New Delhi: In a significant decision to tame rising pulse prices, the Centre has decided to raise buffer stocks by over five times. At present, the government procures about 1.5 lakh tonnes of pulses, and this will be enhanced to eight lakh tonnes.

The decision was taken at a high-level meeting chaired by finance minister Arun Jaitley, the food ministry said in a brief statement issued late night on Wednesday. Among other things, the meeting attended by the food minister Ram Vilas Paswan and agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh also decided to import more pulses from Myanmar and Africa.

Creating a sufficiently large buffer stock will help the Centre intervene in the market to tame prices from time to time. It will deter traders from manipulating prices, and farmers can expect better prices. Earlier, the Centre decided to hike support prices for pulses and set up pulse production hubs across the country to boost output.

The Centre’s move comes at a time when some pulse varieties are retailing at a high of 170 per kg due to a supply shortfall caused by consecutive droughts. Production of pulses, primarily grown as a rain-fed crop, fell from 19.25 million tonnes in 2013-14 to an estimated 17.06 million tonnes in 2015-16, a drop of nearly 11.4%.

Currently, India imports nearly a quarter of its domestic demand for pulses. Import of pulses soared from 4.6 million tonnes in 2013-14 to 5.8 million tonnes in 2015-16.

Both retail and wholesale price inflation accelerated in May on the back of rising food prices. Inflation of pulses has remained over 30% in the last few months. In May, while retail prices of pulses soared 33.63%, the wholesale price of pulses increased 35.56%.

Farmers see pulses as a risky crop, grown under rain-fed conditions, in the most drought-prone parts of the country. Only 16% of the area for cultivation of pulses in India has access to irrigation.

In comparison, nearly 93% of the area under wheat cultivation and 59% of the area under rice cultivation has irrigation facilities. This shows up in the lower productivity of pulses—6-7 quintals per hectare—which could double with access to irrigation.

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