Assessing the Growth Trajectory of Pulses in India

Pulses, a vital source of nutrition, protein and fiber, have followed a slow growth trajectory in India compared to cereals, primarily rice and wheat. According to India’s position in World Agriculture, 2018, India produced 25.5 million tonnes, contributing 27.63% of world’s pulses production. Although India secures the first position in pulse production in the World, India also tops the position of being the largest importer of pulses in the world. This signals the existence of demand- supply gap in India where domestic production is not sufficient to meet its demand, hence necessitating import in the country. With a very marginal increment in area attributed to pulse production, the trend of productivity has not been impressive and has followed an inconsistent path. With positive rate of productivity in recent years, the rate at which it has increased is very minimal. Hence, not only it calls for diversification from rice-wheat centric agricultural system but also crop intensification where maximum output per hectare can be grown.
As per the Global Hunger Index, 2021, India’s undernourished population accounts to 14%, with 37.4% stunting rate (children with low height for their age) and 17.3% wasting rate (children with low weight for their height). India Pulses Grain Association (VOL-5, ISSUE-1) has specified that the intake of protein must be between 60g to 120g per day, depending on age and gender. However, per capita protein consumption is declining in both urban as well as rural areas (NSSO 2011-12). Monthly per capita expenditure for pulses (constituting 20-45% protein) is only Rs. 42 out of Rs. 756 food expenditure of rural areas and Rs. 54 out of Rs. 1121 food expenditure of urban areas.
Proportion of pulses in total food grain production has not seen noteworthy difference with only 26.91% increase in 2019-20 against 2010-2011. Area attributed to pulses in total foodgrain production has increased marginally by 7.34% in the same time frame. With a boost in 2016-17 and 2017-18, it has drooped since then. Indian pulses and Grain Association has explained the heavy loss of pulse crops due to excessive rainfall in 2019-20. The path of both area as well as production of pulses for the last ten years clearly indicate that nutritional requirement of pulses has been severely undermined with no increment in both.

Due to the introduction of Green Revolution in 1960s in India, major impetus was given to producing rice and wheat in Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh to make India self-reliant. Cultivation of pulses witnessed a fall from 1960-61 to 1980-81. With National Food Security Mission in 2007-08, pulses were considered an integral component to ensure nutrition security. Technological advancements, maintaining soil fertility through nitrogen fixation and micro-nutrients, distribution of high quality and hybrid seeds, capacity development of farmers, value addition and post harvest management, among others, were the major objectives of the mission. Resultant to the targets set by the government to increase the production by 2 million tonnes by 11th plan (2008-13), it increased from 15.19 million tonnes to 18.34 million tonnes. Hence, production target could be met but the production and productivity growth rate moved in opposite directions. Although the production targets could be met terms of output, maximum output per hectare of land couldn’t be obtained and vice-versa.

2016-17 saw a steep increase in production, productivity and area cultivated for pulses. NFSM-Pulses was extended to 638 districts of 29 states against 468 districts of 16 states in 2011-12 and the funding pattern changed to 60:40 between Government of India and the states and 90:10 for three Himalayan states and North Eastern States. Direct Benefit Transfer mechanism was adopted where the subsidies and incentives directly reached the account holders. Reforms in all the sectors affecting production were brought. Integrated Nutrient Management (INM) and Integrated Pest Management (IPM), Water management tools, high quality and high yielding variety seeds, Targeting Rice Fallow Area (TRFA), and training of cropping techniques sprouted the growth of pulses in 2016-17 but the same pace has not been able to sustain in recent years with production falling since 2017-18 and productivity showing a negative growth rate. This is reflected by the per capita net availability of pulses where the distance between the per capita availability of wheat and pulses is diverging and that of rice is above the both. This clearly signals the production conditions favorable to rice and wheat cultivation in India. With the high cost of production of pulses and price below Minimum Support Price (MSP) as compared to rice and wheat, farmers are not incentivized to shift from their traditionally grown crops, hence, leading to stagnation (rate of increase in population being more than the rate of increase in production) in per capita availability of pulses in India.

