Agri Business

Kharif pulses output risks falling to 80 lakh tonnes

G Chandrashekhar | Updated on August 24, 2021

Break in monsoon, pest attack increase risk of crop damage, even as acreage plateaus

There is rising concern over the size of the kharif 2021 pulses production. The three important pulses of the season are tur or arhar (pigeon pea), urad (black matpe) and moong (green gram) plus minor pulses like chauli (cowpea) and kulthi (horsegram in India).

The government has fixed a production target of 98 lakh tonnes for the season but, on current reckoning, the harvest size risks trailing by over 15 per cent.

Kharif sowing at 1,044 lakh hectares

The pace of planting was affected by a break in the southwest monsoon from June 20 to July 10, and again for a few days early this month. Planting operations were, by and large, completed 10 days ago. The normal area (five-year average) under kharif pulses is 136 lakh hectares; the agriculture ministry’s data shows, as of August 20, about 134 lakh ha — barely two lakh more compared with last season.

Cottonseed firms face double whammy this kharif season

Of concern is a private forecaster’s revised report that, overall, the southwest monsoon may be below-normal. It may be recalled that the India Meteorological Department (IMD) had asserted that it would be 101 per cent of the long-period average.

From a surplus in June, rainfall has gone into a worrying deficit now. As many as 25 of the 36 meteorological subdivisions are in the deficient category. Clearly, crops are at some risk of damage. Pest attacks are seen too. In Maharashtra, for instance, a few lakh hectares of urad are affected by leaf mosaic.

So, on current reckoning and subject to normal weather from now, kharif pulses production certainly risks falling below last year’s levels. The government’s fourth advance estimate, released recently, shows 2020-21 output at 87 lakh tonnes (79 lakh tonnes the previous year). Of course, it is another matter that the trade thinks these numbers (revised lower in successive estimates) are still overstated.

Now, production is likely to fall nearer to 80 lakh tonnes. This is indeed bullish and likely to further tighten the availability. To its credit, by mid-May, the government allowed free import of the aforesaid kharif pulses till October 31. Imports are sure to augment availability and arrest sharp upward movement of prices.

Data from the last five years show kharif pulses acreage has hit a plateau; and, most likely, reached its peak. We cannot anymore depend on area expansion. Vertical growth is the way forward, for which breakthrough in seed technology is critical.

There seems to be a smug feeling among policymakers that the country has reached self-sufficiency in pulses. The progress made since 2016-17 is undoubtedly commendable; but it may be insufficient if production and productivity continue to stagnate. One bad monsoon can throw out of gear the nation’s pulses, oilseeds and coarse grains production, worsening the already poor nutrition status. Continued attention is critical.

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

Published on August 24, 2021

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