Contrary to the initial expectations farmers across the country have brought more area under the rabi pulses crop, mainly chickpea or chana this season. Chickpea acreage has increased to a new high with record sowing in Maharashtra and Gujarat, while the traditionally largest producing State of Madhya Pradesh has seen a marginal increase in area.

In the early part of the rabi sowing season, it was widely anticipated that there would be a shift towards mustard at the expense of chickpea and wheat on remunerative prices for the oilseed. With sowing almost over now, mustard has definitely made significant gains. It is not at the expense of chickpea, but wheat and other crops.

Pulses acreage flat

According to the Agriculture Ministry’s latest data, the total area under chana is up 3.5 per cent at 111.60 lh. Overall, rabi pulses acreage is almost flat at 160.23 lh compared with last year’s 160.13 lh.

Apart from chana, the area under lentils and lathyrus have increased, while coverage of other pulses such as field pea, kulthi, moong (green gram) and urad (black matpe) has declined.

In the case of chana, besides Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, other States such as Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Uttar Pradesh have also seen a rise in acreage. However, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Karnataka and Rajasthan have reported a decline in the area under chickpea.

This rabi, Maharashtra has surpassed Madhya Pradesh to emerge as the largest State to cultivate chana. The area under the pulses crop increased by 9.2 per cent in Maharasthra to 25.24 lh while Madhya Pradesh had 24.94 lh under chana.

Similarly, Gujarat saw a whopping 36 per cent increase in the area under chana at 10.94 lh from 8.03 lh the previous season.

In fact, the chana acreage, according to Ministry of Agriculture data, has increased from 1.69 lakh hectares (lh) in 2016-17 to 10.94 lh in 2021-22, a whopping 547 per cent increase, almost six times in the past six years

Favourable factors

Punit Bachawat, a pulses miller in Ahmedabad, attributes the rise in chana acreages in Gujarat this year to factors such as favourable weather and higher soil moisture among others. Also, the growing awareness about the chana crop in recent years among the farming community has contributed to the increase in area, Bachawat said.

Suresh Agrawal, President of the Indore-based All India Dall Mills Association (AIDMA), said the increase in water availability due to the improved irrigation facilities have also contributed to the rise in area under chana in Gujarat.

However, in Maharasthra, a majority of jowar farmers in Aurangabad and other districts, have turned to chickpea as prices for jowar are ruling low this season.

In Marathwada, farmers are completely dependent on jowar, chickpea and wheat for the rabi season. However, there is a sudden rise in chickpea cultivation, says Ramesh Thorat, a farmer in Aurangabad where the average area under chana is about 41,000 hectares. This season, the coverage has crossed 51,000 hectares. In other divisions of Maharashtra, there is a rise in chickpea cultivation.

Paddy to pulses

Similarly, in Telangana, the State government’s advice to farmers not to grow paddy this rabi keeping in view the Centre’s refusal to procure parboiled rice has proved to be a windfall for pulses.

As Telangana targets to cut the area under paddy by at least 50 per cent, there is an increase of 0.40 lh in the area of pulses at 1.8 lh.

“We are expecting this to go up by a bit more as there is still time for sowing to complete in the season,” a government official said. The area under chickpea has gone up to 1.30 lh from 1.14 lh, while that of blackgram has gone up to 25,800 ha from 9,700 ha.

Agricultural activists feel that there is a bigger scope for growing pulses. The State, they said, should have started early and prepared a plan for alternatives, allowing farmers to get ready for alternatives like pulses and oilseeds. Andhra Pradesh has also seen a steady pace in sowings of pulses.

Crop prospects 

S Chandrasekaran, a New Delhi-based trade analyst, said signs are positive for the rabi pulses crop with the situation being good for chickpea.

Sources said last year growers faced quality problems with regard to chana seeds, but this year the quality is reported to be good and it would help in better production. Growers feel the seeds this year are of better quality and hence, production will improve.

