What do we know about the future of pulses in global and regional agri-food systems?

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Food, land, and water systems face daunting challenges in the future, and the body of research exploring these challenges is growing rapidly. This note is part of a series developed by the CGIAR Foresight Initiative to summarize what we know today about the future of various aspects of food systems. The goal of these notes is to serve as a quick reference, point to further information, and help guide future research and decisions.

By Sika Gbegbelegbe (IITA), Wupe Msukwa (IITA), Swamikannu Nedumaran (ICRISAT), and Arega Alene (IITA).


Key messages

  • Low and middle-income countries account for about 55% of global pulses production. Nearly half (48%) of global production occurs in 16 low- and lower-middle income countries in the drylands of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
  • The gap between pulse demand and supply is increasing in South Asia.
  • Most recent foresight studies on pulses have focused on climate change impacts, adaptation, and mitigation.
  • Future foresight studies on specific pulse crops should target regions where these pulses are important in human diets.
  • Pulse trade should be promoted between countries which encompass the drylands of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Recent trends and challenges

Global production of pulses has averaged around 87.7 million tonnes annually between 2019 and 2021, with 39 countries accounting for 90% and India alone accounting for 27% of the total volume (Figure 1). Among the 39 major pulse producers, eight high-income countries account for 17% of global production. Another eight upper middle-income countries account for 18% of global production. Low-income and lower middle-income countries account for about 55% of global production. Most of these countries encompass the drylands in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. More specifically, eleven low-income countries account for 13% of global pulse production; eight of them encompass drylands in sub-Saharan Africa and together account for 11% of global pulse production. Similarly, 12 lower middle-income countries account for 43% of global pulse production; but eight of them encompass the drylands in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Together, these eight countries account for 37% of global production (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Distribution of World Pulse Production (2019-2021: average). Data source: (1). Notes: LMIC-dryland: lower middle-income countries encompassing the drylands of sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and South Asia (SA). LMIC – other: other lower middle-income countries. LIC – dryland: low-income countries which encompass drylands in SSA and SA. LIC – other: other low-income countries. UMIC: upper middle-income countries. HIC: High income countries. ROW: Rest of the World.

Between 2000 and 2021, world pulse production increased by about 60%, while world population increased by about 30%. For the countries encompassing the drylands of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, population grew by about 50% since 2000 (Figure 2). By contrast, pulse production in these regions doubled over the same period, although this growth was subject to higher variability over the years, as pulses are primarily grown in low-input rainfed conditions in these regions. An interesting trend is that the growth in the value of pulse production has been slightly higher than that of the volume of production over the last two decades, reflecting a persistent demand-supply gap for pulses in South Asia (Figure 2). The demand-supply gap reflects increasing scarcity, and this pushes local prices up. Net pulse imports for South Asia stood at around 400 thousand tonnes in 2000; by 2021, they had risen to about 4 million tonnes[1], equivalent to about 14% of pulse production for the region.

In West Africa, which accounts for about 20% of pulse production in the countries encompassing the drylands in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, the population increased by about 75% between 2000 and 2021. In contrast, pulse production nearly tripled over the same period. Changes in the value of pulse production have closely followed those of the volume of pulse production between 2000 and 2021; this reflects the fact that the region has generally been self-sufficient for pulses. By 2021, the region’s net imports amounted to about 53 thousand tonnes[2], equivalent to less than 0.6% of its pulse production.

In eastern Africa, which also accounts for about 20% of pulse production in the countries encompassing the drylands in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, the population increased by about 80% between 2000 and 2021. The production of pulses more than doubled over the same period. Between 2000 and 2009, the growth in pulse production was lower than that of the population for most years; from 2010 to 2021, the growth in production was generally higher than that of population (Figure 2). The growth in the value of pulse production in the region has been slightly smaller than that of the volume for most years since 2000. This gap reflects a net surplus in the region, where pulse production tends to exceed consumption levels. Indeed, eastern Africa has been a rising net exporter of pulses since 2010. By 2021, its net exports amounted to 5% of its total production. A similar result applies to southern Africa which has also been a net pulse exporter since 2011. As of 2021, its net exports amount to 24% of pulse production. The volume and value of pulse production in that region more than tripled between 2000 and 2021, although the growth in value has been lower than that of volume from 2016 onwards. In that region, population growth has been lower than that of production volume since 2000 (Figure 2).

