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Pulses for Food Security and Sustainable Future

Published: 15th Feb, 2021

World Pulses Day is observed on February 10 of every year to recognize the importance of pulses as a global food.



GS-III: Food Security, Hunger, Malnutrition,  Sustainable Development Goals

World Pulses Day is observed on February 10 of every year to recognize the importance of pulses as a global food.


  • The celebration of World Pulses Day’ is an opportunity to heighten public awareness of the nutritional benefits of pulses and their contribution to sustainable food systems and a #ZeroHunger
  • Pulses have intrinsic value being packed with nutrients, high protein content, low fat and high fiber, which keeps cholesterol and blood sugar under control.

International Year of Pulses (IYP)

  • The IYP 2016 heightened public awareness of the nutritional benefits of pulses as part of sustainable food production aimed towards food security and nutrition.
  • The Year created a unique opportunity to encourage connections throughout the food chain that would better utilize pulse-based proteins, further global production of pulses, better utilize crop rotations and address the challenges in the trade of pulses.
  • Not only do they improve food security and create economic stability, but they also contribute to climate change mitigation by reducing greenhouse gases.
  • Pulses play a crucial role in addressing food insecurity and achieving healthy and balanced diets for all, pointing to the need to unlock their full potential to accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda.

What is International day of Pulses?

  • February 10 is designated as an International day of Pulsesto Celebrate a day that may express the worth, value and benefits of Pulses.
  • This year’s theme for World Pulse Day is “Nutritious Seeds for a Sustainable Future”, which explains in itself the value of pulses.
  • The day aims to spread the benefits of not only eating pulses, but also growing pulses. 
  • The Day also comes under the second goal of the United Nations i.e. Zero Hunger.
  • World Pulses Day is not limited to the 2nd goal of the UN. It also covers objectives that have been mentioned in the UN’s Agenda 2030.This may include the
    • 3rd goal of the UN – “Good Health and Well-being”
    • 13th goal of the UN – “Climate Action”


What are Pulses?

  • Pulses are the edible seeds of plants in the legume family. Pulses grow in pods and come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors.
  • The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recognizes 11 types of pulses: dry beans, dry broad beans, dry peas, chickpeas, cow peas, pigeon peas, lentils, Bambara beans, vetches, lupins and pulses nes(not elsewhere specified – minor pulses that don’t fall into one of the other categories).
  • India is the largest producer of pulses in the globe, with an annual output of over 23 million metric tons.
  • The country widely grows pulses like Bengal Gram, Pigeon Peas, Green Beans, Chick Peas, Black gram, Red Kidney Beans, Black Eyed Peas, Lentils, and White Peas.
  • India accounts for 25% of the global production, 27% of world pulses consumption and imports 14% of pulses in the world.
  • Apart from India, other countries, which produce a large number of pulses include Canada, Myanmar, China, Nigeria, Brazil, Australia, the USA, Russia, and Tanzania, while Argentina, France, Ethiopia, and Turkey.

Why ‘hunger’ still continues to grow?

  • Despite the global progressthat has been achieved in advancing food security and alleviating poverty, the number of hungry people in the world continues to grow, reductions in child stunting remain insufficient, and obesity is on the rise.
  • With more than 840 million people estimated to be undernourished by 2030, the worldis not on track to achieve ‘Zero Hunger’.
  • The pandemic has further threatened lives and livelihood by reversing decades of progress on ending hunger and achieving food security.
  • A UN World Food Programme (WFP) report indicates a rise in hunger due to the pandemic, with an approximately 270 million people facing food insecurity as opposed to the 149 million during pre-COVID times. This is a matter of grave concern.

Global Hunger Index 2020

India ranks 94 out of 107 countries on the Global Hunger Index 2020. It falls under the category of ‘serious’ level of hunger.

  • Malnutrition:The Lancet attributed two-thirds of the 1.04 million deaths in children under the age of five in India to malnutrition.
  • Stunted:Of the 144 million stunted under-five children in the world, India alone accounts for 46.6 million. 
  • Wasted:Furthermore, India is home to 25.5 million off the 47 million wasted under-five children globally.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic will possibly take the toll up by ten to twenty percent, worsening India’s malnutrition problem.

