High time to boost pulses output

High time to boost pulses output

The fact that the government has set up another committee under chief economic advisor Arvind Subramanian on pulses shows the increasing concern over their rising prices and the problems related to their production and supply in the country. The committee is expected to suggest long-term policy measures relating to production, imports, minimum support prices (MSP), procurement and incentives for farmers to increase pulse output. Proposals in this respect, like the steps suggested by the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP), which submitted a report three months ago, are already available. There are other suggestions which emerged from the public discussion on the matter in the last few months. The government may be looking for a comprehensive policy framework for action, but it can take immediate and short-term measures which are needed to contain the prices and increase availability without waiting for the committee’s report. Some of these administrative measures involve the states too.

The prices of pulses have remained high in the Rs 150-200 range. Even when wholesale prices have dipped, retail prices have not come down much. The basic problem is the mismatch between production and consumption which is sought to be bridged with imports. While the annual demand has been for about 22 million
tonnes and is growing, production has accounted for only about 17 mt. India is the largest consumer of pulses in the world and even a slight increase in import demand pushes up international prices. The prime minister, during his recent visit to Mozambique, signed a long-term agreement for import of pulses from that country. But the real long-term solution is to increase domestic production. At present, much of the production comes from Maharashtra and northern Karnataka where the crop depends on the monsoon. Poor rainfall hits production, as it happened in the last two years. Pulse cultivation needs to be extended to states with irrigation facilities which now grow paddy and wheat.

The government recently increased the MSP of pulses but that may not be enough. More importantly, the MSPs should be supported by greater procurement, which is low now. Unless farmers are assured of procurement, they will not go in for pulse crops. There should also be more incentives, including subsidies, as the CACP has suggested, because pulse crops enrich the soil with nitrogen drawn from the air and reduce the use of water and urea. More high-yielding varieties should also be developed. If the farmers are made aware of and assured of the benefits of pulse cultivation, they will on their own shift to the crop.
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