Pulses failure


T

he prices of pulses have been steadily increasing for the last few months and they are at their historic highs now. They are an important part of the diet and a major source of proteins but have now become unaffordable for even better-off families. Last year the crop output was less than normal and this year it is going to be worse because of deficient monsoons. The tur dal output is estimated to have fallen by 30-50 per cent even last year from the previous year,  going by different estimates. The combined output of tur and urad dal fell from about 3 million tonnes to 1.4 million last year. Imports also declined from about 3 million tonnes to 2.14 million tonnes. While production was falling demand was increasing and imports also did not catch up with the demand.

The prices, which had started rising on the back of lower stocks, spurted further with signs of monsoon failure. Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana account for most of the production in the country. According to present indications the crop area will be less and output will be badly hit this year too. The government should take measures to keep the price line under check. The increase in pulse prices is much more than the food price inflation. Imports may be difficult, despite zero duty, because international prices are higher than domestic prices. Private traders are unwilling to go in for imports in the face of rupee price appreciation and for fear that a possible clampdown on hoarding will hit them. Government agencies will have to go in for major imports to ease the supply position and soften the prices.

India is the world’s largest producer, consumer and importer of pulses, even when the consumption of pulses has been steadily declining in the country. Pulse production has not received much attention from the government. The focus of the Green Revolution was on foodgrains and to an extent on oilseeds. The area under pulse crops declined as production was diverted to other crops. It is necessary to improve research on pulses and evolve better seeds and cropping methods and techniques. The minimum support prices for pulses are also low, compared to those of other crops. The government also bungled by allowing exports earlier. The demand is only likely to increase in the coming months and years. Therefore short-term and long-term steps are necessary to ensure that the price increase is checked and availability matches demand.

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