Correlation between Dietary Diversity and quality of diet

  • Researchindicates a direct correlation between dietary diversity—with the quality of diet and household food security—and higher socio-economic status in terms of maternal education and employment. 
  • According to the NFHS-4 2015-16, only 9.6 percent children (6-23 months) are fed a minimum acceptable diet.
  • Going by the latest NFHS-5 for 22 states/UTs, there is a slight improvement in percentage of children receiving an adequate diet, ranging from 5.9 percent in Gujarat to 29.8 percent in Meghalaya.
  • In India only 42 percent children (6-23 months) have minimum meal frequency (fed the minimum number of times per day for their age),and a mere 21 percenthave minimum dietary diversity (diet containing four or more food groups—Grains, Pulses and Legumes, Milk and Milk products, Eggs, Fruits and Vegetables, and Fresh Foods).

How Pulses can help India?

Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.

Food insecurity is a major issue for many people and households in poor and developing countries—it is estimated that 795 million people are undernourished. Pulses can help contribute to food security in a number of ways.


  • According to theEat-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health, India needs to enhance dietary diversity and behaviour change as it is crucial to achieving nutrition security. 
  • Pulses are inexpensive, easy to store, highly-nutritious.
  • FAO suggests ‘Overcoming hunger and malnutrition in the 21st century means increasing food quantity and quality, while making sure we produce food sustainably, efficiently and safely’.
  • Pulses contribute 10 percent of dietary protein, with a modest increase in monthly per capita consumption. Supplementingcereal-based diets with pulses can potentially bring down malnutrition.
  • Pulses are nutritional powerhouses among all the protein sources as they have zero cholesterol, high content of iron, gluten-free, rich in minerals and vitamins, low-fat content, and an important source of dietary fibre.
  • Moreover, pulses are a rich source of fermentable fibre, which is beneficial to maintain the intestine health.
  • They feed intestinal bacteria and promote the assimilation of nutrients, thus facilitating proper immune system functioning.
  • Pulses can contribute to the overarching issue of food security in a number of ways, as elicited in figure.


  • Lower carbon footprint:Pulse crops have a lower carbon footprint than most foods because they require a small amount of fertilizer to grow.
  • Low water footprint:They also have a low water footprint as they are adapted to semi-arid conditions and can tolerate drought stress.
  • Enhance soil microbiome: They have the ability to enhance the soil microbiome has been key in improving farming techniques in low-income rural areas.

How Government is ensuring pulses into diet?

  • Pulses are an indispensable source of protein in Indian diets. The Government of India’s food security programs provide for 50 percent of the recommended dietary allowance of protein to children, adolescent girls, and pregnant and lactating women.
  • The government announced a relief package during the pandemic, providing for an additional supply of 5 kg rice/wheat and 1 kg of preferred pulses per month.
  • Some statesnamely Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Haryana, and Himachal Pradesh have succeeded in providing pulses through the Public Distribution System (PDS).

Progress of National Food Security Act

  • The implementation of the National Food Security Act was expected to make a dent in the nutritional challenges.
  • The Act made access to food a legal entitlement for a large part of the society — 75 per cent of the rural and 50 per cent of the country’s urban population.
  • Today, NFSA is the key pillar supporting India’s food-safety-net schemes, especially the:
    • Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS)
    • Mid-Day-Meal (MDM)
    • Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS-Anganwadi-Supplementary Nutrition Programme)
  • National figures for food grain procurement, off-take, and budget allocations under the NFSA are staggering.
  • Procurement of rice and wheat increased by nearly 35 per cent between 2009-10 and 2018-19.
  • Annual off take of food grains increased by roughly 30 per cent during the same period.
  • Overall, the annual consumer food subsidy — or the difference between economic cost of procurement and sales realisation at central issue prices — has nearly tripled, from Rs 42,489.7 crore in 2009-10 to Rs 1,15,570 crore in 2020-21.
  • In fact, the actual budget figures could be higher due to dues pending to the Food Corporation of India.
  • NFSA, however, seems to have missed its mark in achieving nutritional outcomes for a number of reasons.

Way forward

As a policy, the PDS should provide pulses at subsidised rates to make them more affordable and available. This will provide the much needed nutritional security, especially to the vulnerable section of our population. There is an urgent need to create awareness on the consumption of macronutrient rich pulses for the dual benefit of nutrition and sustainability. For a healthier future generation, act now!

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