G Chandrashekhar

We can be self-reliant in pulses

G. Chandrashekar | Updated on March 09, 2018

HYDERABAD (AP) - CONNECTED : A farmer at Basantpur Village , in Medak District of Andhra Pradesh (120km from Hyderabad ) at the 'Biodiversity Festival ' after harvesting organic farm produce , on 'Sankaranti' . The villagers will go in a procession with carts carrying the seeds for the next one week to propagate agricultural heritage , inspired to them by the Deccan Development Society . ---PHOTO: P.V.SIVAKUMAR .   -  P_V_SIVAKUMAR

There is a huge difference between the per capita pulses consumption of the top 30 per cent of the population and the bottom 30 per cent.

Peak pulses output was achieved in 2010-11. The only way to become self-sufficient is to improve yields through technology.

The government's fourth advance and final estimates for agricultural crop production during 2010-11 has disclosed highest ever output of foodgrains (241.6 million tonnes or mt), that includes wheat (85.9 mt), coarse cereals (42.2 mt), pulses (18.1 mt) as well as oilseeds (31.1 mt) and cotton (33.4 million bales).

Specifically, in coarse cereals, maize has registered a new high (21.3 mt.), while in oilseeds soyabean has reached a new peak of 12.7 mt.

But the great success story is pulses where production of gram (chana) at 8.25 mt, moong at 1.8 mt and urad at 1.7 mt has reached the highest ever. In the third advance estimate, the crop output was an estimated 17.3 mt.

Pulses production during the year has recorded an unprecedented increase of 3.4 mt. In the previous two years (2009-10 and 2008-09) the output was 14.6 mt each.

Acreage too has expanded to a record 28.3 million hectares, sharply up from 24.8 million ha of the previous year. In other words, pulses yields have risen to about 640 kgs/ha in 2010-11 versus about 590 kgs/ha the previous year.

CHALLENGES AHEAD

It is believed that high open market prices of pulses in the previous two years encouraged growers to plant more pulses and manage inputs better. There is such euphoria about the quantum jump in pulses production, that the Agriculture Secretary is on record saying that we can easily produce 20 mt and after three or four years imports may not be required.

According to him the production target of 20 mt can be achieved by bringing in fallow land under cultivation and through inter-cropping.

The Agriculture Secretary's observation caused a flutter. There were also questions on whether such public statements were intended to influence market prices.

Without doubt, 2010-11 will go down in India's recent farm history as a watershed year for foodgrains. As for pulses, the crop continues to face several challenges that include cultivation on marginal lands under rainfed conditions, low level of input usage, susceptibility to pest and disease attacks, antiquated agronomic practices and low yields. Given the serious land constraints the country faces and competition among crops, especially during the rabi season (wheat, oilseeds and pulses compete for acreage), it would be naïve to expect that area cultivated to pulses will continue to expand substantially as it did in 2010-11.

Even if area planted to pulses expands, it will be at the cost of some other crop. On current reckoning, even if some fallow land is used, it may be safe to assume that maximum acreage planted to pulses in both seasons together may potentially reach a maximum of 30 m. ha.

DEMAND-SUPPLY GAP

Like in most food products, demand for pulses is both income-elastic and price-elastic. Rising incomes and affordable prices will spur demand growth. Conservatively, current availability (production plus imports) is an estimated 20-21 mt which translates to per capita availability of close to 17 kilograms. However, in reality, the actual availability — that is marketable surplus after retaining seeds for sowing plus dal milling/processing losses — is only 16 mt.

This translates to per capita availability of about 13.5 kg. This low per capita consumption figure of course ignores the skew in consumption pattern. The difference in per capita consumption of the top 30 per cent and bottom 30 per cent of the population is huge.

Indeed, it is the financially challenged bottom 30 per cent of the population that deserves to consume more pulses because of pervasive malnutrition and under-nutrition among this section.

Serious protein and calorie deficiency among the poor, especially the rural poor, is well documented. If the pulses consumption of this section of the population is sought to be increased then India would need to produce perhaps 23-25 mt. As land constraints are sure to stymie area expansion, the only way to produce more pulses is through vertical growth. Yields have to go up. India's pulses yields are notoriously low and sluggish at about 600 kgs/ha.

Industrial economies such as Canada and the US harvest three times more pea and lentil that is about 1,800 kgs/ha. In the short run, can pulses yields demonstrate even a modest increase to say 750 kgs/ha which would result in harvest of about 21 ml.t.?

TECHNOLOGICAL PROGRESS

Yes, it is possible, provided there is focused attention to input and output management. Higher research investment for genetic breakthrough in pulses is the need of the hour.

On the output side, there is strong case for procurement of pulses — at least a million tonnes if not more — by the government for supply through the public distribution system. Currently, research is on to evolve genetically modified pigeon pea and chick pea varieties that are insect-resistant.

The initial results are said to be highly encouraging. It is likely that Bt. Pigeonpea and Chickpea may be ready for commercialisation say in the next two or three years.

In the event, there can be a genuine revolution in pulses cultivation and production volumes. It is not inconceivable that the country may have some export surplus left even after meeting burgeoning domestic needs. What the Secretary claimed may be ambitious; but not impossible. We need to work towards it.

Published on August 25, 2011

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