It may surprise Gulf expatriates hailing from South Asian countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka to know that much of the pulses that they regularly eat are processed and packed in a plant in the UAE emirate of Ajman.
Several thousand tonnes of pulses grown in many countries are brought here for processing before being exported to other Gulf and Middle East and even to Britain, USA and Canada.
A small Indian spices and pulses trading company that was set up in Sharjah Industrial Area in 1986, has now grown to become one of the largest pulses sourcing and processing firms in the Gulf.
Harish Kumar Lal Tahiliani, a businessman from India’s Gujarat state, is a second generation entrepreneur in the UAE, knows the pulse of the world pulses market and directly communicates with farmers as far away as Canada, Australia, Myanmar, China and some African countries and buys their entire crop for the season even before the seeds are sown.
Tahiliani, managing director of Arab and India Spices, Ajman is now awaiting for arrival of two bulk vessels carrying 6,200 tonnes and 10,000 tons of pulses respectively from Canada, which will undergo milling, splitting, cleaning, processing and packing in what he claims to be the Middle East’s largest pulses processing plant under one roof that can handle 14 different lines.
“This is the first time we are bringing pulses in a bulk vessel because we can save $30 to $40 per tonne of pulses purchased directly from farmers in Canada through advance booking. We entered into an agreement with farmers’ cooperatives in Canada in February 2015 even before the farmers started cultivation and a mutually agreeable price is good for both parties,” he added.
“Foreign farmers are assured of a reasonable price for their crop and we are assured of regularly supply of pulses to feed our plant in Ajman and serve the world market,” said Kumar. “We have 14 lines of production, all under one roof. In 2015, we plan to increase our processing capacity by 50 per cent.”
“There are different seasons for production of pulses in different countries and farmers quote a price even before sowing the seeds, based on cost of fertilisers and other production costs. We reach a mutually agreed price. In case there is a natural calamity like rain or draught, there is uncertainty and prices may go up, but I always ensure at least 40 per cent supply to my plant in Ajman through agreements reached earlier with farmers in other countries. The agreements are registered with GAFTA –Grain and Free Trade Association - an international trade association with over 1,400 members in 86 countries.
Harish Kumar learned the pulses business from his father Kumar Lal Megharaj Tahiliani, who started a small mill in India’s Gujarat state to feed a 17-member family living in a single room apartment, and went on to become the mayor of the town of Nadiad, and now owns Asian Food Industries, one of the biggest food processors in Gujarat. Megharaj Tahiliani also started the Sharjah plant.
“The banning of export of pulses by the Indian government was one reason for our tremendous growth but there are other reasons like the growth of expatriate population in the Gulf and the recession-free nature of the food industry,” says Harish Kumar.
“Seventy per cent of food brands here process pulses from Arab India Spices and give them their brand name. Our customers range from major supermarkets and hypermarkets in the region including Carrefour and Lulu and food manufacturers and traders like Geema, Shama, Al Adil, Nellara, Jaleel, Eastern etc. A lot of processed pulses are exported to USA and Canada,” he said.
“In 1946, my grandfather had to flee from our homeland of Sindh in Pakistan and start life from scratch in India’s Gujarat state. He started a small mill in Gujarat to maintain a 17 member family who lived in a one bedroom house. My father later joined the business and from 1980 to 1983, he studied the UAE market and found that everything was imported here,” said Harish Kumar.
When my father visited Sharjah to meet his sister, who had got married to an Indian merchant here, all the spices and pulses consumed locally was coming from abroad, sometimes taking a few months to reach by ship. It was then that he thought of starting a pulses mill in Sharjah,” he added.
“My father Kumar Lal Megharaj Tahiliani started a small mill of 4,000 square feet in 1986 in Sharjah Industrial area and we expanded to 40,000 sq feet within a short time. We were perhaps the first to start a pulses processing plant in here. Later we moved to Ajman with a 400,000 square feet plant with 14 different lines of production, because we could not expand in Sharjah. We keep expanding every year to meet the demand,” he said.