Growth in Africa presents pulse opportunities

Canada’s pulse industry is ignoring Africa at its peril, says a market analyst.

Africa is expected to account for 22 percent of world population by 2050, up from 15 percent in 2010.

Economic activity in sub-Saharan Africa has been expanding by five to seven percent a year in the past decade with the exception of the global downturn in 2008-09, according to the International Monetary Fund.

African countries have experienced some of the highest average gross domestic product growths in the world over that period.

The IMF expects the pace of growth to continue, forecasting a 5.8 percent increase in GDP in 2017, which would make sub-Saharan Africa one of the biggest growth engines in the world at that time.

“Demographically and economically we can’t really ignore it,” said Chuck Penner, president of LeftField Commodity Research.

He estimates that less than five percent of Canada’s annual pulse exports now go to Africa. However, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization expects the continent to be one of the few places where per capita pulse consumption will rise between now and 2030.

Consumption is expected to level off in Latin America and decline dramatically in South Asia over the same time period.

“I think (Africa) is a market that we have to spend a little bit more time looking at than we have in the past,” Penner told growers attending the pulse portion of the recent Crop Production Week in Saskatoon.

He believes Canada’s pulse industry needs to diversify. India and China consume most of Canada’s yellow peas, while India and Turkey buy most of its red lentils. Green pea and green lentil markets are a little more diversified and stable.

Penner said it’s scary to be so reliant on India, which is attempting to boost its own pulse production.

“We rely on crop failures in places like India to really clear the market,” he said.

Canada will have to revisit a neglected crop if it wants to increase its presence in Africa. Beans are by far the biggest pulse food consumed in Africa.

Bean acreage has steadily declined in Manitoba because of competition from soybeans.

Penner said soybeans won’t always sell for $14 per bushel and will eventually cool off, allowing beans to resurge.

However, he acknowledged that breeding is needed to make bean yields more competitive with alternative crops.

Many regions in Africa have their favourite type of bean. The pulse industry must figure out which types present the best marketing opportunity and have a good agronomic fit for Western Canada’s climate.

Penner isn’t suggesting Canada neglect its pea and lentil programs but said it’s time to start focusing more on beans, which will also open up markets in Latin America, another big growth region.

Developing markets in Africa for Canadian pulses will take a lot of work and there are security and corruption issues to overcome.

However, Penner said it should be worth the effort.

“We can’t completely forget about them.”

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