Pulses output lowest in six years, show latest estimates

Overall foodgrain output, however, rose marginally to 252.22 mt in FY16, farm ministry’s advance estimates show

A lower pulse crop has led to higher prices, with varieties such as arhar or pigeon pea retailing at over Rs140 per kg. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint
A lower pulse crop has led to higher prices, with varieties such as arhar or pigeon pea retailing at over Rs140 per kg. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

New Delhi: The crippling drought over the past year failed to impact India’s overall foodgrain production but led to the lowest production of pulses in six years, showed the fourth advance estimates released by the agriculture ministry on Tuesday.

In fact, according to the ministry, foodgrain production rose marginally—from 252.02 million tonnes (mt) in 2014-15 to 252.22 mt in 2015-16—despite 11 states declaring a drought last year.

The latest estimates imply that any change to the growth rate of the agriculture sector in the gross domestic product (GDP) data is unlikely.

In 2015-16, the sector was estimated to have grown at 1.2% against a 0.2% contraction in the year before.

The fourth advance estimates for 2015-16 are also in line with the third advance estimate released by the ministry in May, which put the production numbers at 252.23 mt.

However, the ministry revised downwards the production estimates for wheat, the main winter crop, from 94.04 mt in the third advance estimates to 93.5 mt in the latest estimates for 2015-16.

The only food crop that seems to have been affected by the drought is pulses, with an estimated production of 16.47 mt, the lowest in six years.

In 2008-09, the production of pulses stood at 14.57 mt and rose to a peak of 19.25 mt in 2013-14, the highest that India has ever produced.

A lower pulse crop has led to higher prices over the past year with varieties such as arhar or pigeon pea still retailing at over Rs.140 per kg.

The latest estimates show that the decline in the production of rice and coarse grains was offset due to a significant rise in the production of wheat.

While production of rice declined from 105.48 mt in 2014-15 to 104.32 mt in 2015-16, the production of wheat rose by as much as 8% during this period—from 86.3 mt to 93.5 mt.

However, the wheat estimates for 2015-16 are at variance with the government numbers, which show a sharp decline in procurement from farmers by the Food Corporation of India—from 28 mt last year to just 23 mt in 2016.

Even though the production of foodgrain was unaffected by the drought, the output of oilseeds and cotton took a hit, according to the latest estimates.

While the production of oilseeds fell by 8%, from 27.5 mt in 2014-15 to 25.3 mt in 2015-16, that of cotton fell by over 13%, from 34.8 million bales (one bale equals 170kg) to 30.15 million bales.

“The correction in production estimates of pulses seems to be in the right direction, but the market still does not believe the figures put out by the government,” said Ashok Gulati, agriculture chair professor at the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, New Delhi.

“For chickpea, the government is giving an estimate of over 7 mt while the markets believe it is no more than 6 mt, due to which the prices are spiralling,” Gulati said, adding, “for wheat, 88 mt is a reasonable estimate, but the government feels it is 5 mt more. Some of these and the earlier estimates like a record milk production in a drought year can seem like a joke.”

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