Pulses Are a Good Bet for Myanmar Farmers
Chickpeas, kidney beans and lentils are pulses found in every kitchen cupboard these days. You might have used them in your main meal today, as it’s World Pulses Day. Mung beans are also a pulse, and are perhaps more familiar fresh, as bean sprouts. These beans come from South Asia and are grown by farmers in Myanmar.
World Pulses Day – the importance of pulses
The United Nations introduced World Pulses Day to draw attention to the importance of legumes. Not only are they packed with nutrients; they also contribute to climate change mitigation. They fix nitrogen in the soil, which increases soil fertility, thus improving the productivity of farmland without the need for synthetic fertilizer. What’s more, legumes require little water to grow.
Good for Myanmar farmers
Beans and legumes are an important agricultural product in Myanmar: they are cultivated on about 20% of the country’s farmland. Growing pulses is economically attractive for smallholder farmers, because they can be intercropped with rice. Once the rice has been harvested the land can be used to grow legumes, so farmers can get another crop out of their land.
Mung bean exports
Myanmar exports large quantities of beans and legumes each year, mainly to India and China. And since Myanmar gained further access to the European market in 2013, an increasing amount of pulses are making their way to Europe. Demand for mung beans is growing steadily: in 2013 Europe imported 21,000 tons and in 2017 the figure rose to 27,000 tons (CBI). Most of those imports came from Myanmar, India and Argentina.
Source: Market Access Database / CBI
Opportunities for smallholder farmers
While increasing exports represent an attractive prospect for smallholder farmers in Myanmar, this does not always go hand in hand with increased income. Much of the profit goes to middlemen and never reaches the farmers. One reason for this is that farmers are often poorly organised. Middlemen negotiate with farmers individually and can therefore beat them down easily on the price.
ICCO supports smallholder farmers by organizing them into cooperatives. This way they can command better prices for their produce. It’s also much easier to work together on improving Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), which in turn improves the quality of the mung beans. Strict European market regulations require high quality beans. And better quality means a better price.
So, by uniting together in cooperatives, farmers too can benefit from the increasing demand for mung beans (and bean shoots). There is strength in numbers.
For now though, enjoy your meal. And don’t forget to buy bean sprouts at your supermarket. That way farmers in Myanmar will get a piece of the pie.