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Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN Forum)

My purpose here is to outline a framework of action to increase the production and consumption of pulses.  It leaves lacunae, into which one can fit specific actions suitable with respect to an area’s geography, climate and the food culture as well as the other area specific requirements. The high dietary value of pulses and its role in several food cultures are too well-known to be described.

Let me first look at some policy measures that could facilitate the achievement of our two-fold objective. I envisage here a raft of policies acting in harmony towards the same goal. But, before we undertake any suitable policy formulation and implementation, it is crucial to device an appropriate strategy to ensure that there will be little or no intra- or inter-policy disharmony among them.

Without this, our failure is certain, even if everything else needed for success is there. I believe we need to invite the ministers and their departmental heads of a country to agree at least not to make policies that will hinder us from achieving our objective, viz., increased production and consumption of pulses.  Once we can be certain of this, and the information required for ascertaining the land area available to cultivation of pulses, species best suited for local conditions and food culture, and human and other material resources needed, one may consider the following policy options:

Agriculture policy:

  1. Appropriate institutional or on-the-job training on the cultivation of suitable pulses. It is important that modernization should not be capital-intensive as our purpose is not to increase the unemployment rate among the farming population.
  2. Mechanism to establish and expand sound agriculture extension services.
  3. Making seed of suitable species available to growers at affordable prices.
  4. Support growers of pulses to establish local cooperatives to carry out basic processing of their crops like husking etc., and selling it as a fair price.

Trade Policy:

  1. Restrictions on import/manufacture and sale of industrial food injurious to health and threatens the local food culture.
  2. Financial and/or other incentives to cafes and restaurants that serve certain minimal quantity of pulses-based food.

Education policy:

  1. Incorporation of compulsory health education into school curricula, where sound dietary habits could be taught. Consumption of pulses could be included here where it is appropriate.
  2. Practical examples of sound dietary habits may be taught at school as was demonstrated by EU programmed, “We Love Eating.”
  3. General public education on the merits of pulses accompanied by free recipes and food exhibitions. This educational effort may be a coordinated action by agriculture, health, trade and education ministries.
  4. School cafeterias and canteens ought to serve more pulse-based dishes.

Health policy:

  1. Medical profession and other relevant health personnel ought to be required to advise patients and public on the merit of local pulse dishes whenever dietary issues are discussed.
  2. Greater use of tasty pulse dishes served at meal times in state run hospitals.

Legal policy:

  1. Development of a benign tax law applicable to growers of pulses and caterers who base certain percentage of their food on pulses. Further, laws to prohibit imports deleterious to cultivation and use of pulses. The first suggestion here may be only of theoretical value in areas where tax collection remains an abstract notion.

Financial policy:

  1. No interest loans to those who wish to begin or extend growing of pulses, or pulse based catering.

Of course, this list is not exhaustive, but I think it provides a very clear holistic approach to our problem, which is flexible enough to accommodate actual conditions of a country or a region. What is important is not the comprehensiveness the policies considered, but selecting the most important ones and to strive for harmony within and among them.

Once we have come this far, we will have to design a suitable strategy to implement our policy. To facilitate the ease of its implementation, let us do it in two logically linked steps.

The first step:

Here, we will ascertain the following:

  1. Best deployment of the available instructors/field trainers/ and agro-supplies to the growers.
  2. Best areas where catering outlets may profitably expand their use of pulses.
  3. Best practical methods of incorporating pulses in hospital diets, civil service and school cafeterias.
  4. Types of most effective publicity campaigns which may include exhibitions, recipe competitions, etc.
  5. Best way of targeting concrete incentives like tax rebates, zero interest financing, etc.
  6. Agricultural research to improve pulses without gene modification and does not require capital-intensive methods to increase their yield.
  7. What concrete support ought to be given to pulse growers to enable them to establish cooperatives to process and sell their produce to retailers, caterers and even end-users at a fair price.
  8. What basic improvements in infra-structure would have the most significant effect on pulse production?

Once again, the above list is not exhaustive. One may add the strategic considerations pertinent to one’s area into it, or remove what is superfluous from it.

Once this step is undertaken, we can move on to the next stage of policy implementation, viz., doing it on the field. Here, not all the people needed to carry out the 8 steps above are required to participate in the actual growing of the crops. Their purpose is to publicize the benefits available to pulse growers, provide the relevant technical support, and serve as a source of seed, agricultural information, equipment, finances, etc.

Perhaps, it might repay enrolling farmers willing to expand their cultivation of pulses, wish to go over to their cultivation and youth who want to do so into suitable on-the-job training courses where they may be paid a modest allowance and taught exactly how to do it.

On successful completion of such training, the landless trainees may be granted a secure tenure on an adequate plot of land so that they might start as pulse growers. However, this requires careful supervision and a long follow-up with a built-in social security.

Although this is somewhat less structured than one might wish, I hope it would be of some use.

Best wishes!

Lal Manavado.