Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg

Indian Lentil Buyers Renegotiate as Price Slumps on Crop

  • Some importers defaulted on contracts, citing poor quality
  • India’s pulse imports may drop at least 19% in 2016-17

Indian importers of pulses are renegotiating contracts with suppliers after global prices of lentils and yellow peas dropped by as much as 30 percent on bumper global harvests.

Contracts of as much as 500,000 tons of lentils and yellow peas worth about $350 million were renegotiated in the past two months, said Sudhakar Tomar, managing director of Dubai-based Hakan Agro DMCC, a trader and processor of commodities, including pulses. Indians have renegotiated contracts with Canadian lentil suppliers and yellow pea producers from North America, Europe and the Black Sea region, he said.

Rising world supplies have sent lentil and yellow pea prices sinking. Prospects for a record harvest in India mean global prices may further retreat. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has taken several measures to control prices, including a planned buffer stockpile of 2 million tons.

“The prices have dropped very sharply, about 40 percent, primarily because of excellent rains in India and very good crops overseas,” Pravin Dongre, chairman of the India Pulses and Grains Association, said by phone on Monday. The Indian government’s efforts to sign long term supply contracts with countries including Mozambique also had a bearing on the market.

Staple Food

Top-quality laird lentils tumbled 34 percent to 52.85 Canadian cents a pound in Saskatchewan as of Oct. 19, down from 80 cents in April, according to Brian Clancey, president and senior market analyst at Vancouver-based Stat Communications Ltd.

A wholesale price index for pulses in India fell 5.4 percent last month, the most in six years, after touching a record high in July, according to official data. Lentils, chickpeas, black grams and pigeon peas are a staple for most of India’s 1.3 billion people, and demand has been growing. The legumes are often cooked with curry spices, sauces or butter and eaten at most meals with rice and Indian flat bread.

An estimated 3.5 million tons of imported pulses will arrive in India between October and January, Dongre said, without saying how many contracts had been renegotiated or defaulted. About 60 percent will arrive in ports in Mumbai and Hazira and the rest will arrive in Tuticorin and Kolkata, he said.

Contracts Defaulted

“Record harvests not only in India but also in all key exporting origins mean the global trade should see softer prices for 2016-17,” Tomar said. Some contracts were either defaulted or sold at a lower price, he said.

“Some buyers have defaulted alleging quality issues to avoid renegotiation as demand is slow,” Tomar said. For example, they are using food safety samples to raise quality concerns, he said. Some are also withholding no objection certificates for sales to new buyers, according to Tomar. The government requires the certificate from the original buyer, even if they have reneged on the contract, he said.

“We talked to some government authorities about our industry problems and possible solutions,” said Huseyin Arslan, president of the Global Pulse Confederation. “This is not fair and we want fair trade. We told Indian government about this and wanted this to be resolved as soon as possible.”

Some contracts were defaulted from the Indian side, said Arslan, who is also executive chairman of AGT Food & Ingredients Inc. There have been some amicable solutions, where exporters and buyers have agreed to cancel contracts at some level, he said.

Record Crop

India’s pulse production may climb to a record 22.6 million tons in 2016-17, compared with a government-set target of 20.8 million tons, Tomar said. Pulse imports may total 4.5 million tons to 4.7 million tons in 2016-17, down from 5.79 million tons a year earlier, he said.

Canada will see its lentil production jump 36 percent this year to a record 3.2 million tons, while pea output climbs 44 percent to an all-time high of 4.6 million tons, the government estimates. In the U.S., growers expanded the area planted to lentils by 89 percent this year to a record 930,000 acres, much of that coming at the expense of land previously used for wheat, U.S. Department of Agriculture data show. Production will more than double to about 623,000 tons, from 239,515 tons in 2015, said Tim McGreevy, the chief executive officer of The U.S. Dry Pea & Lentil Council in Moscow, Idaho.

The drop globally so far hasn’t affected Indian retail markets, Dongre said. “I don’t see any major upward trend from now onward.”

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