Pulses, A poor man’s meat, importance and ways to enhance the pulses productivity in Pakistan


Pulses are the most important source of vegetable protein in Pakistan. They are cultivated on 5% of the total cropped area. Their uses ranges from baby food to delicacies of the rich and the poor. Because of the population growth, demand for pulses is increasing day by day. There is a need to develop varieties with higher yield potential that respond to improved management practices so as to meet the increasing demand of pulses.
The total area under major pulse crops in Pakistan is about 1.5m hectares. Among these pulses, chickpea is the major winter food legume and mung is the major summer legume. Chickpea occupies 73% of the total pulses area with 76% contribution to the total production, whereas mung bean occupies 18% of total area devoted to pulses contributing 16% to the total pulses production. The black gram and lentil, each are cultivated on 5% of the total pulses area and each of them contributes 5% to the total pulses production.
Major pulse crops grown in the Pakistan are chickpea, lentil, mung bean, black gram or mash. There are other summer and winter pulses such as pigeon pea, Cowpea, moth bean common beans and faba bean .These minor pulses are grown on small areas.

Importance of pulses

Provide important nutrients
Most national dietary guidelines recommend pulses as part of a healthy diet. Studies have shown that people who eat at least ½ cup of pulses per day have higher intakes of fiber, protein, calcium, potassium, folate, zinc, iron, and magnesium as well as lower intakes of total and saturated fat.
Provide important plant-based source of protein
Many diets around the world rely on pulses as a source of protein. The amount of protein in beans, lentils, chickpeas and peas is 2-3 times the levels found in cereal grains like wheat, rice, quinoa, oats, barley, and corn. For example, eating just ½ cup of lentils provides the same amount of protein as 1 cup of quinoa or 2 cups of rice or corn. Compared to animal and many other plant-based sources of protein, pulses are a more affordable and sustainable protein source.

Excellent source of dietary fiber and carbohydrates

One cup of cooked pulses gives you more than half the amount of fiber you need for the entire day. Pulses also contain both soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber can help manage body weight, blood sugar levels and lower cholesterol. Insoluble fiber on the other hand, assists with digestion and regularity. Pulses also contain resistant starch, a type of carbohydrate that behaves like fiber in the body; and has been shown have similar health benefits such as reduced circulating cholesterol and blood sugar levels as well as improved gut health.

Help to maintain a healthy body weight

Pulses are rich in protein and fiber, and a low in fat, which can all help with body weight management. Protein and fiber help you to feel fuller longer. In addition to fiber, pulses also have other carbohydrates that are complex and take longer to break down compared with other carbohydrates (simple sugars). This means they provide energy for a longer time after you eat them compared with a quick energy source like sugars. The carbohydrates in pulses include oligosaccharides and resistant starch which can increase production of good bacteria for a healthy gut.

Reduce the risk of Chronic Diseases

Pulses can help to manage blood sugar levels and diabetes because they do not cause blood sugar levels to rise as much as sugary or starchy foods that are low in fiber. Keeping blood sugar levels within the normal range reduces the risk of developing diabetes and also helps people who have diabetes to avoid having more health problems associated with levels that are not well controlled.

Pulses are a heart healthy food choice

Research has shown that eating pulses can lower blood cholesterol, reduce blood pressure and help with body weight management, which are all risk factors for heart disease. Pulses are low in saturated and fats and high in soluble fiber. These are all important for a heart healthy diet.

Provide low carbon footprint food

Pulses utilize soil bacteria to draw nitrogen from the air. This natural process replaces the need to add nitrogen fertilizers in pulse crops, which means pulses use half the energy inputs of other crops.

When soil is fertilized with nitrogen in the form of manure, fertilizer, or crop residue, soil micro-organisms convert some of this nitrogen into nitrous oxide, which is a powerful greenhouse gas. Nitrous oxide is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2) and represents around 46% of the greenhouse gas emissions from global agriculture1.

Water efficient source of protein

When pulses are grown, they use 1/2 to 1/10 the water of other sources of protein 2. Many pulse crops are adapted to dry environments, making them well-suited for areas that are prone to drought.
Pulses like peas and lentils extract water from a shallower depth, leaving more water deep in the soil for the following year’s crop. This increases the water use efficiency of the entire crop rotation.

Enrich the soil

Pulse crops produce a number of different compounds that feed soil microbes and benefit soil health. After pulse crops are harvested, they leave behind nitrogen-rich crop residues that provide extra nutrients for the next crop that is grown.

Growing pulse crops in rotation with other crops enables the soil to support larger, more diverse populations of soil organisms that help maintain and increase soil fertility.

Ways to improve pulses productivity

Cultivation methods of pulse crops
The farmers of Pakistan place low importance on pulses and usually allocate marginal pieces of land with low fertility and does not pay much attention to land preparation or application of other inputs. However, if proper attention is paid to crop husbandry, the yield can be substantially increased. The crop production technology for pulse crops is given below:

Selection of land

Pulses can be grown on all types of soils except water logged, saline and sodic soils. Sandy loam and loamy soils are most suitable where pulses can be grown successfully.

Land preparation

In rain fed areas a deep ploughing with mold bold plough is vital for moisture conservation and control of diseases and weeds. Before planting, two operations of cultivator followed by planking are recommended for seed bed preparation.

Fertilizer application

One bag of DAP per acre is recommended before planting. Side placement of DAP at the time of seed drilling gives better results.

Sowing method

Line sowing with row to row and plant to plant distances of 30 cm and 10 cm, respectively is recommended for chickpea, mung bean and black gram. However for lentil, row spacing and plant spacing will be 25 cm and 2.5 cm, respectively. In rain fed areas when there is deficiency of moisture in the soil, deep planting at 6 inches depth gives better germination for chickpea.

Sowing Time

Optimum sowing time of rabi pulses starts from mid October. It should be completed up to mid November. Sowing time for chickpea and lentil varies slightly depending upon moisture availability and cropping system. Optimum sowing time for kharif pulses begins from start of June and continues up to mid July depending upon different cropping zones.

Seed Treatment

Seed treatment with Benlate or Captan is recommended to eradicate the primary source of seed born diseases.

Weed control

Manual weeding after one month of germination is crucial. Pulses are generally susceptible to weedicides, however wild oats in irrigated crop of chickpea can be effectively controlled by use of ‘Puma super’. Similarly ‘stomp’ is used to eradicate weeds in mung bean crop.

Insect pests

Insect pests of pulse crops should be controlled by proper pesticides.

Harvesting threshing and storage

The pulse crops must not be allowed to over mature in order to avoid shattering. Before being stored, the seed should have been dried to a moisture content of around 10%. Insect infestation in the store is usually controlled by fumigation. In rural areas, common practice to control insect infestation are burning of dried neem leaves inside covered receptacles or drying the seed in the sun. Fumigation of seed is an effective control measure in which Phostoxin/ Detia tablets are used.

Authors: Sumera Akram, Binish Ali
Department of Agronomy, University of Agriculture Faisalabad.