plans to maximize the welfare gains for all stakeholders.”

In closing, Chandrashekhar called for a long-term policy plan for the pulse sector’s entire value chain to include investments in research, public outreach, facility modernization and market intelligence.

Following Chandrashekhar’s remarks, there was a buzz in the Conclave about the pace of India’s pulse imports, which many felt would likely slow due in part to the significant losses that have resulted from the disparity between international and domestic prices. Further, the Indian rupee is expected to undergo a significant devaluation in the near future. The general feeling, therefore, was that unless some catastrophic weather event or other destabilizing factor were to occur, global pulse markets would likely normalize in April.

International Year of Pulses

IYP kicked off on January 6th with its international Pulse Feast campaign. On that day, people throughout the world gathered with family and friends for a meal featuring pulse-based dishes and posted images of the occasion on social media. Speaking on the first day of the Conclave, Robynne Anderson of Emerging Ag, the communications firm managing IYP outreach, reported that on that day alone, the Pulse Feast social media campaign reached 21 million people in 36 countries.

Since Pulse Feast, individual countries having been holding their own IYP launch events, and India’s took place on the last day of the Conclave with the culmination of a nationwide pulse-based food competition. On February 19th, the six teams that had qualified for the finals prepared their best pulse-based dishes in Jaipur. The team from Bangalore’s Institute of Hotel Management was declared the winner for its Adzuki Coins. Team members Alok Prasad, Aseem Kumar, Harsh Bansal and Saurabh Agarwal used adzuki beans, red split lentils, black gram and other ingredients to make their winning snack product.


Photo: Winning snack product, Adzuki Coins (photo credit: Sunil Sawla)

“The depth of the innovation and creativity was striking,” said IPGA Chairman Dongre.  “It was an honor to recognize the team from Bangalore among the 36 entries initially received. This is one step on the nutrition side of food security and IPGA will also be working to increase productivity in pulses in India – a vital issue to national and international food security.”

The food competition was organized in collaboration with the GPC, the International Development Research Centre of Canada, and the McGill Centre for the Convergence of Health and Economics.

“There is really a bright future for the Indian food sector,” said Dr. Chris Lannon of the McGill Centre. “With outstanding entries from all regions of India, it was clear that there are exceptional young thinkers working on new uses for pulses.”

In addition to the food competition, IPGA celebrated IYP with the signing of two memoranda of understanding, one with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and the other with the International Trade Centre (ITC).


Photo: Bangalore’s Institute of Hotel Management

“The MOU with ICRISAT,” said IPGA Director Sawla, “signals the intention of the IPGA to drive research in new varieties and increase pulses production in India so that supply can keep pace with demand. The MOU with the ITC strengthens private sector collaboration and development work.”

What’s more, this year’s Pulses Conclave coincided with Make in India Week, a government initiative to encourage foreign investment in in-country innovation, design and manufacturing. Thus far, the initiative generated more than US$ 200 billion in business commitments. In his message to attendees, IPGA Chairman Dongre said the Pulses Conclave would serve as a catalyst for the Make in India initiative, attracting “global agri-business to invest in India and leverage our remarkable pulse-production capabilities.”

Presentations and Panel Discussions

IPGA Director Sawla informed IFT that the most highly anticipated items on the agenda were the origin presentations and panel discussions, with delegates anxious to hear about crop sizes and prospective prices. With India’s rabi harvest underway, there was considerable interest in the presentations and panel discussions on India’s pulse crops, he says.

After the Conclave, Shakun Dalal of SD Consultants told IFT, “The rabi crop volume will be below expectations, below government estimates and below average. This marks the second consecutive harvest cycle in which production has been below average due to weather conditions; in both 2014/15 and 2015/16, annual production came in more than 2 million MT below 2013/14 levels.”

Dalal reported that the most talked about topic outside the conference hall was the stock limits imposed by the Indian government, which have brought pulse imports to a standstill.

“Every importer I met was worried, as the flow of business has been disrupted, resulting in tight cash flows as wholesalers have slowed buying to stick to the stock limits,” she says.

In general, pulse inventories are currently tight throughout the world and plantings in 2016 are expected to increase on strong demand. Green peas are the lone exception; currently, there are ample stocks and the drop in prices below those of yellow peas will probably result in fewer green pea plantings around the world. Nishant Singhal of Shri Niwas Dall & Besan Mill shared a detailed list of his takeaways from the presentations and panel discussions with IFT. These are summarized in the table below.

Desi chickpeas
  • India’s 2015/16 crop estimated at 8.09 million MT.
  • Australia’s 2015/16 crop estimated at 12 million MT.
  • Pakistan’s 2016 imports projected at 200,000 MT.
  • Aggressive buying expected from Pakistan due to crop failure there.
Kabuli chickpeas
  • India’s 2015/16 crop estimated at 450,000 MT.
  • Australia’s 2015/16 crop estimated at 45,000 MT.
  • Mexico’s 2015/16 crop estimated at 85,000 MT.
  • International buying may shift from Mexico to India on lower prices; India’s kabuli chickpeas priced US$ 100 to US$ 150 per MT less than Mexican kabuli chickpeas.
  • India’s production expected to be up on increased plantings.
  • Canada’s plantings also expected to increase.
  • China’s imports were down in 2015 due to economic slowdown.
  • Baltic nations expected to export more as government subsidy encourages growers there to plant pulses on at least 10% of their farmland.
  • Russia’s production expected to increase; harvest to begin in March.
  • Australia’s 2015/16 crop estimated at 204,500 MT.
  • Surging pea prices have resulted in earlier forward contracting.
  • India’s production expected to increase.
  • Canada expected to end marketing year with tight stocks.
  • Canada’s 2016/17 red lentil crop estimated at 2.138 million MT.
  • Canada’s 2016/17 green lentil crop estimated at 628,000 MT.
  • Red lentil prices in India are down on high import volume; Canadian exporters worried.
Pigeon Peas
  • India’s production expected to be subpar and supplies are expected to remain tight for second consecutive year.
  • India’s imports from Myanmar and Africa are expected to be high.
  • Myanmar’s crop estimated at between 250,000 and 350,000 MT.
  • Tanzania’s 2016/17 crop estimated at 70,000 MT.
  • Kenya’s 2016/17 exports estimated at 18,000 MT.
  • Mozambique 2016/17 exports estimated at 75,000 MT.
  • Malawi’s 2016/17 exports estimated at 70,000 MT.
  • Uganda’s 2016/17 exports estimated at 14,000 MT.
Black Matpe and Green Gram
  • India’s black matpe rabi crop is expected to increase.
  • Myanmar’s 2016 black matpe production estimated at 650,000 MT.
  • Myanmar’s 2016 green gram production estimated at 350,000 MT.
  • Myanmar is an important origin for India’s black matpe and green gram imports.
  • Myanmar’s new government is expected to undertake regulatory reforms to facilitate trade.
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Dario Bard, IFT Journalist