Incentivising production of pulses, oilseeds

Rupa Dutta/Supriya Malik | Updated on June 22, 2021

Pulses Crucial for food security   -  Sampath Kumar GP

From a stable trade policy to giving sops for transport and storage, there are myriad set of measures that can be adopted

Pulses are a crucial and affordable source of protein, fibre and essential vitamins. It is a highly water efficient and climate resilient crop that can be grown in drought prone areas. It helps in soil fertility by fixing nitrogen and promoting soil microbes.

Domestic production of pulses peaked in 2016-17 and 2017-18 when the total production of the five major pulses was 204.7 lakh tonne (LT) and 228 LT respectively. India currently produces 25 per cent of the world pulses output. The per capita availability of pulses also reached 55.9 gram/day, as against ICMR recommendation of 52 gram/day pulse requirement.

The critical issues afflicting the sector are — pulses being cultivated primarily under rain-fed conditions and on relatively poor soils; production exhibiting wide fluctuations, necessitating imports; cobweb phenomenon comprising the lagged effect whereby price rise (or fall) during the current marketing year leading to a surplus (or shortage) in production in the following crop year; low productivity with average yield at 8 quintals per hectare, against international levels of 9.6 quintals per hectare.

A greater focus on domestic production by making pulse production more attractive is the need of the hour. Creating multiple engagement platforms to demonstrate the benefits of growing pulses to farmers, ensuring dissemination and successful adoption of various technologies, working on access to R&D and high-yielding varieties, are some of the measures that need to be undertaken.

This involves strengthening of extension services, use of ICT (AI, GIS, remote sensing) to disseminate important information on prices and weather, impact assessment studies, machine learning techniques, capacity building and skill enhancement. Additional area can be brought under cultivation via intercropping and sequential cropping, increasing mechanisation, integrated nutrient and pest management, promotion of bio-fertilisers and micro-irrigation.

To ensure better availability, there is need for a more flexible trade policy for pulses. The current import policy is characterised by maintaining a quota system for tur, urad and moong, and imposition of import duties for chana/gram and masur. The quotas for pulses are decided in advance based on production estimates. However, significant uncertainty arises due to variations in the initially estimated production and final production.

There is a need for stable import policy for pulses along with adequate remuneration for farmers in the event of bumper production, and to recommend tariff measures on imports, in collaboration with stakeholder departments.

Recently, Urad, Tur and Moong have been placed under Open General Licence till October 31, 2021. On the demand side, regular institutional offtake under MDM, ICDS and PDS would ensure assured market for pulses and fulfil the nutritional needs of the population.

Oilseeds play an important role in food security and improving income of small and marginal farmers. Oilseed crops have various other industrial uses.

India meets 60 per cent of its edible oils requirements through imports, with palm oil, soyabean oil and sunflower oil garnering the major chunk.

As in the case of pulses, oilseeds are grown in largely rain-fed and marginal lands, small land-holdings and incur high seed costs. It is for these reasons that production of oilseeds has been stagnant. India has also gradually liberalised edible oil imports and reduced duties. Stagnant production and rising demand have made India import reliant for oilseeds, leading to price volatility.

Based on climatic conditions, cropping pattern and local cuisine, some locally produced edible oils include mustard oil, coconut oil, groundnut oil, cottonseed oil and sesame oil. However, palm oil, which barely figured in Indian cuisine, has now come to dominate edible oil use in India, being cheaper as compared to other oils.

On the demand side, State governments can procure locally available edible oils and distribute them as part of the PDS basket. On the supply side, there is a need for addressing structural supply side issues by incentivising investment in transport, storage and warehouse infrastructure, encouraging small scale industries to take up oil extraction, leveraging existing schemes and funding available under the MSME window etc. This needs to be accompanied by assured procurement under MSP, as in the case of rice and wheat.

The way forward

The issues faced by both pulses and edible oils are broadly similar, and we need long-term measures to boost their production. Some of these measures include — incentivising farmers to cultivate pulses and oilseeds on well irrigated lands; devising stable MSP and import policies; investing in storage and warehouse infrastructure; providing transport facilities in mission mode; involving private-sector entrepreneurs for building modern storage infrastructure; use of AI and other such tools to give access to farmers regarding technological breakthroughs; enabling sharing of real time data about prices on a dynamic basis using modern satellite technology, so that farmers are well aware of prevailing trends all across the world in terms of levels of cultivation, weather forecasts and likely price scenario.

This sharing of information can enable both consumers and producers to ensure optimal production and enhanced availability. Further, there is a need for a liberal import policy, with consent of all concerned stakeholders, to ensure access, availability and accountability.

Dutta is Senior Economic Adviser, Department of Consumer Affairs, and Malik is Deputy Director, Department of Consumer Affairs

Published on June 22, 2021

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