Figure 2: growth trends in global and regional human population, pulse production volume, and pulse production value. Sources: authors’ estimations using data on population from (3) and other data from (1).

What is the latest foresight research on pulses and what does it show?

The latest foresight research on pulses includes 26 publications covering various regions of the world (Figure 3). The pulses considered include dry beans, dry broad beans, dry peas, chickpeas, cowpeas, pigeon peas, lentils, Bambara beans, vetches, and lupins (2). All relevant studies can be classified into three themes: the impact of climate change on pulse production; climate change adaptation and/or mitigation strategies related to pulses; and future projections on the supply, demand, or supply-demand gaps for pulses.

Two studies targeted high-income countries (Europe, France). The other studies mainly targeted the countries that encompass the drylands of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. More specifically, three studies targeted Eastern Africa, whereas two studies targeted Western Africa and South Asia. Among the studies targeting high-income countries, one aimed to quantify long-term climate change’s impact on crop suitability in Europe for common beans, Faba beans, chickpeas, lentils, lupins, peas, and cowpea (4). The study showed that northern Europe is projected to become more favorable for pulse production, unlike southern Europe. The other study targeted peas and broad beans yields in France; it projected increasing yields for both crops under most climate change models (5). The studies for South Asia targeted lentils and pigeon peas. The study on lentils targeted a specific site/soil in West Bengal, India (South Asia); it projected yield reductions of 12 to 31% by mid-century (2050s) (6). The other site-specific study in northern India also projected decreasing yields for pigeon peas (7). All studies for Western Africa were on cowpeas only. Both site-specific studies projected increases in cowpea yield and biomass under long-term climate change (8,9). Studies in Eastern Africa targeted four pulses, namely dry broad beans, dry peas, cowpeas, and pigeon peas. A geospatial study in Ethiopia found that the total amount of land suitable for cowpea production is projected to decrease slightly (0.20% to 0.31%) under climate change by the 2050s and 2070s (10). A site-specific study in Kenya projected decreasing yields for pigeon peas under long-term climate change (11). For Faba beans (dry broad beans), a site-specific modeling study in Welmera district in the Oromia Regional State of Ethiopia (eastern Africa) found mixed results on the performance of early and late-maturity Faba bean varieties under long-term climate change (12). For mung bean, a geospatial study in Ethiopia (eastern Africa) projected an increase (0.21% to 3%) in the land suitable for mung bean (dry pea) production under long-term climate change (10).

Figure 3: Number of pulse crop studies and types of pulse targeted per world region. Source: authors’ drawing using data extracted from literature.

In terms of climate change adaptation and mitigation, one study targeted all pulse crops across all regions of the world; it showed that legumes in general could play a substantial role in climate change mitigation if they become the major source of dietary protein for humans (13). Another study had a similar finding for lentil in Canada (14). For Europe and Turkey, a study used predictive learning to identify rust-resistant populations of lentils, which are also likely to remain rust-resistant under long-term climate change (15). Two other studies targeted South Asia (Iran). The first showed that Dormant Seeding Management (DSM) combined with mid-maturity varieties of chickpeas was a potential strategy to increase grain yield and water use efficiency for chickpeas in Northwest Iran (16). Another study targeting chickpeas in Iran projected increasing yields under climate change. It showed that the right combination of cultivars and management under long-term climate change (G*E*M) could further enhance yields (17).

Future projections of supply, demand, and demand-supply gaps targeted many pulses and all world regions. One study used results from the IMPACT model to estimate future demand-supply gaps for target legumes in all world regions (18). For each pulse, the study identified key countries and regions that would be most affected by a demand-supply gap by mid-century if mitigation policies maintain temperature and precipitation in 2050 at levels equivalent to the early 2000s. The authors recommended that future research on improved varieties should target countries and regions with the largest gaps. Another study projected an increasing demand-supply gap to 2025 for all pulses in the Assam region of India, except for 2 pulses: black gram and pea (19). The authors proposed various options for reducing the demand-supply gap: bringing more pulse area under irrigation, increasing the adoption of recommended farm technologies; and replacing lentils with black gram for dal (food) processing. A study on pigeon peas in Oyo state in Nigeria projected slight increases in the size of pigeon pea farms and called for additional institutional support to promote pigeon pea production in the region (20).

