food outlook No.4, December 2005 
global information and early warning system on food and agriculture(GIEWS)

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Other relevant agricultural commodities

Ocean freight rates


Special features

Statistical appendix


Pulses: past trends and future prospects

A recent FAO study on world markets for pulses, presented at the 4th International Food Legumes Research Conference held in New Delhi on 18-22 October 2005, reviewed the situation in international markets for pulses over the period 1980-2004 and discussed some of the main challenges facing this important food sector. The main findings of the report include:

  • World total pulse production increased by one-half since 1980, reaching a record level in 2004. The growth was much faster in the developed and in the developing countries. Notable differences in yields between the two country groupings were identified as one of the factors for this development.

  • Overall, per caput food consumption of pulses stagnated in the developing countries with drastic declines in some regions, especially in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. These trends reflect changing dietary patterns and consumer preferences but, in several countries, also the failure of domestic production to keep pace with population growth. By contrast, per caput pulse consumption has increased in the group of industrialized countries.

  • Developing countries have been increasingly relying on imports to meet their growing pulse requirements. The expansion in import demand has provided an incentive for many countries (developing included) to expand their pulse exports. Trade of pulses has grown faster than output, and therefore the proportion of pulse production that goes into international markets has increased significantly. Nevertheless, pulse trade remains a relatively thin market, when compared to other food commodities, namely grains.

  • Looking ahead, food consumption of pulses, on per capita basis, is expected to stay at current levels in the Near East/North Africa and Latin America and Caribbean regions, whereas it is likely to fall further in South Asia because of a shift to consumption of higher value livestock products. In sub-Saharan Africa, per caput consumption is projected to increase, reversing the declining trend experienced in recent years.

  • On the supply side, constraints to productivity growth and production in the developing countries are expected to persist in the future, unless corrective measures are taken. Consequently, the recent trend in pulse imports by this group of countries will most probably continue in order to meet their rising demand.

  • In developing countries pulse production and consumption have a significant impact on the food security of the poorer sections of the population who rely on vegetable sources to cover their protein and energy requirements. It is therefore recommended that the development of new pulse varieties and cultivation technologies be reinforced by adequate policies, support programmes in education and training of farmers, improved supply of input and credit and the development of appropriate marketing channels.

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    More detailed findings of the study can be accessed through the FAO website at:

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