G Chandrashekhar

Promise of plenty for pulses

G Chandrashekhar | Updated on June 22, 2014

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India may import more pulses this year, but thankfully world markets are well supplied



Whether it is dal-chawal (pulses and rice) or dal-roti (pulses and Indian wheaten bread), protein-rich legumes have always been an integral part of the staple diet across the country.

Yet, pulses failed to receive adequate policy attention until recently despite the fact that they are mainly dry-land crops, a lot more eco-friendly than, say, rice and wheat. India is the world’s largest producer and processor, importer and consumer of pulses. Exporting countries such as Canada, the US, Australia and Myanmar produce pulses with India as the target market.

The actual availability of pulses for consumption is far below what the numbers show as supply. For instance, for the year 2013-14, total supply is estimated at 22.8 million tonnes comprising domestic production and imports. However, seeding, milling loss and wastage account for about five million tonnes, leaving a marketable surplus of about 17 million tonnes and per capita availability of close to 13.5 kg per year.

One also cannot ignore the skew in consumption with the top one-third of the population having higher disposable incomes consuming over 20 kg per capita and the bottom one-third being able to afford an estimated six-seven kg only.

It is this latter section of the population that suffers pervasive under-nutrition, including protein deficiency.

In 2013-14, chana harvest reached a new record high of 9.8 million tonnes, up from 8.8 million tonnes in the previous year. Chana prices have been ruling below the minimum support price (₹3,100 a quintal for 2013-14) for several months now, without any price support operation undertaken by government agencies. Despite rising overall production, India’s kharif pulses crop (planting June-July and harvest in September-October) has stayed glued at about six million tonnes with average yields sticky at about 500 kg per hectare.

Tur/arhar (pigeon pea), urad /black matpe (black gram) and moong (green gram) are the main kharif pulses.

Good production prospects

Even as India will continue to rely on imports of pulses this year, the good news is that, for the upcoming 2014-15 season, world pulses production prospects are rated good.

In particular, Canada and the US are expected to harvest large crops of pea, bean and lentil. With anticipated availability, prices are expected to remain consumer-friendly.

The world market is, of course, closely watching developments in India. Forecast of a below normal monsoon and looming threat of El Nino have raised expectations that India’s import needs will expand this year.

Already Indian importers have made forward commitments — mainly yellow peas and lentils — in anticipation of a demand surge during the upcoming festival season starting with Ramzan in July, followed by a series of Hindu festivals till the month of October.

Even if Indian kharif harvest declines marginally from last year’s levels, supplies around the world are abundant. Overall, global agri-commodity markets (corn, wheat, oilseeds and oils) are expected to be well supplied and prices are set to rule softer this year. Pulses are most unlikely to defy the gravitational pull of the world agri markets.

Published on June 22, 2014

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