Who can deny that pulses are at the core of the average Indian diet? Therefore, the NDA government’s multi-pronged short-term and long-term strategies to meet the growing consumption of pulses in the country — from importing to increasing production through new technologies, and making cultivation attractive to farmers — is to be welcomed. 

In fact, pulses play a key role in providing nutrition security and are also believed to provide various health benefits, particularly in the fight against non-communicable diseases.  

According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, pulses are an affordable source of protein and minerals for a large proportion of rural populations in the world.  Pulses have a long shelf life, which means they can be stored for long periods without losing their nutritional value. 

Many pulses are drought-resistant and are suitable for marginal environments. The FAO has also said that the production of pulses can help increase food and nutrition security in countries where malnutrition is a particularly important issue. 

Strategic plan

As part of its strategy to increase the output of pulses, the Government has recently enhanced the MSP per quintal for tur (arhar) from ₹4,625 to ₹5,050, urad (₹4,625 to ₹5,000) and moong (₹4,850 to ₹5,250). Last year, the Government effected an increase of up to ₹275 in the MSP and also gave a bonus of ₹200 a quintal for pulses. While the annual consumption of pulses in the country is around 23 million tonnes , production is around 17-19.5 million tonnes (mt). In view of this widening gap between supply and demand, plans are afoot to increase imports in a steady manner.

Although India is the largest producer and consumer of pulses, the increasing mismatch between production and consumption is a matter of concern. This concern was reflected during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent tour of African nations when an important pact was signed with Mozambique to import tur and other pulses from that country for the next four years.  Starting with an initial import of 100,000 tonnes in 2016-17, the aim is to double the quantity to be imported by 2020-21.

Similar deals are being planned with Afghanistan, Myanmar and a few other African countries. Canada and the US are among the countries from where India is importing pulses. The production of pulses in the country in 2015-16 stood at 17.06 mt; 5.79 mt were imported. At the same time, several measures have been initiated to encourage farmers to grow pulses. It is expected that around 20.75 mt will be produced during 2016-17.

Apart from hiking the MSP for pulses, the Government has also tasked a panel headed by Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian to look into all aspects of pulses, including price rise, MSP and providing subsidy to farmers who grow pulses. This panel is expected to provide a long-term assessment on the whole issue.

As part of pro-active measures taken to achieve self-sufficiency in pulses in the coming years, the National Food Security Mission (NFSM) has been expanded to cover all 638 districts in the country, and 60 per cent (₹1,100 crore) of the total allocation of ₹1,700 crore for the mission has been earmarked for pulses. With the inclusion of the share of the States, the total allocation stands at ₹1,630 crore. Of this, 15 per cent is allocated for new types of seeds.

Increasing production

While the Indian Institute of Pulses Research (IIPR) forecast that the demand for pulses will touch 39 million tonnes by 2050, only four States — Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan — are currently producing 70 per cent of India’s annual requirement. If the monsoon plays truant, production will be drastically affected and this will lead to a spurt in prices. This situation has to be altered by encouraging more farmers to grow pulses in other States. Wherever required, farmers need to be motivated and incentivised to shift from rice and wheat. This will naturally make the cultivation of pulses less dependent on rain-fed areas by increasing the irrigated area for pulses, which is currently around 16 per cent.

Another focus area is to increase the average yield of the existing pulses varieties, which is 9-10 quintals per hectare. Although pulses occupy 20 per cent area under foodgrain, they account for less than 10 per cent of India’s annual foodgrain output. A major push is being given to develop newer varieties that will have the potential yield of 15-20 quintals per hectare. The IIPR is carrying out research in this direction. The Government is also seeking to popularise new seed varieties through a network of 150 seed stations, Krishi Vigyan Kendras, agriculture universities and the National Seed Corporation.

In a bid to expand the cultivation of new kinds of seeds, the Government has also increased the size of buffer stocks from eight lakh mt to 20 lakh mt and stocks are being released to States for retail distribution at a highly subsidised rate of ₹120 a kg.    

Other initiatives

The other initiatives taken to increase pulses output include distribution of mini-kits to farmers free of cost through State governments for expanding cultivation of new types of seeds. Allowing 100 per cent FDI in the food processing industry will also help encourage farmers to cultivate pulses in view of the assured market for their produce.

As many as 534 Agriculture Science Centres are involved in demonstrating new techniques for pulse production in 31,000 hectares during 2016-17 and an amount of ₹25.29 crore has been allocated for the purpose.  Also, seed hubs are being created to ensure availability of new seeds. An amount of ₹139.5 crore has been approved for setting up 93 seed centres in the next two years. It is planned to establish 150 seed centres in three years and make available 1.50 lakh quintals of improved seeds.

Even as the UN declared 2016 as the International of Year of Pulses, the NDA government is seized of the urgent need to provide a special thrust to increase their production to meet the demands of the growing population in the country. With about 30 per cent of the population being vegetarian, pulses play a vital role in meeting their nutrition needs.

While pursuing the long-term objective of increasing production significantly, the Government is aware that in the short-term, measures such as enhancing MSP could also encourage farmers to grow pulses. 

The writer is the minister for urban development and information & broadcasting

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