Oct 10, 2015

Why production of pulses is not increasing in India? An interview


देश के विख्यात खाद्य एवं व्यापार नीति विश्लेषक देविंदर शर्मा ने देश में दहलन की आफत के कारण बताते हुए कहा, “दलहन की समस्या के कई प्रमुख कारण हैं, शोध और विकास उसमें से सिर्फ एक है। प्राथमिक तौर पर यह सरकारों की हार है।” पढि़ए देविंदर के गाँव कनेक्शन के साक्षात्कार के कुछ प्रमुख अंश :

According to you what are the primary reasons behind the current tipping scenario of pulses in India?

For the average Indian household, dal has to be part of the daily menu. For the majority, dal is the only source of protein. But unfortunately, it was never accorded the kind of priority it deserves, neither by policy makers nor by agricultural scientists. Perhaps this stems from the legacy left behind by the British. Since the British were not dal consumers they considered it to be an inferior grain.  

When I was a student, I was always puzzled why Bengal gram or Kabuli chana in Hindi (botanically called as Cicer arietinum) was called chick pea. Similarly, why red gram or arhar in Hindi (botanically Cajanus cajan, syn. Cajanus indicus) was called pigeon pea. Both are very important part of the Indian diet, and are rich nutritious legumes.

Arhar contains high amounts of proteins, and amino acids, methionine and lysine. It not only supplements the Indian diet, which is rich in cereals, with proteins thereby making it well-balanced, pigeon pea is also used for green manuring and medicinal purposes. Chick pea on the other hand is also highly nutritious, has about 23 per cent protein, and is a rich source of carbohydrates and calcium.

Since pulses were not an essential part of the European diet, the British and French used to feed arhar to pigeons and chana to chickens. For them, that’s what pulses were used for. Unfortunately, the same kind of mindset continued to prevail after Independence. We didn’t accord the kind of prominence pulses needed to be given among the basket of crops that required push. The emphasis to increase pulses production, on the lines of wheat and rice, was always missing.  The definition of food security remained confined to boosting the production of wheat and rice. It is the consequences of this neglect that the country is facing shortage of pulses now.

Despite being one of the biggest consumers, we have really not been able to increase per acre production, who’ at fault, would it have helped meeting the need?  

There is no reason why India cannot be self-sufficient in production of pulses. I have always remained puzzled at the lack of interest shown by policy makers on boosting pulses production over the past few decades. For several decades after Independence, more or less till 2008, India’s production of pulses remained almost static – in the range of 14 million tonnes or so. It is only recently that the government has woken up on the need to increase domestic production primarily because of the battering it receives from the media on the soaring prices of dal in the open market. 

I remember, some years back, when Mr Balram Jakhar was the Agriculture Minister, he had proposed cultivating pulses in some African countries and importing it. More recently, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar had advocated on the need to grow pulses in Burma and Uruguay, which could be imported. I fail to understand if India was willing to pay a higher price to farmers in Africa, Burma or Uruguay, why was it not making a similar commitment to pay a higher price to Indian farmers who could have then raised domestic production and thereby increase its availability.

There are several factors in the pulses story, research and development being just one factor. Primarily, it was the failure of policy makers to come out with plans and strategies to boost domestic production. The reason: they also considered pulses to be an inferior grain.

Would it be too much to say that research has failed the pulses' farmers so far?

Agricultural research programmes had also deliberately ignored pulses all these years. To illustrate, the thrust of the plant breeding research in agricultural universities and national institute had always remained on wheat and rice. The best scientists in plant breeding – a discipline that helped develop improved crop varieties – went into research on wheat and rice, where the glamour was. Those who opted for research on pulses -- and also in coarse cereals like bajra and jowar – were always thought to be not as good as those who worked on wheat and rice.

This discrimination in research priorities led to its virtual neglect. Similarly not much money came in for research on pulses, not even a fraction of what wheat and rice would get. You can’t expect wonders when you don’t make the right kind of investments.

Pulses research in India had lagged behind. Pulses is a crop of marginal areas, and research on pulses too was treated as if it was a marginal area of research. There has been no major breakthrough in pulses production for the simple reason that pulses research was always never accorded importance equal to wheat and rice.

 Farmers say long duration of crops, susceptibility to pests and diseases, lack of certified seeds are the reasons why they are avoiding cultivation of pulses. Has India done enough research to tackle these problems?

Yes, varietal improvement suffered because of the reasons explained above. Long duration of crops, susceptibility to pests and diseases are some of the reasons why farmers find it difficult to fit pulses in the usual cropping pattern. Since pulse were considered to be crops of marginal areas, requiring less water, insect pests and diseases did not get proper attention from scientists. Even entomologists and plant physiologists wanted to work on wheat and rice, with not many bright scientists opting for pulses. The gap shows.

