India battles over pulses, as imports feed into food inflation

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The latest mid-year economic review by the government paints an unhappy picture of India’s battle for pulses, stating that production has lagged consumption since 1995 that has triggered price spikes periodically and fuelled inflation.

Pulses form an important part of an Indian’s food basket and are an important source of protein. The report said India has lagged badly both in productivity increases in pulses – only 45 percent between 1951 and 2008 – and area under production that grew only 25 percent in the same period. Add to that the fact that about 30 percent of farm produce is wasted every year for want of storage, transportation, cold chain and other infrastructure facilities and the overall picture looks even more dismal.

We are short on pulses and it we haven’t found a fix even as food habits have changed and the demand has increased, forcing the government to import increasingly higher quantities.

Here is what the situation looks like:

  1. The production of pulses has remained almost stagnant within the range of 13 to19 million tonnes during the period 2005 to 2015. The per capita net availability of pulses has declined from 69 grams/day in 1961 to 35 grams/day by 2010.
  2. The minimum support prices for pulses, arhar, moong, urad, gram and masur have been steadily raised by the government in order to support and encourage farmers to cultivate pulses, but that hasn’t helped much in attaining self sufficiency.
  3. Import duties on pulses have been brought down to zero from an earlier 30 percent to ensure domestic supplies

And here is the government strategy:

  1. It believes that a three-pronged strategy focusing on yield, insurance and price (YIP) can augment domestic production of pulses and India can attain self sufficiency in pulses production.
  2. Yield: Currently India’s yield per hectare for pulses is around 700 kilogram, which is much lower than the global yield in pulses.To augment domestic production of pulses and improve productivity, measures need to be taken to control pests and diseases, introduce better variety of seeds, no-till cultivation in rainfed areas to retain moisture and soil fertility.
  3. Insurance: Weather-based price insurance needs to be made more effective for pulses since the climatic risks faced by farmers are very high with erratic rainfall that adversely impacts pulses cultivation. Generating awareness about insurance among farmers has to be of highest priority.
  4. As per data, the agricultural households not aware of and not insuring their pulses crops are very high at 5 percent for urad cultivators and 49 percent for moong. Therefore, it is imperative that the coverage of weather based insurance for pulses is enhanced to bring maximum pulse farmers under the insurance scheme.

The other, bigger problem is of course that most of the production is in rainfed areas and a poor monsoon – such as the one this year – can easily skew the production chart. Three-fourths of the total pulse area production fals in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh. With an annual target growth in pulse yield of 6 per cent from these states, there is hope India can overcome the shortages in pulse production. The bigger picture, however, still remains uncertain until other key issues such as storage, transportation and wastage get fixed.

 

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