Rice, being a rainfed crop, is less under assured irrigation system than wheat, a rabi crop. Pulses, that too require abundant water for their cultivation has very less support of irrigation facilities. As Indian farmers prefer growing rice, they treat the same as their priority during the kharif season and pulses is considered only after the requirement of rice is met. This poses risk to the productivity of pulses that is dependent on water. Arhar, the second most widely cultivated pulse crop in India has only 5% irrigation support. It is essential for Rabi crops like lentil (masur) where winter rain is absent. Rainfed areas can produce at their optimum level only when they are supported by water efficient application tools which require awareness, training and monitoring at the same time. Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (2015-16) which focuses on the Micro Irrigation system of Per Drop, More Crop highlights the usage of sprinkler and drip irrigation. Although this can turn as a productive source for pulse cultivation with less assured irrigation facility at place, it has to be directed more towards the pulse cultivation. Rainfed Area development under National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture underlines Integrated Farming System (IFS) promoting rotational, mixed and intercropping farming system to maintain the efficient utilization of water resources and soil fertility. Being practiced since 2014-15, more weightage has to be given to pulses in IFS such that productivity of rainfed areas can be maintained through suitable farming practices.

Along with crop diversification of pulses, an equal focus has to be given to regional diversification in production enhancement of pulses in India. As represented by the graph, 80% of pulses cultivation is concentrated in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Telangana and Tamil Nadu. Two findings are very crucial in understanding this. One, every year since 2016-17, same states have dominated the production level, indicating much screwed regional spread of pulses. Second, states like Punjab, Haryana where rice and wheat has grown pre-dominantly since 1960s have negligible contribution to pulse production and calls policy intervention where resource abundant states can shift to the cultivation of pulses. Also, North Eastern States, with well distribution of rainfall, can find better pulse growing opportunities.

As production with yield of pulses increased in 2016-17, import started declining as consumption demand could be met. 2019-20 saw 56.15% decline in import from 2016-17. Also, certain import restricting measures were taken in 2017 and 2018. Lentil and chana which once had no restriction in entering India faced an import duty of 30% in 2017. Import duty of chickpeas was raised to 60%, 50% for yellow peas and 10% for tur in 2018. To encourage domestic producers, quantitative restrictions on urad, moong and tur dal were also imposed. Not only support through favorable import policies was given, export of most of the pulses was made free such that more land could be utilized for pulse cultivation.

Although MSP for pulses have increased under Pradhan Mantri Annadata Aay SanraksHan Abhiyan (PM-AASHA), lack of procurement in recent years have lead to farmers selling their produce in open markets for which they get price less than MSP, thus acting as a disincentive for them to shift to pulses from paddy cultivation (procurement being assured and MSP providing fair return over cost). At the kharif season of 2019-20, only 1% of urad production, 17% of tur and 8% moong were procured, as per Commission for Agricultural Cost and Prices (CACP). Economic Survey 2015-16 highlighted that excess of buffer stock of rice and wheat at the cost of other crops has led to price rise in pulses and oilseeds. In 2020-2021, procurement of wheat increased by 11.77% and paddy increased by 14.55%, which is more than required, putting fiscal constraints on government’s expenditure.

Indian Institute of Pulses and Research (2015), in its Vision 2030 projections, has estimated the demand for pulses to touch 32 million tonnes. To meet this demand, the required productivity is 1361kg/ha. However, the productivity has been falling since 2017-18 with only 817 kg/ha in 2019-20. To reach this level of productivity by 2030, growth of 66.58% productivity is required in the next ten years against the growth of 18.23% in the last ten years (2010-11 to 2019-20). An increase in productivity is required to meet the gap between estimated demand and supply. To increase the same, with an increase in regional susceptibility to pulses, its production cannot be treated as secondary to rice and wheat production and has to be integrated into mainstream agriculture as mixed or intercropping farming system. Rotation farming i.e. growing pulses with cereals promotes disease free and better quality soil. Even if production of pulses increases to meet the demand, the objective can only be met when a proper disposal mechanism is designed by introducing it into the Public Distribution System and consequently increasing the consumption of pulses in the country. By bringing pulses into the PDS, procurement will eventually increase and guarantee farmer’s price equal to MSP i.e. better return over cost, meeting the twin objectives of crop diversification and crop intensification.

– Bishakha Jajodia

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