Does India have an alternative to higher import of pulses?

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The Indian government is chalking out a new plan to import more pulses as weather vagaries have begun to cast doubts over domestic production.

India has so imported 2.237MT of pulses valued at $1.61 billion during the first half of this fiscal year that began from April. This year’s production target of 20MT set by the government might be difficult to achieve due to intermittent rains, low storage in reservoirs and floods down south.

In the last cropping year (June’14-May’15), total pulse output was 17.2MT. The first advanced estimate of this year put pigeon pea production at 2.6MT, about 130,000 tonnes lower than last year. Under best-case scenario, the production this year might just equal last year’s output. This leaves a large gap in the supply-demand equation that needs to be bridged by imports. In the last fiscal year, India had imported 4.584MT of pulses.

However, the situation in other lentil growing countries too is equally grim. November showers have damaged the ready for harvest chickpea crop in Australia. Floods in August is estimated to have cut the pigeon pea crop output by 40 percent, from 350,000 tonnes in 2014 to 200,000 tonnes this year.

Canada’s lentil output is estimated to be lower than last year due to El Nino. In India too, as on 27 November, pulses sowing fell to 9.09 million hectares from 9.78 million hectares last year due to lack of soil moisture. With intense winter due to set-in, the pulse acreage will not significantly increase further. Chickpea is the major winter pulse crop along with peas and lentils such as masur and French beans (kidney beans).

As the wholesale prices have started inching up, the government has called private traders for a meeting to weigh in on a coordinated strategy to tap international markets. Either way, when the largest consumer of a product goes shopping when supply is tight, prices are bound to hit higher circuits. India consumes about 6,600 tonnes of pulses each day.

With four state elections – Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala—scheduled in the first half of next year, the government is set to continue its draconian control on pulses trade. Anxious to rein in on spiraling prices, the government has seized 130,000 tonnes of pulses from 14,314 raids on private warehouses across the country. It has thus far released a third of the seized stock in the open market to stabalise the prices. While the government actions have bruised the trading community, it is an open question whether the private sector will join hands with the government to keep international prices in check.

Nobody wants high prices of pulses to become a reason for election losses.

 

 

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