Indian Government Extends Methyl Bromide Fumigation Facility at Destination till December 31, 2017
By G. Chandrashekhar
Let’s start with the good news! The Plant Quarantine authority under the Government of India’s Ministry of Agriculture has notified that imported pulses entering the country can be treated with fumigant methyl bromide at the port of discharge till December 31, 2017; thus ending, albeit temporarily, an eerie suspense that created unsettled conditions in the trade.
Clearly, the relief is temporary, like in the past. Lasting solution will have to be hammered out among stakeholders keeping in view various aspects including environmental, economic, legal and political implications. Concerns of every section of stakeholders will have to be considered. Costs and benefits of decision will have to be evaluated. No easy, but doable if the stand is less rigid.
Indian Pulse Market:
In many ways 2016-17 will go down as an abnormal year for the Indian pulse market. Record domestic harvests (22.4 million tons) combining with record imports (6.6 million tons) have taken total availability of the protein-rich legumes to an unprecedented, and previously unimaginable, 29.0 million tons.
At one level, it surely demonstrates the ravenous appetite for pulses consumption in India which by itself is a positive sign; and at another, callous policymakers and excessive imports hurting domestic growers following an unprecedented price collapse.
Not just growers, even the pulse trade has suffered heavy losses. Many dal mills, importers and local traders have lost heavily following a rapid fall in values. Quite a few have gone bust. Huge inventory is now piled up in warehouses across the country with not many takers in sight. It is going to take an extended period of time before the trade steadies itself.
The emerging scenario is fraught with possibilities. As this writer has communicated over the last several months in different forums, India’s record harvest of 2016-17 is most unlikely to be repeated in 2017-18. Planted acreage will decline, so will production. This will be the result of growers’ disillusionment and anger over not getting remunerative prices.
The government has fixed a production target of 22.9 million tons comprising 8.75 million tons in Kharif season (planting June/July and harvest September/October) and 14.15 million tons in Rabi season (planting November/December and harvest March/ April). The early planting reports for the upcoming kharif season are ominous. Pulses acreage is clearly slipping, as predicted by this writer. As of June 23, pulses were planted to only 600,000 hectares versus 900,000 hectares this time last year.
The normal kharif acreage for pulses is in excess of ten million hectares. Admittedly, these are early days to come to any definitive conclusion about eventual acreage and harvest size, but the initial trends could be a pointer to the shape of things to come.
The beneficiary in the pulse glut is India are the consumers. With a decent downward correction in wholesale and retail prices, consumers are able to access pulses at more affordable prices than before. Given the serious protein deficiency, rising consumption of pulses is a good sign.
From August to October India will celebrate a series of festivals when consumption of food in general and pulses in particular expands manifold. That can help reduce the burdensome inventory being nursed at present.
Indian agriculture in general and pulses sector in particular has faced the neglect of policymakers over the last many years. This now seems to manifest in farmers’ protests in different parts of the country seeking a waiver of farm loans. These protests have the potential to snowball into more massive nationwide agitation. In the event, the government will be forced to take unpalatable, and possibly avoidable, decisions that can distort the pulse trade. This is best avoided.
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(G. Chandrashekhar, Editor, The Pulse Pod, is a global agribusiness and commodities market specialist. Views expressed here are personal. He can be reached on +919821147594 and firstname.lastname@example.org)