Photo. L Vidyasagar, ICRISAT.
26
Jul

Feeling the pulse: Towards better self-sufficiency in pulses in India

Photo: The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

Photo: The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

A multi-pronged approach including quality seed availability and increased profitability for farmers can help India bridge the demand-supply gap in pulses, says a team of scientists. The 12-point recommendations made in the paper, ‘Leveraging Policies for Self Sufficiency in Pulses in India’, authored by Dr Ranjit Kumar from ICAR and Dr KV Raju from ICRISAT, suggest strategies for policy makers to consider to fill in existing gaps.

Pulses are a key source of protein in most Indian diets and India is the biggest consumer of pulses in the world. Yet, with stagnation of production in spite of increase in demand, there has been an increasing demand-supply gap for pulses in India.

Pulses, being rich in complex carbohydrates, proteins, B vitamins, micronutrients and fiber, while being low in fat, help manage cholesterol, improve digestive health and regulate energy levels. Due to an increasingly nutrition-conscious urban population in India, the demand for pulses is growing rapidly; the supply lags far behind. India produces a quarter of the world’s total production of pulses and consumes almost one-third, importing 2–6 million tons annually (most of it from Canada, Myanmar, Australia and African countries) to meet the domestic demand.

The paper analyzes the Indian pulses scenario over the past five decades.

During the Green Revolution period (1964–1972) in India, the focus was to achieve food self-sufficiency through modernizing and intensifying agriculture to raise yields of the major cereals – rice and wheat – through the use of improved seeds, multi-cropping methods, modern fertilizers and pesticides, and so on. As a result, production of rice and wheat went up by over 225% (to 106 million tons) and 808% (to 95 million tons) respectively in 2013– 2014, compared to 1960–1961. However, over the same period, production of pulses in India increased only by about 47% to about 18.5 million tons (from about 12.5 million tons).

Based on the scenario assessment, short-, mid- and long-term strategies have been recommended.

Short-term strategies

  • Strengthening seed delivery system by encouraging high-quality seed production of pulses
  • Ensuring remunerative prices for farmers by judicious consideration of Minimum Support Price (MSP)
  • Effective procurement by arranging procurement centers close to producers
  • Skilling of pulse growers on modern production practices with help from Krishi Vigyan Kendras
  • Efficient crop insurance mechanism focused on pulses growers.

Medium-term strategies

  • Expansion of area under pulses by utilizing fallow lands and reclaimed wastelands for pulses production
  • Forming Farmer-Producer Organizations (FPOs) for value addition through processing of pulses and shortening of the value chain
  • Customization and development of farm equipment, including app-based hiring
  • Setting up of storage and warehousing in rural areas
  • Foresight for international trade, with tools to predict market demand/supply

Long-term strategies

  • Developing short-duration and pest- and disease-resistant cultivars, with adequate funding support for R&D
  • Integrating pulses into the public distribution system (PDS) to ensure minimum consumption by poor households even during scarcity

According to the paper, published in the Journal of Development Policy and Practice, the predominant smallholder farmers in India shifted their cropping pattern away from risky pulse crops to less profitable but more stable crops such as cereals. Apart from this, rising costs of labor, low genetic yield potential, frequent crop failures and yield instability due to biotic and abiotic stresses, and lack of institutional support (seed delivery system, guaranteed procurement, support price in congruence with yield etc.) have been some major challenges in the pulses sector.

Photo. L Vidyasagar, ICRISAT.

Photo. L Vidyasagar, ICRISAT.

In recent years, the Indian government has proactively worked to increase area allocation to pulses cultivation, along with several improved and high-yielding varieties of different pulse crops being developed by research institutions for different regions in India. The states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Odisha are witnessing significant leaps in pulses production since the year 2016–2017.

The National Food Security Mission (NFSM), launched in 2007, outlines policy packages involving field demonstrations of best farming practices, incentives for adoption of modern technologies, and resource conservation and management practices. In the past six years, the government has continued to increase the MSP of kharif pulses by over 45% and that of rabi pulses by 50–60%. However, it will take much more than these incentives for India to achieve self-sufficiency in pulses. Drawing on the above recommendations can prove to be invaluable for policy makers while formulating strategic plans to increase and improve pulse production in India.

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