PULSES ARE LIFE
Produce More. Eat More. Live More.
The past year has been very difficult for all of us. All of our lives have been upended. We have been locked in for months on end. We have been forced to work from home and wear masks in public. And very sadly, some have had friends and family members fall victim to this terrible Covid-19 disease.
Covid-19 has also caused significant changes to consumer habits which have impacted the pulses sector. As a result of these changes, the global pulse industry has seen an approximate 9% increase in pulse consumption over the past year of the pandemic. To put this in perspective, this is more than double the 4% increase in consumption that we estimate resulted from the extraordinarily successful 2016 International Year of Pulses.
This past year we have seen some important changes take place. Consumers are more focused on long-lasting, shelf-stable foods such as pulses. They are also cooking at home more and eating out less. And trying new plant-based products, many of which are made with pulses. The pandemic also led to higher price sensitivity for many consumers. Many food shoppers are worried about their economic prospects and, as a result, are stocking up their pantries and spending less on discretionary items.
In addition, health concerns are driving changes in consumer behaviors. Consumers are paying more attention to safeguarding their health and as a result have increased their focus on healthier foods to boost their immune systems, which is good news for the pulse sector.
With these changes in mind, the question is how can we best work together with the FAO and other partners to further the UN Sustainable Development Goals of ending hunger (Goal 2), ensuring healthy lives (Goal 3) and combatting climate change (Goal 13), while also maintaining this unprecedented growth in consumption of pulses and all the positive food system benefits that derive therefrom.
At the GPC, we suggest focusing on the following four objectives.
First, promote the production and consumption of pulses as part of national food security policies. Mohandas Gandhi, a lifelong vegetarian, was famous for his experimentation with foods and commentary on the importance of foods to health. In his book, Key to Health, Gandhi wrote, “Whilst it is true that man cannot live without air and water, the thing that nourishes the body is food. Hence the saying, food is life”.
Gandhi was right. Food is life! A healthy agricultural sector improves the overall development and progress of a nation. For many farmers around the world, pulse production makes a critical contribution to the sustainability of their farmlands and positively impacts their living standards. Additionally, pulses help provide food security for many smallholder farmers, often women, who rely on producing the crop to help meet their income needs.
Second, create greater consumer awareness of the benefits of pulses. More than 2500 years ago, Hippocrates said: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” While the word nutraceutical did not exist in Hippocrate’s time, the idea that foods, or parts of foods, can provide medicinal or health benefits in addition to nutrition is an important message for consumers.
Third, reinforce and build on changing dietary patterns and consumer behaviors. Twenty-five years ago, very few consumers considered the relationship between their food choices and sustainability. That is no longer the case. For today’s Gen Z in particular, sustainability is a major factor in their purchasing and consumption decisions.
And last but not least, enable equitable trade in pulses that benefits both producers and consumers. During the pandemic, in order to prevent food shortages or food price inflation, many governments restricted the sale and export of certain foods. Other governments put quotas or tariffs in place to protect domestic food producers. These actions resulted in market distortions. Some markets experienced temporary shortages of retail supplies at a time of rising household demand, leading to price volatility for basic food items like pulses.
In a global economy, open markets and a predictable trade policy are absolutely critical if producers (of all sizes) are to be competitive. It is important to remove barriers and ensure multi-directional trade in order for all participants in the pulse value chain, especially small farmers, to have access to markets and opportunities. We must also ensure a commitment to norms and rules governing trade, such as those of the WTO and GATT.
In conclusion, Covid-19 has been extraordinarily transformative in terms of causing revolutionary, systematic changes and challenges. The pandemic has also brought into clear focus the need to move much faster towards more sustainable diets and food systems with better health outcomes and less food waste. At the GPC, we look forward to working together to address these changes and challenges.