Agri Business

Kharif pulses harvest will be normal; prices to be under pressure

G Chandrashekhar | Updated on August 10, 2020

As of August 7, area under cultivation of pulses was 11.9 million hectares, slightly higher than 11.5 million hectares last year

With the 2020-21 Kharif season planting nearing completion, a clearer picture of the planted acreage for pulses is emerging. As per the government’s latest weekly progress report of area under cultivation, pulses were planted on 11.9 million hectares as of August 7, marginally above the 11.5 ml ha this time last year.

The aggregate area for pulses during the kharif season averages 12.9 ml ha; and it is expected this number will be touched this season too, and possibly exceeded marginally. In a couple of weeks, we should know the final acreage for kharif pulses. Tur/arhar (pigeon pea), urad (black matpe) and moong are major pulses for this season.

One may recall that in the first few weeks when sowing had started, the planted area was running far ahead of that in the same time last year which generated euphoria among various stakeholders. Based on initial progress reports, many asserted that the final planted area for pulses will far exceed the last five-year average and set a new record.

However, in these columns we had explained the reasons why planted acreage was running ahead of the previous year in the initial stages and cautioned it was too early to celebrate

Also read What’s behind the increased acreage under Kharif cultivation

All the three major pulses for the season show higher area than last year, while area under minor pulses is down by four lakh hectares. This augurs well for the supply of pulses in the months ahead.

The production target for the season is 10.5 million tonnes. Last year, actual production was 8.0 ml t, short of the production target of 10.1 ml t. Subject to normal weather over the next four weeks, the harvest this year may touch 8.5 ml t, yet fall short of the target.

Adequate soil moisture, timely sowing and reasonably good progress of southwest monsoon have been encouraging signs. However, as of August 5, northwest and central parts of the country had faced some moisture stress. The crops need precipitation, especially in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.

Be that as it may, prices of kharif pulses are most unlikely to move up to the minimum support price (MSP) announced for the season. MSP for tur/arhar has been hiked by ₹200 to ₹6,000 a quintal, but the pulse is trading at around ₹5,000. Moong MSP has been hiked to ₹7,200, but it is trading at less than ₹6,400. Urad is no different.

Once again, it is going to be a daunting challenge for the government to ensure that growers receive the MSP. The state machinery for price support is inadequate in relation to the size of the crop and geographical spread. This needs to be beefed up. A ritualistic announcement of MSP season after season without a strong institutional machinery to back it up is becoming a joke.

The government’s intention of ensuring higher returns for growers will be defeated if the MSP, which is a sovereign guarantee, is not defended. Wherever price support is weak, growers are forced to compromise and sell at lower prices.

Meanwhile, there is a need to boost the consumption of pulses. It is a welcome measure that distribution of whole chana as free ration to vulnerable families will continue till November. It is necessary to continue distribution of pulses through the PDS at subsidised rates along with rice and wheat after November.

The writer is a policy commentator and agribusiness specialist. Views are personal

Published on August 10, 2020

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