India’s pulse imports may touch a record five million tonne (mt) in the current fiscal if production suffers for a second straight year due to a deficient monsoon, as predicted by the India Meteorological Department (IMD), analysts and industry executives said.
The production of pulses dropped almost 10% in 2014-15 to 17.3 mt, as dryspells in summer as well as unseasonal rains before the harvesting of winter crops hurt yield, and even quality. India’s pulse imports rose to 4.5 mt in 2014-15 from 3.4 mt in the previous year. The IMD last week predcited a 12% rainfall deficit for the June-September monsoon season, the same as last year, although private forecaster Skymet has forecast normal showers this season.
India, the world’s largest producer, consumer and importer of pulses, needs 20-21mt of pulses for annual consumption. “Based on the monsoon predictions by the IMD and the fact that pulses output was adversely affected by erratic weather in 2014-15, imports may rise in 2015-16 to meet domestic demand,” said Harish Galipelli, the head of Commodity and Currency at Inditrade Capital. Since only 16% of the total area under various pulses crops have irrigation facilities, a severe dry spell in key producing regions could hurt production, although such crops are less water intensive than paddy or cane.
Pulses prices have already skyrocketed in the recent months, with wholesale price inflation in the segment having risen to 15.4% in April, the fourth straight month of double-digit inflation, even when the overall primary food inflation was just 5.73%. In 2009-10 when the country faced the worst drought in 37 years, pulses inflation of 22.4% helped drive up food inflation to as high as 15.3%.
Some analysts, however, have blamed excessive speculation in anticipation of deficient monsoon and “hoarding” for the recent “irrational” spike in pulse prices, adding, although production was affected in 2014-15, imports were as high as 4.5 mt and, therefore, there were adequate stocks in the market. Although some amount of increase in pulse prices was natural, the sharp rise isn’t in sync with fundamentals, they added.
Pravin Dongre, the chairman of the India Pulses and Grains Association (IPGA) and the executive vice-president of the Global Pulses Confederation, said reliance on imports won’t be susbtantial if rains are normal, as predicted by private forecaster Skymet. “However, if indeed monsoon fails and production is adversely affected, the government may consider imports,” he said.
Dongre, however, added that the government should enter the import market for bulk deals only after August when fresh supplies from Canada and the US reach the global market, or even in October when Australia starts pumping in new crops.
Meanwhile, Maharashtra, the second-largest producing state, has asked the Centre to import pulses to tide over a local shortage. Pulse output in the state, which was affected by droughts in Marathwada and parts of Vidarbha last year, were further dealt a blow by unseasonal rains in winter. Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis last week said although there were adequate rice and wheat stocks, pulses were a matter of concern.
Inditrade’s Galipelli said prices of chick peas, which were ruling Rs 2,600 per quintal six months ago in the wholesale market, have now touched Rs 4,700 per quintal. Similarly, prices of tur and urad have shot up to Rs 8,500 per quintal each from Rs 4,500 and Rs 6,000, respectively, six months earlier.
Last week, agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh said the centre had asked states to submit their pulses demand so that the protein-rich grain could be imported accordingly. He assured that the centre would ensure there were enough availability of pulses in the domestic market even if monsoon failed again.