By Prabhudatta Mishra
Half a decade after the country witnessed a price surge in pulses, these items may become dearer again, starting March 2020. The kharif 2019 pulses output could be at least some 6 lakh tonne lower than the 82.3 lakh tonne estimated, due to large-scale crop damages in key producing states such as Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka.
Also, the rabi (winter) crop may fall, given that prolonged monsoon and resultant floods have delayed the sowing activity — on a year-on-year basis, the winter-sowing of pulses is now down a fifth.
Usually, the pulses production in a crop year is divided on 6:4 ratio between the winter and summer crops.
The country’s pulses production stood at 234 lakh tonne in the 2018-19 crop year, down from the record level of 254 lakh tonne in 2017-18. In fact, thanks to MSP increases, some improvement in public procurement and buffer stocks norms announced, India’s pulses production saw a big increase in 2016-17 to 231 lakh tonne from 163 lakh tonne in 2015-16, the year that saw a spike in prices. The government policy over the last few years was guided by an intent to reduce import dependence (which was as high as around 40% of the domestic consumption).
According to trade sources, the pulses crop in 11 lakh hectare out of a total kharif pulses area of 130 lakh hectare have been damaged in the September-October floods. Since India’s pulses production just meets the annual domestic demand of about 240 lakh tonne, any production shortfall could impact prices rather directly, although the buffer stocks could give some cushion.
While the government has said about 6% of the country’s kharif-sown area for all crops got affected by heavy rains this year (nearly 64 lakh hectare out of 1,055 lakh hectare), the four major pulses-growing states have together reported damage of close to 47 lakh hectare. However, there is no official report as yet of crop-wise damage in these states.
“The kharif pulses production is most likely to be revised downward in the next estimate due to damage by floods. If rabi sowing of pulses does not pick up in December, it will have an impact on overall pulses prices,” food trade policy expert Vijay Sardana said. Mandi arrivals of three major pulses — tur, moong and urad — were down 24% at 3.73 lakh tonne during the first two months of the current kharif harvesting season from a year ago, official data show.
Due to the initial delay in monsoon rains, kharif sowing could not progress and the government itself had pegged the output lower at 82.3 lakh tonne in the first estimate from 86 lakh tonne in the year ago. The government had targeted 101 lakh tonne of kharif pulses production this crop year (July-June).
Tur prices shot up to Rs 200 per kg in 2015-16 (against normal Rs 70-80 per kg) after output dropped to 25.6 lakh tonne from 28.1 lakh tonne.
In the current kharif season, Rajasthan, which is the largest producer of moong, is the worst affected with 27 lakh hectare got damaged while Karnataka had over 9 lakh hectare under water. As many as 15 states have reported crop areas got ‘damaged’ by floods, agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar had said last week in parliament. The Inter-Ministerial Central Team (IMCT) has already visited 13 affected states for on-the-spot assessment of damages due to floods, he said.
According to progressive sowing data, the acreage under rabi pulses was down 19% at 71.26 lakh hectare as of November 22 from a year ago, mainly due to lower planting of chana, a major winter-grown pulse crop. Chana sowing was down by 22% at 48.35 lakh hectare and the main fall has been reported from Madhya Pradesh, data show. In Rajasthan, the area under chana is up by almost 50% year-on-year.