As the shortage of raw materials, triggered by the lockdown, begins to hurt pulses processors, dal millers want the Government to release the stocks held by NAFED to ensure that supplies are maintained.

“Millers have started facing a shortage of raw material. Farmers are holding on to their produce due to lack of transport and there’s hardly any trading in APMCs,” said Suresh Agarwal, President of Indore-based All India Dal Mills Association. “The Government should start releasing the stocks to ensure that factories keep processing the pulses,” he said.

Agarwal said a section of millers in key producing regions such as Indore, Kalaburgi, Akola, Himmatnagar and Nagpur, who have access to raw material and labour, have been running their operations to maintain the supply of dal.

As on March 26, the pulses stocks held by NAFED stood at over 22.32 lakh tonnes, of which gram accounted for the most at over 14.88 lt. Stocks of toor stood at 3.87 lt, moong at 1.73 lt and urad at 1.64 lt. Masoor stocks stood at 18,164 tonnes. NAFED and state agencies are in the middle of procurement of toor and gram in States such as Karnataka and Maharashtra, but the purchases have been impacted as farmers are finding it difficult to bring their produce to the markets.

Imported pulses

In addition to the stocks held by NAFED, imported pulses such as urad and moong are lying at ports in Mumbai and Chennai, Agarwal said. Millers are finding it difficult to gain access to the imported pulses due to transport disruption.

The demand for pulses has been rising in the past 8-10 days on panic buying of staples across the country, resulting in a spike in prices. Wholesale prices in the production hubs have moved up by at least a tenth in the past few days, traders said.

In Karnataka’s Kalaburgi, the main toor producing region of South India, processors are finding it tough to gain access as the APMC markets are shut. On Saturday, the district authorities came up with a plan for a partial opening of the APMC so that the social distancing is maintained and the market is not crowded. It remains to be seen how the farmers would respond as transport has been shut, trade sources said.

More manual work

The traders are hesitant to resume operations as it would be difficult to maintain social distancing while loading, unloading and weighing pulses bags, which is largely done manually. Moreover, the availability of labour or convincing them to resume work would also be an issue, they said.

Kalaburgi district had witnessed the first death due to Covid-19 in the country.

“We feel it is a good plan to keep the market open partially. The opening of Kalaburgi APMC, the main market in the region, would influence other markets in the district, which should help ease supplies,” said Shivsharanappa Niggagudgi, President of the Gulbarga Dal Mills Association. “Also, we have asked the State government to help gain access to the stocks held by NAFED,” he added.

Santosh Langar, a trader and processor of pulses in Kalaburgi, said the prevailing situation provides an opportunity for government to offload its stocks as farmers are finding it difficult to bring their produce to markets. The government should fix a ratio for converting pulses into dals and lift the same for maintaining the supplies. Prices of tur have moved up by ₹500 per quintal to around ₹5,700-5,800, while the tur dal is quoting at around ₹8,000 per quintal in Kalaburgi, he said.