Issues Around Pulse Production in India

Pulses, which are part of staple diet of Indians is gradually vanishing from the plates. India is the largest consumer of pulses but a fourth of its demand of pulses is met through import which is a big worry. Recently, pulses have become a matter of concern among policymakers, especially members of the Opposition have pointed to the exceptionally high cost of certain pulses which is an indication of high food inflation. In result of this, a committee on pulses has been set up by the government, headed by Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian, to look after the country’s pulse production, trade and distribution. After demonetization has set in, there has been a gradual fall in the price of the pulse crops. While at one side the consumers are relishing their meals, on the other side farmers are severely hit by this. Moreover, the unsustainable and inefficient agricultural cycle is also holding back India in the growth and development of its agricultural sector. And the more alarming issue is, losing of precious foreign exchange by India while importing pulses. The major problems related to productivity of pulses and cereals are technological setbacks as well as the lack of a managerial setup to supervise the current scenario. There is a severe lack of a mechanism for the procurement and marketing of pulses, which becomes a major obstacle in the propagation of pulses. Therefore, despite of the fact that India is the largest producer of pulses in the world it is the largest importer as well, since the domestic production has not kept pace with demand. The production of pulse will be incentivised if the government assures that it will procure pulses vis-à-vis rice and wheat through the Food Corporation of India and other State agencies.

Reason for low production

  • Agro-climatic condition- Indian agriculture is largely dependent on rainfall for its agricultural production, and especially the pulse crops are only grown in the rain-fed areas. However, the harsh truth is that the agro – climatic condition in India is comparatively less suitable for pulses, which hampers the cultivation of pulses across the country and around the year.
  • Indian pulses are not much yielding genetically and are also vulnerable to pests which are a major hindrances to adoption of pulses by farmers. Being rain-fed, pulses often experience drought at critical growth stages. Therefore, lack of drought and disease resistant varieties of pulse seeds is alarming.
  • Lack of information about the production technologies is a big gap leading to low productivity. It is the need of the hour that agricultural sector hires a quality personnel, who must be trained and equipped with exceptional knowledge and latest practices. Moreover, poor availability of agricultural inputs such as seeds, bio-pesticides and micronutrients is another big barrier.
  • There is creation of arrangement of irrigation in the Gangetic plain to cultivate cereals and cash crops and hence, pulses are left to less productive regions.

What is being done and what should be done?

One of the key findings made by the committee under Chief Economic Advisor that if farmer are to be encouraged growing more pulses, they must get sufficient profit from the production. The minimum support price given by the government was not sufficient to procure pulses especially tur dal and hence it ended leaving increase in prices of pulses. Also, the state and central governments both are shifting to impose various price controls or price levels on pulses as a result of concerns about rising prices. Controlling prices of pulses can be disadvantageous to the entire agricultural sector –and will effectively demean demand and supply dynamics and move away from free-market principles. The fluctuation of prices due to supply and demand provides incentives for farmers and importers to continue operations. Price controls cannot be imposed merely on seasonal profits and it will just provide disincentives to farmers and importers who depend on the revenue they earn from high demand will lower their effort which will affect not only the production, and supply of pulses but will also leave a negative impact on the consumers in the long run.

If the government is serious about solving this problem, the least they can do is provide for free access to the market to the farmers to give them a fair field to play upon figuratively. The restrictions on the functioning market must be removed. To start with, the government must abolish restrictions on the export of the pulses produced by our farmers especially when the MSP cannot be guaranteed. These limitations on the export are anti-farmer in nature. The government must also impose import duties on the import of pulses for a period till farmers complete their harvests. Further, a mechanism must be developed by the government which would help farmers getting signals of the market price in advance. This would reduce risk from decisions of planting as well as give an idea to the farmers of future prices. Also, private agencies must be hired by the government to stockpile a buffer stock which will save farmers from crashing of prices.

Conclusion

Pulses are an important part of poor man’s food plate and India being a hub of 195 million hungry people, production of staple crops and their protection is the need of the hour especially when pulses have been a vital source of proteins to children, according to WHO reports. It is time we understand that free trade of pulses is less important than access to free markets to the farmers and is not a solution for food security. The government must get more serious about this crop and adopt certain measures especially those mentioned above to avoid import of pulses going from quarter to complete import.

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