The Pigeon Pea Economy and Indo-African relations

The high protein legume is an alternative to the meat-based protein industry globally.

Pinak Pani DattaPinak Pani Datta | Updated: 29-10-2019 11:37 IST | Created: 06-06-2018 20:18 IST
The Pigeon Pea Economy and Indo-African relations
Apart from protein which is 15-22 grams per 100 grams, Pigeon Peas also provide adequate amount of iron, carbohydrates, fats, dietary fiber, Vitamin B and C. (Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
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  • Tanzania

Protein hunger, an important aspect of malnutrition continues to be a major concern around the world. The drylands, covering 55 countries in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa and inhabited by 2 billion people, 644 million of whom are poor, are most vulnerable to climate change with very little rainfall, degraded soils, and poor social infrastructure resulting in risk of malnutrition and poor health status.

The Pigeon Pea is a perennial legume from the family Fabaceae which was first domesticated in India at least 3500 years ago. Today the vegetable is, however, common in Asia, Africa and Latin America and all tropical and sub-tropical regions both as a food as well as an agricultural product. In the Philippines, it is regarded as ‘poor man’s crop’. Due to its high protein content, it is being treated as a substitute for meat in many African countries and thus a nutritious food to tackle malnutrition. The shrub can grow up to 3.5 meters and the seeds which come in colours like white, green, cream, brown, purplish or black are rich in nutrients like magnesium, phosphorous, calcium, and potassium. Apart from protein which is 15-22 grams per 100 grams, it also provides an adequate amount of iron, carbohydrates, fats, dietary fibre, Vitamin B and C. The pulse is an affordable source for preventing Anaemia, particularly for pregnant women.

According to a study conducted at the University of Philippines in 2005, the development of new pigeon pea based value-added processed products may kick off an affordable alternative to the meat-based protein market and boost the small hold farmers and rural households with additional income. After testing various recipes using a trial-and-error method, the best recipe formulation for pigeon pea cakes, cookies and polvoron were identified using a 1:5:1 ratio of commercial cake flour and pigeon pea flour. If commercialization of baked products was feasible, this will make available affordable, ready-to-eat, protein-rich food to a broad sector of society and offer livelihood opportunities for housewives, cooperatives, or women's groups as a small scale enterprise.  

International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) is an India based research centre which through scientific research aims to find solutions for the nutrition security of people in these regions. It has collaborated with NRGene, an Israeli genomic big data company which develops cutting-edge software and algorithms to reveal the complexity and diversity of humans, plants, and animals for supporting the most advanced medical research and sophisticated breeding programmes. Together they have developed a new technology with which genomic process that could have taken years, have been completed in just a few months.

“The developing world has long faced the pressures of food security with limited farmland,” said Dr. Rajeev K Varshney, Research Program Director, Genetic Gains and Director, Centre-of-Excellence in Genomics & Systems Biology, ICRISAT. “For effective use of genomics-assisted breeding, we need reference genomes of several varieties of a given crop. Therefore, new assemblies of chickpea and pigeon pea lines by NRGene and ICRISAT will allow our scientists and partners to better understand plant traits to breed more nutritional varieties,” Varshney added. ICRISAT in partnership with other institutions has already decoded and documented genomes of pigeon pea and chickpea.

Tanzania is an East African country known mostly for gems and precious metals which amount to 36% of its total exports. But, that is a colonial legacy. Today the country boasts of sustainable agricultural practices. Out of its total national export value, vegetables amount to almost 5.8%. A major share of the vegetable exports is occupied by the $240 million Pigeon Pea industry. According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations, the world produces almost 4.49 million tons of Pigeon Pea out of which 63% is produced by India alone. Africa contributes almost 21% which makes it produce almost 1.05 million tons.

In Sudan, the Pigeon Pea is mostly consumed as boiled dry seeds. They add either sugar and fat or salt, with onion and sesame oil. Its consumption is related to the Muslim holy month of Ramadhan, and happy occasions. However, recently experts are recommending the use of pigeon pea for school pupils and student boarding houses, as a cheap and equally nutritional source.

India faced a serious shortage of the highly nutritious legume during 2014-16. The Prime Minister Narendra Modi went around these countries and desperately urged them to produce and supply more to India. The Indian Prime Minister in a visit to Tanzania promised that India would increase imports from the country to one million tonnes annually for all pulses, including pigeon peas. But, in 2016-17, India harvested a record 22.9 million tonnes of the legume while unrestricted duty-free import continued. This led to a drastic fall in domestic prices post-demonetization of high-value currency notes in India.

In August 2017, the Indian state-imposed quantitative restrictions (QRs) on the import of pigeon pea (tur/arhar) and black matpe (urad) and green gram (moong) from Tanzania. The reason behind the ban is not clear but it is assumed that it is because of over-production of the legumes in India over the last two years. India's Ministry of Commerce and Industry issued a Trade Notice No. 13 (2015-2020) restricting imports of the commodity from countries with no bilateral agreement on the crop with the South Asian nation.

This unanticipated move has not only affected the Tanzanian export revenue but hundreds of pigeon pea farmers and traders across the east African country were affected. They, in the peak season for the crop, were unable to sell their hundreds of tonnes of produce because of a lack of market. The Ministry of Agriculture estimates that about 300,000 households are involved in pigeon pea farming. Tanzania's pigeon pea exports to India ranged from 160,000 to 180,000 tonnes annually out of an estimated 200,000 tonnes yearly production. That accounted for 97 percent of the exports. The remainder is sold to the Middle East, Kenya, Eastern Europe, and North America.

There is no justification, nonetheless, argues Mr. Charles Mwijage, the Tanzanian Minister for Industry, Trade, and Investment in an interview with The Citizen. "This is a violation of WTO rules. Under WTO this is not justifiable." Best practices in international trade, he pointed out, would only allow increased import duty "even of up to 100 percent" but not quantitative restrictions. "Our exporters are ready to sacrifice 10 percent to 20 percent loss because they can still sell it but now they could not sell because of the total restriction," he explained. Mr. Daniel Charles, the CEO of Kilimo Markets, an Arusha based trading firm has accused India of violating international treaties on trade. He demanded at least a waiver for the ban from India and asked the Tanzanian government to respond and act on the issue.

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