Will Pusa Arhar 16 solve India’s pulse problem?

Pigeon Pea variant Pusa Arhar 16 could prove a game changer for inflation-wary policymakers as it has a maturity time of 120 days down from 160-270 days of current varieties


Arun Jaitley, Arvind Subramanian and agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh at the unveiling of the Pusa Arhar 16 pulse variant. Photo: Sayantan Bera/Mint
Arun Jaitley, Arvind Subramanian and agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh at the unveiling of the Pusa Arhar 16 pulse variant. Photo: Sayantan Bera/Mint

New Delhi: Anew high-yielding pulse developed by government scientists at a leading research institute could prove a game changer for inflation-wary policymakers and consumers alike.

Pusa Arhar 16, a dwarf pigeon pea created by scientists at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), has a maturity time of 120 days, down from the 160-270 days needed by varieties now in use. It also requires less water and is suitable for mechanized harvesting with no loss in yields, at about 20 quintals/hectare.

Arhar, or pigeon pea, is among the most widely consumed pulses in India. Its prices shot up to as much as Rs200 per kg last year due to lower production, leading to a surge in imports.

On Monday, a ready-to-harvest crop of the new variety was unveiled before finance minister Arun Jaitley and agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh at the IARI in Delhi.

“We are hoping the variety can be released for commercial cultivation by January next year, so that farmers can plant it beginning of the Kharif (monsoon or summer crop) season (June 2017),” Singh said. The variety can help “India achieve self-sufficiency in pulses in the next 2-3 years”, he added.

“Our government was worried about pulses. India is the largest producer, consumer and importer of pulses and it is a price-sensitive commodity,” Jaitley said, congratulating the scientists. Arvind Subramanian, India’s chief economic adviser, was also present.

The semi-dwarf, high-yielding variety Arhar Pusa 16 has many positives, said A.K. Singh, head of genetics, IARI. “As crop maturity is synchronous (unlike present varieties which mature unevenly over time), it can be harvested using combine harvesters. The evenness of the crop means it is (also) easily amenable to pesticide sprays,” he said.

A.K. Singh said that work on it started in 2007, and that it is suitable for both intensive cultivation areas such as Punjab and rain-fed areas of central India.

Currently, farmers consider pulses to be a risky, rain-dependent crop that takes a long time to mature. “With this variety they can easily have another crop of wheat, mustard or potato,” A.K.Singh said.

As the new variety is extra-early maturing, the farmers in rain-fed areas will have a wider window for sowing—from the expected onset of south-west monsoon on 5 June to the first week of July. Longer duration crops have a shorter window as delayed planting means sacrificing the next crop.

Consecutive droughts led to a drop in domestic production of pulses to 16.5 million tonnes in 2015-16, from a high of 19.25 mt in 2013-14, causing a surge in imports.

However, farmers in major pulse-growing states increased planting area by 37% this year, boosted by ample rains and higher retail prices over the past year. The centre has set a target of producing a record 21 million tonnes of pulses in 2016-17.

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