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Myanmar’s Beans and Pulses

Myanmar is in the limelight to- day, as a favorite tourist destination with its pristine beauty, glittering pagodas, strong Buddhist influence and rich heritage of a populace different from the rest of the world. It is also a haven of natural resources, from the world’s best Mogok rubies, numerous precious and semiprecious stones, to oil and gas, and a wide range of agricultural products. Agri- culture is the mainstay of the country with 70% of its population dependent on it for survival, and during the early 1960s it was also the world’s largest producer of rice, a position it is trying to regain through planned initiatives. Not so well known is the fact that Myanmar is a leading producer of eans and pulses, and exports these to 52 countries. It retains its position as one of the world’s top five producers of bean and pulses, which include Canada, India, Aus- tralia and Tanzania. Agricultural exports are important for Myanmar’s economy and can prove to be one of the high growth areas due to the country’s locational advantage,favorable climatic conditions and fertile soil.

Beans and Pulses – The Nutritious Staple

Beans are the most significant legume for human consumption since they rank as the second richest source of protein in our diet. Pulses include all the edible seeds that grow in pods, and include all types of peas, beans and lentils. Cheap and affordable, besides protein, they are also a rich source of dietary fiber, minerals and vitamins. They are also low in fat and are great sources of energy, helping the human body get rid of dietary deficiencies. Their protein content is as high as 24%. They are the perfect complement to staples such as wheat and rice to complete a nutritious, wholesome meal.

Over 13,000 species of pulses are found worldwide. There are numerous varieties of beans and pulses sold in their raw whole form, split and de-husked form, or spilt with husk intact, and the number increases with variation in color. Besides all the bean vari- eties, these also include various pea variet- ies like chick pea, black eyed pea, green split pea, pigeon pea and yellow peas.

However, pulses and beans do not enjoy the same importance as rice, which is a more significant staple and forms a more crucial part of people’s diet. Rice is also consumed in nearly every country in the world though the same cannot be said for beans and pulses. They are a significant export crop for Myanmar since it enjoys a comparative cost advantage.

Estimates reveal that globally, approximately 20 million tons of beans and pulses with a market value of USD 10 billion are produced annually, of which around 35% are traded across borders to countries where these are consumed regularly.

The cultivation of beans and pulses in Myanmar

The production of beans and pulses can be traced back to the British Rule, when the first seeds were brought from India, along with growers, to be cultivated on the rich Burmese soil. A ready Indian market ensured a significant proportion of the produce being exported to India, and this trend continues even today. The growth of this segment of agricultural products has been coincidental without any conscious planning to expand it. The big push for the beans and pulses cultivation was driven by the private sector and their emergence as a cash crop with huge export potential came only after 1988 with incentives given by the government to farmers.

One of the principal factors responsible for the increased production of beans and pulses is the need to use land instead of keeping it idle after the monsoon paddy. Beans can be planted at the beginning of the win- ter season and can thrive on the leftover moisture of the monsoons, not requiring additional artificial irrigation facilities in the absence of rain. This makes their cultivation undemanding and cost effective with no additional allocation of resources required. Their shorter growing period of just 3-4 months from plantation to harvest is another plus. The higher margins at which they were then sold became an added advantage and became an impetus for farmers to allo- cate their farm land to beans over paddy. A ready market with a steady demand coming from neighboring India pushed the beans and pulses production further.

The land acreage under beans and pulses has been constantly increasing with seventeen different varieties being cultivated. The most significant among these are black matpe, green mung bean, chick pea, pigeon pea, cow pea, red kidney bean, velvet bean, and soy bean. Of these, black matpe (black gram), green mung bean (green gram) and pigeon pea, are the most important, accounting for over 80% of the total export value. This explains why the land area in which they are cultivated increased four times in a single decade at the turn of the century. Gradually, the cultivated area for green gram, that had previously been confined to the Lower Myanmar areas of Ayeyarwaddy and Bago, began to extend to the Upper Myanmar regions of Sagaing and Magwe, and these have now overtaken the production levels of the lower region. Pigeon pea is extensively cultivated in Upper Myanmar especially, Sagaing, Magwe and Mandalay. The Market for Myanmar’s Beans and Pulses

Myanmar’s beans and pulses have acquired a good reputation internationally and they have a ready market in countries like India, UAE, Thailand, Bangladesh and Japan, and 49 other countries. The three quality grades of beans include First Quality (FQ), Special Quality (SQ) and Fair Average Quality (FAQ), with the bigger markets for FQ being Korea, Japan and China, and India importing substantial quantities of each grade.

In February 2015, Myanmar exported 90,591 MT of beans and pulses to various countries, which revealed a 19% over the export quantity a year ago. India accounted for 81% of this total export partly because of the ease of procurement, short delivery time and close similarity in the quality and taste of beans and pulses purchased from Myanmar. India happens to be the world’s largest producer, consumer and importer of beans and pulses, unable to fulfill its domestic demand with its growing population and lentils being part of the daily diet. This trend is likely to continue since estimates indicate that by the year 2030, India’s population is likely to touch 1.68 billion and approximately 32 million tons of beans and pulses will be needed to feed this large number of people.

For the present, 1.1 million tons of beans and pulses are exported annually to India, of which 600,000 MT are black matpe (black gram), 300,000 MT of green gram, 200,000 MT of pigeon pea, and another 200,000 MT of other lentils.

India is also the world’s largest processor of beans and pulses, a facility which is not available in the same scale in the biggest producing countries including Myanmar, Canada and Australia. Processing involves sorting, cleaning, dehusking and splitting the beans. Some lentils are polished as well, though the unpolished varieties are healthier to eat. These then are sold as split lentils which are quicker to cook. Nearly a dozen varieties of processed split and dehusked lentils are sold in India.

It is interesting to find that one of the key determinants of beans’ purchase is not price. Some of the more expensive bean varieties are also the highest in demand. This can be attributed to the taste, bean size, color and shelf life without getting infested. The way forward

As the world population increases and, more and more people turn towards vegetarianism, the demand for beans and pulses is bound to increase, and if bottlenecks in the field of agriculture can be overcome, the country can easily meet this increased demand. As Myanmar moves towards the next stage of development, mechanized processes, educating farmers about better farming techniques, better storage facilities, access to better quality seeds, micro financing and improved network of roads to facilitate transportation of produce, are some of the gaps that can be filled by the government with perhaps, participation from private companies or buying countries. Experts in the field would like to see the growth of value added products emerging in the beans and pulses business, setting up of more processing centers and selling processed rather than raw goods. Value addition ensures higher profitability and more employment opportunities for the locals. With foreign participation and technical know-how being made available, the process of surging ahead has already begun.