India may end up importing more pulses in 2007-08 than the 4.3 million tonnes (mt) it did in 2006-07 because more farmers have moved to lucrative cash crops. The under-production, and subsequent rise in the price of pulses last fiscal contributed to inflation soaring to over 6.5% in early 2007.
Data put out by the agriculture ministry shows that the situation may worsen this year, forcing the government to import more pulses. The area under pulse cultivation (on the basis of crop sowing) in the ongoing kharif season (June to October) has shrunk almost 16% to 40.2 lakh ha.
Instead, farmers have shifted to cash crops such as cotton and oilseeds.
The kharif season is one of the two agricultural seasons in India (rabi is the other) and coincides with the onset of the monsoon.
“In 2006-07 total production (includes kharif and rabi) of pulses is estimated at 14.23 mt against 13.4 mt in 2005-06—still much lower than the demand of 17 mt,” said an official at the agriculture ministry who did not wish to be identified. The government made up the shortfall through imports.
The decline in sown area under pulses in the kharif season, which marks the beginning of the crop year for pulses, is expected to impact total production in 2007-08. The area sown under all three kharif crops tur (pigeon pea), moong (green gram) and urad (black gram) has fallen compared with last year. While the decline in sown area was 16% in the case of urad, it was 7% for moong and tur.
Pulses grown in the kharif season account for 37% of the country’s total pulses production and 48% of the total area on which pulses are cultivated. Rabi, or the winter crop, pulses such as chana (gram dal), masur (lentils) and yellow and green peas account for the rest.
According to the agriculture ministry, while the area sown under cotton this kharif season has risen by 12.6% that under oilseeeds has risen 3.6%.
Total production of pulses for 2007-08 is projected to be between 13 mt and 14 mt. “We will have to depend on imports from Myanmar and other countries such as Nigeria, Turkey and Pakistan,” said Madan Sabnavis, chief economist, National Commodity & Derivatives Exchange of India (NCDEX). He added that the high dependence on these countries also means that India is subject to vagaries of the politico-economic conditions in these countries.
Sabnavis said the shift in pulses is largely due to low incentives in producing pulses. “Farmers often treat pulses as the second crop and therefore give less priority to them. They should be given soft credit (to encourage them to grow pulses),” he added.
According to S. Raghuraman, head of trade research, Agriwatch, an independent research outfit in the area of agriculture and related issues, there are two major reasons for shrinking area under pulses: “One, the farmer is getting no incentive to grow pulses as yields are going down and therefore returns are also low; secondly, farmers are shifting to oilseeds and cotton which are proving to be more remunerative.”
The support prices offered by the government for pulses and other commercial crops are comparable, but experts said that unlike in the case of oilseeds and cotton, the use of high-yielding varieties of pulses is yet to be popularized. Thus, while demand has consistently increased over the past 30 years, production of pulses has ranged between 12mt and 15 mt.
The minimum support price for this kharif season is Rs1,590 per quintal whereas that for moong and urad is Rs1,740 per quintal each, 13 to 14% higher than last year’s prices. Currently chana dal retails at Rs33 a kg while tur dal sells at Rs39. None of these is incentive enough for farmers to switch to pulses.
The minimum support price for groundnut-in-shell (which goes into the making of ground nut oil) for the kharif season is Rs1,550. Cooking oils such as mustard oil retail at Rs60 a litre while groundnut oil sells at Rs103 a litre.
To raise pulses production the government plans to spend 25% of the Rs4,880 crore that is being set aside to set up the National Food Security Mission. Its objective is to produce 2 mt of extra pulses per annum from 11 states covering 168 districts and bring another four million ha under pulses production.