India’s Major Crops: Pulses

Pulses are leguminous crops that constitute an essential part of Indian diet because nearly 43% of all Indians are vegetarian (urban-48% rural-41%) and pulses are important protein source. The main pulses grown in India include chickpea or Bengal gram, pigeon pea or red gram or arhar,  lentil (masur in Hindi), urdbean or black gram, mungbean or green gram, moth bean, horse gram, pea, grass pea or khesari, cow pea, broad etc.

Production Trends and Key Issues

India is largest pulse producer as well as consumer of the world accounting for 25% of world’s pulses production. In 2016-17, India’s pulse production was record 22.40 million tonnes, of which with 40% share, Chana or Gram or Chick Pea remains the largest produced pulse crop. According to 2016 figures, Madhya Pradesh is India’s largest pulse producing state, followed by Maharashtra and Rajasthan. Between 2009 and 2013, the average area under pulses production was 23.9 million hectare. This is around 12-13% acreage among all crops.

In last 60 years, neither the acreage nor the yield had grown substantially. The total production of pulses in recent decades has been around 17-19 million tonnes; while area under pulses production has been between 22 and 26 million hectares. Only in last few years, the situation in pulses has changed substantially.

Pulses as Drivers of Food Inflation

Pulses have been main drivers of food price inflation because of huge demand supply gap, low productivity; low production incentives and government controls. Further, pulses are climate resilient crops but they are susceptible to biotic stress because the legume crops are rich in N and P and it makes them attractive for insect pests and diseases. Most of the pulses in India are grown in low fertility, problematic soils and unpredictable environmental conditions. More than 87% of the area under pulses is rainfed, thus water is a major issue. Further, the arid and semi arid areas of the country face problem of alkaline and acidic soils. Since long, governments gave little importance to pulses in comparison to staples. Only in recent times, government started providing MSP support to pulses viz. Gram, Lentil, Urad, Tur and Moong. Despite of this, farmers in India treated pulses as secondary crops.

2014-15 Pulse Price Rise Issue

Till 2014-2015, one fourth of demand of pulses was met through imports and it was a grave concern for policy makers. In that year, the prices of pulses skyrocketed putting substantial pressure on the government.

Government Efforts

A committee was set up under then Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian to look into the pulse production, trade and distribution. This was followed by several actions that helped to curb the price rise; and government was successful in achieving its objectives. Some of these were:

  • Government banned export of most pulses; increased imports and removed import restrictions.
  • Strict and effective action was taken by states against the pulse hoarders, leading to seizure of 5,800 tonnes of pulses in five states in 2015. This eased supply in the market.
  • Was in talk with several countries of Africa to grow pulses there (example Mozambique).
  • Ministry of agriculture had recommended creating a buffer stock of pulses of 3.5 Lakh tonnes in 2015-16 crop years. The government went a step ahead and created an 8 Lakh tonne buffer stock in October 2015. In October, 2017, the government decided to raise the buffer stock to 20 Lakh tonnes. This was more than sufficient.

Scene after 2015 and current status

After 2015, the country saw a sudden rise in pulse harvest and it was felt that the buffer stock created would add to the problems of the government as well as farmers. The government has decided to distribute the part of this pulse stock via PDS system and lift the export controls on pulses, looking at falling profits of the farmers due to abundant supply. Accordingly, in September 10 year old ban on pulse exports was removed and instead a restriction on import of Tur (Pigeon pea), Moong (Green Gram) and Urad (Split Black gram) was placed. Currently, India has highest so far availability of pulses and as per government, there won’t be a need to import pulses till 2019.

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