- Blog post by Dr R Padmaja, Senior Scientist – Gender Research Markets, Institutions, Nutrition & Diversity Innovation Systems for the Drylands Program, ICRISAT.
Pulses continue to be a major source of protein in Indian diets and play a vital role in sustaining agricultural growth. Increasing pulse production is therefore important for improving food availability, soil health, diet quality and nutrition security. Today is Global Pulse Day. And a study by ICRISAT reveals that there is reason for optimism on the pulse production side in India. While trends in the area under pulses did not increase significantly from 2000 to 2014, apart from some fluctuations in area here and there, production has shown an upward trend (Figure 1).
This is the result of a recent study on the “Role of Pulses in Enhancing Nutritional Status of Rural Poor: Micro-Level Evidence from Semi-Arid Tropics of India” by R Padmaja, P Soumitra and MCS Bantilan http://oar.icrisat.org/9821/. It is based on primary data from the ICRISAT Village Level Studies (VLS) nutrition surveys conducted in 8 villages in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra states together with longitudinal panel micro-level data for 6 villages in Telangana and Maharashtra from 2009 to 2014.
A closer examination of these trends (Figure 2) in the ICRISAT VLS study villages shows a decline in both area and production of pulses, the production dropping more precipitously than the area. The macro picture at the all-India level which is based on district-level data shows an increasing trend. However, the micro picture shows a declining trend. The reason for this is that in the SAT, rural people are shifting from food crops to cash crops (decline in area) and frequent climate events (either drought years or excess water during the unfavourable periods) are causing the decline in production.
Food security refers to the production of sufficient quantities of both high-quality protein and dietary energy. Animal protein (meat, egg, fish, etc.) and plant protein (pulses, legumes and nuts) are the two main sources of protein in general. Figure 3 illustrates the consumption of protein from both sources and the distribution of its consumption in different rounds among the sample members. The results indicated that pulses were the main sources of protein for the individuals in all the rounds, and overall 72% of the individuals depended only on pulses as their source of protein. The consumption of animal protein was limited. While only about 7% consumed protein from animal sources, 12% consumed protein from both sources
Establishing the causal relationship between pulse consumption and nutritional status
The study considered body mass index (BMI) as a proxy of nutritional status. Also, only those sample members present in all the four rounds of survey (N=1070) were considered. The results show that about 65% of the individuals in the sample tended to have normal BMI, of which only 37% consumed pulses all through the year. About 4.39% consumed pulses only for a quarter of the year, 15% consumed pulses for three quarters of a year. The remaining 35% were under- or over nourished. Thus it can be understood that low consumption of proteins in the diet can lead to malnutrition. It was also found that individuals who consumed pulses more frequently were nutritionally more secure than the remaining groups of individuals.
Two logistic regression models were run to establish the relationship between pulse consumption, frequency of consumption and nutritional status. Model 1’s output revealed a strong and significant positive relation between pulse consumption and nutritional status. Individuals who consumed pulse in any of the rounds were likely to enjoy more normal BMI compared to those who did not. Model 2 that established the linkage between frequency of pulse consumption and nutritional status showed that those who consumed pulses more frequently had a greater tendency of having a normal BMI compared to those who consumed them less frequently. The frequency of pulses consumption has a threshold point, after which it has a negative impact on the individual’s BMI status. Therefore, it can be concluded that pulse consumption has an important role in the individual’s nutritional status but there is a threshold level of the frequency of consumption and when the level is crossed, it has an inverse impact.
Pulses are important in improving the nutritional status of rural populations in the semi-arid tropics of India. Several issues need addressing. Among them are technological, environmental and policy measures to increase pulse area, production and consumption, including addressing price volatility; campaigns underlining diet diversification, behavioral change and awareness on pulse diets; empowering women with access to new knowledge and technological interventions, skill enhancement on post-harvest processing and value addition; and involving them in all stages of the value chain.