Pulses in India- Diagnosis of Low Production and a Policy Prescription Towards Self Sufficiency

By Prof. Ashok Vishandass *

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Pulses in India- Diagnosis of Low Production and a Policy Prescription Towards Self Sufficiency

Can a person survive if her pulse rate goes outside the normal range of 65-100 per minute? The scene presented by pulses prices in a country like India2 is analogous to this. The person may die if it is either too low or too high, depending upon whether she is a farmer or consumer. Currently, pulse prices are ruling below MSP which dampens the enthusiasm of farmers to walk an extra mile to cultivate the commodity to contain its imports.

The country has been persistently deficient in pulses production in varying magnitude in spite of significant investment by the government over time. The annual demand outstrips the domestic production in the range of 1.50 million tonnes to 5.90 million tonnes (Chart-1).

Due to shortfall in the domestic production in relation to its high consumption demand, import of pulses has risen to 6.6 million tonnes in 2016-17 compared to 4.6 and 5.8 million tonnes in 2014-15 and 2015-16 respectively. Excessive reliance on imports in a thin global market is fraught with pushing the prices significantly upward.

Since 1966, pulse crops have been neglected with the agricultural policy environment favouring the spread of green revolution technology to a few crops such as paddy and wheat for food security reasons, crowding out pulse production. Due to prolonged neglect for several decades, productivity of pulses has witnessed a rather phlegmatic growth in relation to those of wheat and rice (Chart-2).

Productivity of pulses in the country is low not just in relation to cereals (rice and wheat) but also with reference to other major pulse producing countries in the world. For instance, Canada, a major exporter of pulses to India, has productivity almost three times that of India. Notwithstanding the turnaround in pulses in the last three to four years, pulses have been moving to marginal unirrigated areas.

As the area under irrigation increases or when water available is adequate, farmers prefer wheat in the northern zone and paddy in the southern zone.

Policy Induced Bias Against Pulses during Last Five Decades

Phosphorus deficiency is one of the most widespread soil fertility problems in pulses. Pulses fix nitrogen nutrient by themselves and thus do not require urea. Given that urea is the only fertiliser which is controlled and sold at subsidised notified sale price, pulse cultivators are implicitly excluded from fertiliser subsidy regime.

Thus, a preponderate proportion of the subsidies on fertilisers go to crops like rice, wheat and sugarcane as these crops use much of subsidized water (including power for irrigation) and fertilizers. The rain-fed crops, of which tur (pigeon pea) and gram (chickpea) are prime examples, face high weather risk (without adequate insurance cover), use negligible subsidies and remain somewhat neglected.

Risk Aversion

For sustained growth in domestic production of pulses, reasonably strong procurement machinery is essential to instil confidence among the farmers. NAFED was set up with the main objective of procuring notified commodities at MSP, if and when the market prices go below MSP. The agency has been in the existence for over the last 30 years, yet the benefits of MSP bypass a large section of farmers, rendering the entire dispensation of pricing policy and procurement operations ineffective. The procurement of pulses by public procurement agencies such as NAFED during the last five years has been abysmally low. Authorisation of FCI to procure pulses in addition to NAFED may improve the situation.

High volume - high risk - low demand of pulse seeds make it unattractive for the private sector to play a significant role in its production and distribution. Depending upon the variety of pulse, it takes about 40 to 80 kilograms of seeds per hectare compared to about 10 kilograms per hectare in cases of hybrid paddy, mustard, sesame etc. In view of this, ICAR-IIPR and National Seeds Corporation (NSC) need to take a lead role in production and supply of ‘certified’ seeds. It takes about 3 years in the production of ‘certified’ seed from nucleus seed, breeder seed and foundation seed being intermediate stages. These institutions have to draw a blueprint for production and distribution of adequate certified seeds at affordable prices, at least 3 years in advance to meet the demand of pulses seeds. For this purpose, IIPR and NSC should be given requisite financial support. To make pulses cultivation a resilient proposition, stress tolerant and short duration varieties need to be widely propagated through suitable extension intervention so that farmers are encouraged to adopt such varieties. Also, ICAR-IIPR and National Seeds Corporation (NSC) may be entrusted with the responsibility of popularizing an extra early and stable dwarf type suitable for multiple cropping by adopting area-specific approach.

Policy Prescription

Pulses play an important role in maintaining soil health as they have unique ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen, which enhances soil fertility and productivity. Therefore, farmers growing pulses can be given a direct incentive for their contribution towards positive externality in the form of nitrogen fixation. To create crop-neutral incentive structures for farmers, which at present are skewed against pulses, pulse cultivators need to be given a cash subsidy equivalent to average implicit subsidy per hectare on urea, which works out to about Rs. 4,000 per hectare.

Pulses are highly vulnerable to pests and diseases whereas processed dal (split and polished) is not. In the absence of mini dal mills in rural areas, pulses are transported to mills in the urban areas for processing into dal and then it comes back to villages for consumption. This involves avoidable storage, fumigation and transportation costs. In view of this, it is desirable to popularize mini dal mills at village level, which will help steady supply of pulses in rural areas and will consequently ease out supply constraint at macro level.

Pulses in India- Diagnosis of Low Production and a Policy Prescription Towards Self Sufficiency
Pulses in India- Diagnosis of Low Production and a Policy Prescription Towards Self Sufficiency
Pulses in India- Diagnosis of Low Production and a Policy Prescription Towards Self Sufficiency


Disclaimer: The opinions or views expressed in this publication are those of the authors or quoted persons. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Global Pulse Confederation or its members.