Even as the country is in the latter half of the June to September southwest monsoon cycle, concerns about Kharif pulse crops are emerging rapidly. The key pulse crops for this season include tur/arhar (pigeon pea), black matpe (urad) and green gram (moong).
The government has set a Kharif 2022-23 season production target at 105.5 lakh tonnes. The normal area under Kharif pulses is at 140 lakh hectares. As of August 5, the area coverage is at 116.4 lakh ha, marginally lower than 119.4 lakh ha this time last year on delayed sowing stalled due to monsoon progress in June.
However, the planting window is closing rapidly as there will be a lag between actual planting and the time of reporting by the government. By the end of August, we would hopefully have the final acreage data.
Overall, there are concerns on the pulses front. It is unclear if the total kharif planted area would reach the normal 140 lakh ha or fall short. The second is agronomy. The growers are not enthusiastic about the prices they received in the previous season. There is a risk that they may compromise on input management, which in turn, can impact the yield.
At 39.8 lakh ha, tur/arhar which is the key pulse crop this season is lagging by 10 per cent in area coverage, while urad by 2 lakh ha to 31.8 lakh ha. Moong alone has held well at 31.0 lakh ha.
Production shortfall likely
Even assuming that the weather remains benign for the rest of the season and the total planted area reaches the normal level, the prospect of targetted harvest size looks bleak. There is a risk that production may fall short of the target by as much as 20 per cent.
This can create upside risk to pulses prices, especially when inflation continues to haunt the economy. However, it is a matter of relief that import of tur/arhar and urad are ‘free’ until March 2023. This should encourage import from Africa for the next 2-3 months, and from Myanmar in the first quarter of next year.
Even last year, the government was forced to reduce the Kharif pulses production estimate from 94 lakh tonnes in the first estimate to 86 lakh tonnes in the second estimate after BusinessLine pointed out the overestimation. (See BL Commentary September 23, 2021).
Stagancy in output
On the current reckoning, there is nothing to suggest that this year’s Kharif may be substantially higher than the last year’s level. If anything to suggest, our Kharif season pulses harvest has got trapped in a narrow range of 80-85 lakh tonnes in the recent years. This stagnancy deserves to be broken. At the same time, the area available for pulses cultivation is nearing a saturation point.
Our production polices have to take on board these challenges and come up with an approach that ensures sustained growth to meet the consumption needs. The NITI Aayog meeting and presentation to the Prime Minister underscores this imperative.
(The author is a policy commentator and agribusiness specialist. Views are personal)