What are key gaps, questions, and opportunities for further foresight research on this topic?

The most obvious research gap is related to targeting pulse crop research toward regions where they are important in human diets. For example, most pulses in the countries encompassing the drylands of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are produced for local consumption; they are not exported (Figure 2). Hence, foresight studies on pulses, which are important in local diets within the drylands of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, are required to support policies to enhance food and nutrition security in these regions. Between 2020 and 2022, foresight studies in Eastern Africa focused on Faba bean and mung bean; yet the most produced pulses in the region are dry beans representing about 50% of pulse production; dry beans are followed by Faba beans (about 14% of pulse production). Similarly, in Western Africa, cowpea accounts for about 80% of pulse production, followed by dry beans (12%), yet no foresight study in this region targeted dry beans. Similar mismatches exist for the other regions including South Asia.

Another gap relates to some regions being neglected in foresight research. Thus, South Asia and Eastern Africa used to be among the least studied dryland regions for foresight on legumes (21). However, since 2020, South Asia has become the focus region for this research, with five studies undertaken. It is closely followed by Eastern and Western Africa with four studies each. Conversely, Southern Africa remains the least studied region, with only one study conducted between 2020 and 2022.

Future studies should also tackle the issues of trade and demand shifts in the dryland regions. If recent trends are to continue, some regions and countries within the drylands will experience substantial demand-supply gaps in the near future (Figure 2) and by mid-century (18). Future studies should identify tailored policies to enhance trade between dryland regions and encourage shifts in consumer demand. More specifically, some pulses that are more suitable for production should replace less suitable ones in human diets.

Future studies should also quantify the impact of climate-induced biotic stresses and weather extremes on pulse production to identify options for mitigating the negative impacts of such events. To date, no foresight-related study analyzed the impact on pulses and adaptation options for the pests, diseases, and weeds related to climate change; similarly, no study has assessed the impact of weather extremes on pulses.


[1] Computations available upon request; data source is (1)

[2] Computations available upon request; data source is (1)

This note was prepared by Sika Gbegbelegbe, agricultural economist (foresight modeler), International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA); Wupe Msukwa, research associate, IITA; Nedumaran Swamikannu, principal scientist, International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT); and Arega Alene. agricultural economist, IITA.

If you have any feedback or questions about this note, please get in touch with Sika Gbegbelegbe (s.gbegbelegbe@cgiar.org).

Further reading

Nigam SN, Chaudhari S, Deevi KC, Saxena KB, Janila P. Trends in Legume Production and Future Outlook. In: Genetic Enhancement in Major Food Legumes: Advances in Major Food Legumes. Springer International Publishing; 2021. p. 7–48. https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-3-030-64500-7

Semba RD, Ramsing R, Rahman N, Kraemer K, Bloem MW. 2021. Legumes as a sustainable source of protein in human diets. Global Food Security. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gfs.2021.100520


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  2. The Global Pulse Confederation. What are pulses? 2017
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  16. SeyedReza A, Deihimfard R, Eyni-Nargeseh H. Toward dormant seeding of rainfed chickpea as an adaptation strategy to sustain productivity in response to changing climate. Field Crops Res [Internet]. 2020 Feb 15 [cited 2023 Mar 20];247.
  17. Amiri S, Eyni-Nargeseh H, Rahimi-Moghaddam S, Azizi K. Water use efficiency of chickpea agro-ecosystems will be boosted by positive effects of CO2 and using suitable genotype × environment × management under climate change conditions. Agric Water Manag. 2021 Jun 30;252:106928.
  18. Nigam SN, Chaudhari S, Deevi KC, Saxena KB, Janila P. Trends in Legume Production and Future Outlook. In: Genetic Enhancement in Major Food Legumes: Advances in Major Food Legumes. Springer International Publishing; 2021. p. 7–48.
  19. Barman N, Hazarika JP, Talukdar U, Deka N. Supply-Demand Projection and Gap Analysis for Major Pulses in Assam. Economic Affairs (New Delhi). 2020 Dec 1;65(4):619–25.
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Photo: Bean Market in Kampala, Uganda. Credit: ©2009 CIAT/Neil Palmer

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