To boost domestic supplies of lentils (masoor) and ensure that its retail prices do not spiral out of control, India will enter into agreements with Russia and Kazakhstan for imports of the key pulses variety under long-term contracts. The memorandums of understanding (MoUs) would facilitate imports of lentils by private traders.
These agreements will follow similar arrangements with Mozambique, Myanmar and Malawi for import of other varieties of pulses, namely tur and arhar.
Sourced told FE that after the deliberations with Russia’s and Kazakhstan’s officials, the agriculture ministry is working out plant quarantine modalities before these MoUs are entered into.
Officials said that since the domestic consumption of pulses, especially lentils, in Russia and Kazakhstan are negligible, they want to import annual commitments so that farmers there would be encouraged to grow the variety of pulses, which has one of the largest shares in India’s pulses imports basket.
According to commerce ministry data, India imported 1.11 million tonne (mt) of lentils out of total pulses imports of 2.26 mt in 2020-21. In the current fiscal, around 6.5 lakh tonne of lentils have been imported so far.
Trade sources said that domestic production of lentils has not kept pace with rising demand and the government has been resorting to imports, mostly from Canada and Australia, to augment domestic supplies.
As per the second advance estimates of foodgrains production released by the ministry of agriculture on Wednesday, India’s lentil production is estimated at a record 1.58 mt in the 2021-22 crop year (July-June).
Because of dry weather conditions last year in Canada, production in 2021 has declined by 35% to 40%. Also, the global container crisis is adversely pushing up the time duration for shipment from Canada and Australia.
At the same time, transit time from Russia’s and Kazakhstan’s consignments for Indian ports is 25-30 days, much quicker than consignments from Canada.
“The MoUs with Russia and Kazakhstan will open doors for India to work with two more origins and reduce dependence on Canada or Australia for the lentils imports,” Harsha Rai, director, Mayur Global Corporation, a global brokerage firm said. In 2021, the government had approved a one-time import of lentils from Russia for a six-month term, provided they meet India’s phytosanitary norms.
India signed an MoU with Mozambique for import of 2 lakh tonne of tur or arhar annually for five years, when the retail prices of tur skyrocketed to `200 a kg in 2016. This MoU was extended for another five years in September 2021.
In 2021, India entered into MoUs with Malawi and Myanmar for the import of 50,000 tonne and 1,00,000 tonne of tur per annum, respectively, till 2025.
India met 10-12% of its domestic consumption through imports. In anticipation of domestic shortfall in the output in May 2021, India had put import of tur, urad and moong varieties of pulses under ‘open’ from ‘restricted’ category earlier till March 2022.