According to the pulses trade, the crop condition is good, so far, but freak weather patterns are a concern. The broader consensus among the pulses trade is that the crop this rabi would be around 90 lakh tonnes (lt), better than the previous year’s 85 lt.

Satish Upadhyay, executive committee member of the Indian Pulses and Grains Association (IPGA), expects the crop to be between 85 and 90 lt this year. Upadhyay said though the area has gone up, the recent unseasonal rains in some part of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra are seen to have had some impact on the crop.

The carryover stocks with the Government would be around nine lakh tonnes and the private trade is around 16.5-17 lt as of December 31. With an estimated consumption of 6 lt per month, the carry-forward stocks with the trade till February end would be around five lakh tonnes and the Govt around four lakh tonnes.

AIDMA’s Agrawal expects the overall chana crop to be around 90 lakh tonnes. “The crop condition has been good so far. A clearer picture would emerge over the next two to three weeks by February 1st week, as a normal weather would boost the prospects,” Agrawal said.

Weather watch

Recently, some districts in Madhya Pradesh such as Ashoknagar and Harda, while parts of Maharashtra and Rajasthan have also received unseasonal rains in some areas, Agrawal said.

Sources said the extreme cold weather and rains need to be watched. Rain forecast over the next fortnight in the growing areas could have an impact on the crop. In particular, if there are hailstorms then it could affect the crop, sources said.

Rahul Chauhan of Igrain India said the chana crop condition is largely stable, except for some damages in Maharasthra and Karnataka. “The chana crop seems to be promising and production can top 90 lt,” Chauhan said adding that carryover stocks with NAFED may be around 10-12 lakh tonnes and around 5-10 lt with traders

The Centre has increased the minimum support price (MSP) for chana by 2.5 per cent for the 2022-23 marketing season at ₹5,230 rupees a quintal against ₹5,100 rupees in the previous year. However, the current prices are trading around ₹4,800-5,000 per quintal in various mandis.

“The crop condition is good and there’s unlikely to be any price rise issue going forward,” Upadhyay said, adding that chana prices are expected to stay range bound between ₹4,500 and ₹5,500 in the season ahead. Also, the lack of buying interest by traders and stockists, due to the curbs imposed on stocking pulses could weigh on the prices.

On the prospects for Kabuli chana, Upadhyay said the crop condition looked better as the weather was conducive. The crop and yields are likely to be better this year, he said.

Imports of desi chickpea have seen a marginal increase in the current financial year. During April-October 2021, shipments into the country stood at 53,593 tonnes compared with 48,886 tonnes in the year-ago period. 

Igrain’s Chouhan said imports during the November-December period were estimated at 55,919 tonnes taking the overall imports during April-Dec to 1.09 lakh tonnes. Chana imports are only from LDC (least developed countries) of Africa. Chana imports from Australia attract 66 per cent Customs duty.

Lentis area up

Like in the case of chickpea, the area under lentils or masur has also seen an increase this year to around 17.32 lh from 16.7 lh the previous year. In Madhya Pradesh, the area under lentil has increased to 6.19 lh (5.4 lh last year), while in UP the acreage has risen a tad to 6.14 lh (5.99 lh). However, West Bengal has seen a marginal decline in the area at 1.32 lh (1.48 lh).

“The area under lentils has increased and we expect the crop to be between 10-11 lakh tonnes, better than last year” IPGA’s Upadhyay said. The lentil crop is expected to hit the markets from February end.

Lentil stocks with the trade, including at ports, is estimated at four lakh tonnes, while Nafed is holding around 55,000 tonnes. Upadhyay said the annual consumption of lentils is around 18-19 lt and the country still depends on imports of 6-7 lt to meet the requirement.

Trade sources expect lentils imports from Russia from March onwards, which could have some impact on the domestic market.

Chandrasekaran said there may not be any shortage of pulses in the coming days.

(With inputs from KV Kurmanath, Hyderabad; Radheshyam Jadhav, Pune; and Subramani Ra Mancombu, Chennai) 

(This is the third report in the five-part series on rabi crops outlook.)