Recently, there have been some successes. Scientists have evolved short duration varieties of gram and tur, which can be harvested in 100 days. Some salt tolerant varieties like JG-11 for south India have also been released. What is required is more research in fighting pests and diseases and also increasing crop yields. At present, the average productivity hovers around 760 kg per hectare, which needs to be jacked up to 1200 kg/hectare. Seed multiplication is also a task that required immediate attention. Agricultural universities will have to take the lead in seed multiplication and distribution.

Increasing productivity does not only depend upon improved varieties. It has also a lot to do with the enabling environment the government provides by way of assured market and assured prices. Once the cultivation of pulses becomes attractive, farmers will show interest. 

Since 2006-07 statistics show that there has been a steep drop in the acreage of pulses in India. This was the time when UPA decided to increase MSP of cereals (almost forgetting all other crops) in order to rapidly increase the production of wheat and rice. Should MSP politics of governments also be blamed?

In 2007-08, MSP for wheat got a big hike because India had allowed private sector to purchase wheat directly from the farmers. This resulted in private companies moving in swiftly and making huge purchases, leaving a huge shortfall in buffer stocks. India purchased some 8 million tonnes of wheat from international market at almost double the procurement price it had offered to Indian farmers to meet the PDS requirement. This became a political issue thereby forcing the government to stop the direct purchase from farmers, and in the bargain farmers got a higher MSP. 

In case of pulses, procurement prices are announced every year but without any procurement being made. Procurement prices have been increased in the recent past as a result of which production has gone up in some pulse crops. In 2013-14, India produced 19.25 million tonnes of pulses which a year later came down to 17.3 million tonnes in 2014-15, necessitating more imports. Since prices of pulses zoomed beyond expectation after March 2015, the government has announced a bonus of Rs 200 per quintal over and above the procurement price for this kharif season pulses.  

Considering the prices farmers get for wheat and rice, the procurement prices for pulses are low. This becomes a disincentive for farmers to undertake pulses cultivation. At a time when the retail market prices are more than double the farmers’ price, it is high time to provide farmers with MSP that makes pulses production attractive vis-a-vis crops like wheat and rice. 

Government do not procure pulses, country does not have a buffer stock. Do you think this can play a vital role in rejuvenating the cultivation of pulses in India?

Yes, I agree. Although the government has raised the Minimum Support Price (MSP) of some of the important kharif pulses, price alone may not be enough to raise production in the long run. While the price of tur and urad have been raised by Rs 275 and of moong by Rs 250 per quintal, the idea being to give a message to farmers to shift more area towards pulses, I have always felt that unless the government launches an assured procurement programme for pulses, there is little hope. What has been achieved in wheat and rice is what exactly needs to be done in case of pulses.

Augmenting production of oilseeds and pulses in 60,000 villages, with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) holding 6,000 crop demonstrations over the years, is certainly welcome. But what is required is a two-pronged approach if the government is anywhere serious in boosting domestic production of pulses:  

1.     Pulses attract zero per cent import duty at present. As long as import   

tariff are not raised substantially, imports will continue to act a dampener against any move to raise production. The Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices had recommended raising the import tariffs to 10 per cent, and the Ministry of Agriculture had been toying to hike it to 20-30 per cent. It is high time the import tariffs are raised substantially.

 2. A nationwide programme must be launched to ensure procurement of pulses by the State agencies. What deters farmers from undertaking cultivation of pulses is the volatility in market prices and the lack of an assured market. If only the State governments were to step in and purchase every grain of legume that flows into the markets, India will witness an unprecedented jump in pulses production

This will provide the enabling environment for domestic producers. A sizeable buffer of pulses can be easily created from the increased production. This should also be accompanied by promotional efforts to raise per capita consumption of pulses considering that it is the only source of nutrition for a large section.

Is there any country which has succeeded in pulses' farming, India can learn from?

It was in the mid-1970s, India gave about 400 grams of pulses seed to Australia. In a decade that followed, Australia brought 9 million hectares under pulses cultivation, and began exporting pulses to Africa. Interestingly, it is now exporting pulses to India. If Australia can begin from scratch and build up its export potential, I see no reason why India can’t do it.

Not only Australia, if India is to import 5,000 tonnes of pulses from Malawi it only shows how other countries have taken long strides in pulses farming.  

In Hindi: दलहन की समस्या सरकार, नीति निर्धारकों व शोध की हार हैGaon Connection. Oct 11-17, 2015.  http://bit.ly/1RxMFZd

1 comment:

shubham Jain said...

Mr. Sharma I accept that msp is not the game changer but government should make the arrangements to give guidelines to grow pulses...most of the farmers doesn't know the farming of pulses and same with the pesticide sellers...even good seeds for pulses should be provided by government in order to increase the production..and more so over a seprate supply chain and storage should be set up in order to rejuvenate the pulses production in India.