It is a matter of record that a large number of people, including women and children, in India are nutritionally challenged. Under-nutrition is pervasive, especially in rural areas, with palpable calorie and protein deficiency. That perpetual under-nutrition exerts long-term adverse effects on human health, well-being and productivity is well recognised.

For the world’s second most populous country that is carrying the burden of poor nutrition status of a vast majority of the population, promotion of protein consumption ought to become an avowed state policy. But, despite claims of being the world’s largest producer of milk and pulses as also large producer of eggs, poultry meat and soyabean, there has been no significant improvement so far on the nutrition score.

Obviously, there is a lack of acknowledgement of the close nexus between agriculture, nutrition and health. This must change. Protein consumption in the country should be actively promoted, especially through welfare schemes.

While animal protein from milk, poultry meat and eggs is relatively more expensive, vegetable protein from pulses, soyabean and groundnut is quite economical. Given that large sections of the population continue to pursue vegetarian food options – whether by choice or by force of circumstances – it is critical that consumption of vegetable protein should be promoted.

An ideal source

Pulses have emerged as an ideal candidate for protein promotion. Pulses help advance nutrition, health and sustainability. According to Huseyin Arslan, Executive Chairman, AGT Foods, a global leader in pulses, staple food and food ingredients processing and distribution, pulses are an excellent ingredient in a wide variety of food applications, including snack foods, pasta and pet food. Pulses are also ingredients for dairy replacement, batters and meat analogues.

Arslan asserts that pulse ingredient-based product launches worldwide touched 10,000 by 2018, of which 90 percent was for human consumption and the rest for pet food. He believes that a market for ‘meat alternative’ is growing and is expected to reach $5.2 billion. Texturised vegetable protein (TVP) from peas and lentils offer complete meat replacement, while TVP from faba bean is seen as a partial meat replacer with cost reduction.

As the world’s largest producer of pulses, India stands to gain tremendously in boosting pulses consumption. As argued in these columns in the past, pulses ought to be distributed through various welfare schemes of the government such as PDS, NFSA, midday meal scheme, ICDS and so on.

Importantly, extraction of protein and incorporation of that protein in food would go a long way in advancing the country’s nutrition security. A boost in consumption demand for pulses will deliver multiple benefits, including improved marketability of crop, higher returns for growers and investment in extraction facilities.

Time for action

Value addition in pulses is sure to exert a multiplier effect on the sector and benefit all stakeholders. Pulses consumption has faced some kind of benign neglect in the last few years as a result of which prices are depressed and growers unhappy. This ‘business as usual’ attitude cannot continue for long. New Delhi must come out with policies to not only boost consumption of pulses but also to support research and investment in value addition.

The writer is a policy commentator and agribusiness specialist. Views are personal