Self-sufficiency needed in pulses


Pulses occupy an important place in the Indian diet. A wide variety of pulses are available and acceptable to all sections of the society. They used to serve as a low-cost protein food for common people. But it is no longer the case as the prices have zoomed.

Our pulses output in 2008-09 has declined to 14.18 million tonnes from 14.76 million tonnes in 2007-08. Their output in 2009-10 is projected to decline further due to deficient monsoon rainfall this year against the present demand of 16.77 million tonnes.

There is a big gap between demand and supply. The demand may touch 23 million tonnes by 2010. The country has had to depend on their import every year to meet a part of their shortage, and thereby spend crores of rupees in foreign exchange. The country imported 25 lakh tonnes of pulses during 2008-09 at zero duty. We should plan to produce around 25 million tonnes of pulses to meet the dietary protein needs of our rising population.

Worse still, the per capita availability of pulses has gradually declined with the increasing population and production remaining more or less stagnant. It has declined from 70 gm in 1956 to 26.4 gm against the recommended norm of 80 gm.

Stagnation

India being the largest pulse producing country in the world occupies the largest area under pulse cultivation; the next largest pulse growing country is China. India’s contribution to the total world pulse production is around 24 per cent. During the last four decades, its production and area have remained more or less stagnant.

The contribution of pulses to the country’s food production gradually declined from 16.6 per cent in 1950-51 to 10.9 per cent in 1970-71, to 8 per cent in 1990-91, to 7 per cent in 1999-2000 and to 6 per cent in 2008-09.

Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Bihar are the major pulse producing states. Bengal gram and arhar are the two major pulses accounting for 63 per cent of the total pulse produce. Their present productivity in terms of yield per hectare is around 600 kg per hectare, which is quite low in comparison to that of the USA (1612 kg/ha) and other countries.

There have been a number of constraints leading to their low productivity. The area under pulses remained constant because of better returns from high-yielding cereal seeds. Pulse production did not increase due to non-availability of improved technology, and high-yielding seeds.

Also, many of the seeds have been susceptible to pests, diseases and weather fluctuations. Application of chemical fertilisers and pesticides has been low. These pulses are mostly grown under rainfed conditions. Pulse production has also not been remunerative as there have been no incentive to farmers. Besides, traditional processing for dehusking and milling of pulses into ‘dal’ give low yields.

Inadequate facilities to store pulses have made their cultivation less profitable. Insect and rodent infestation and mold growth during post-harvesting handling, storage and distribution of pulses cause substantial losses, both qualitatively and quantitatively. Birds and rodents account for considerable losses during drying and storage.

Pest control

The pulse beetle causes heavy destruction of pulse seeds to make them unhygenic because of the presence of excreta. Insect infestation decreases the nutritive value of pulse proteins and reduce their milling yields. A combination of fumigation and post-proofing of bags preserves the seeds in sound condition for about six months.
Some short duration strains of moong, urad, arhar and bengal gram have been developed, which can be cultivated in the normal cropping pattern as well as in non-traditional areas. There is scope for bringing additional area under pulses through cropping system manipulation, crop diversification and multiple cropping system, and introducing pulses on reclaimed soils and rice-fallow lands.

Improved agronomic practices, use of chemical fertilisers, rhizobium culture, pesticides and development of water conservation and harvesting techniques are expected to augment their production.

A green revolution in pulses is badly needed for a quantum jump in their production to achieve self-sufficiency. Pulse farming is being promoted in Bihar and Assam after the harvest of paddy crop. Raising pulse productivity, developing high-yielding strains, making their cultivation more profitable and economical to the farmers and consumers and improving their storage facilities are most important.

Development of sustainable pest management and control of insect infestation and microbial infection are equally required. Raising pulse production would have a great impact on the Indian agriculture and economy to save foreign exchange, and also on the nutrition and health of the people.

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