Pulses acreage languishes, fuelling fears of price rise in November-December

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July 26, 2021 5:15 AM

Imposition of stock limit on July 2 and valid till October 31 was one of the few measures the Centre took since May to rein in the prices of pulses, particularly in retail markets after a spurt in rates from March-April.

With an average yield of 0.58 tonne per hectare (actual during kharif 2019-20) and an expected acreage of about 14 million hectare, this year’s kharif pulses output may drop 6.6% to 8.12 million tonne (MT), an official source said.With an average yield of 0.58 tonne per hectare (actual during kharif 2019-20) and an expected acreage of about 14 million hectare, this year’s kharif pulses output may drop 6.6% to 8.12 million tonne (MT), an official source said.

Area under pulses continues to remain low in the current kharif season, raising the spectre of the government resorting to trade-restrictive measures like imposition of stock holding again in November-December to check of prices of these eatables. A rise in prices of pulses had forced the government to put stock limits on July 2, a step not in conformity with the free-trade concept embraced by it as it diluted the Essential Commodities Act in June 2020. Last week, it eased the restrictions a bit due to traders’ protest.

According to agriculture ministry data, pulses acreage was down 10% from the year-ago level as on July 23. Unless the acreages in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh reach last year’s level, the country’s kharif pulses production may be badly hit this year, trade sources said. The stalling of monsoon for three weeks indeed has affected sowing of pulses, and the recovery after the revival of rains, seems patchy.

Pulses have a weight of 0.64% in the wholesale price index (WPI) and 2.95% in the consumer price index (CPI). WPI inflation in pulses eased a tad to 11.49% in June from 12.09% in the previous month. Retail inflation in ‘pulses and products’ stood at 10.01% last month, up from 9.39% in May and remained much higher than the headline CPI inflation of 6.26%.

Pulses acreages in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, which have a combined share of 44% of the ‘normal’ kharif area of lentils, were 30% and 23% respectively, lower than the year-ago period, as on July 23. Worse, the other two major producing states – Maharashtra and Karnataka –where kharif pulses area was higher, have now got affected by floods.

As a small drop in production could lead to a jump in pulses prices, the government has been constantly monitoring sowing progress to ensure its reaches at least previous year’s level, sources said. Pulses acreage was at 8.73 million hectares as of July 23 against 9.72 million hectare year-ago. The Centre has set a target to achieve 9.82 million tonne (MT) output from this kharif season.

Area under pulses was at 13.18 million hectare while production was 8.5 million tonne during kharif 2020-21.

“Going by last year’s productivity, the sowing area has to increase by 1.5 million hectares to achieve the targeted production, whereas the strategy of the government aims to get less than 0.5 million hectare from inter-cropping,” an official of Rajasthan government said, adding more incentives should be given to farmers to increase acreage.

Monsoon rainfall in Rajasthan during July 11-24 was 20% lower than long period average (LPA), whereas in the pulses-producing western region of the state, the rainfall was 4% below normal. Monsoon revived on July 11 after a gap of three weeks and covered the entire country on July 13.

“We have short duration moong varieties of 52-60 days maturity which are normally sown after July 15. The sowing deficit in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and other states will be covered in the next few weeks,” said N P Singh, director of Kanpur-based Indian Institute of Pulses Research (IIPR). The dry spell in Madhya Pradesh has not affected pulses crops sown earlier when rains were a plenty until third week of June, Singh said.

Pulses crops in Maharashtra may be affected as these are grown mainly in Marathwada and Vidarbha regions where the monsoon rainfall so far was 59% and 11% above LPA, respectively. The north parts of Karnataka, where pulses are grown, have received 71% above normal rains this season until July 24. Waterlogged field for a long time might cut yield, as pulses don’t need continuous rains, experts said.

For Kharif 2021, the Centre is implementing a Rs 82-crore plan to distribute 20,27,318 seed mini kits, nearly 10 times more than last year, free of cost to farmers to boost the production and productivity of tur, moong and urad. The mini-kits to be used for intercropping will have to be covered in 4.05 lakh hectare additional area.

Besides, intercropping with oilseeds, sugarcane, maize and cotton crops and additional area coverage, the government is also aiming to raise productivity of pulses. Seed treatment with Rhizobium, fertiliser application based on Soil Health Card recommendation and amelioration with lime in acidic soils are some of the steps envisaged to increase yield, officials said.

Imposition of stock limit on July 2 and valid till October 31 was one of the few measures the Centre took since May to rein in the prices of pulses, particularly in retail markets after a spurt in rates from March-April.

Wholesale prices of all the pulses (except masur) have fallen by 3-4% in the last two months and retail prices dropped by 2-4%, the government said July 19. The all-India average retail price of chana, tur and masur dal was Rs 76, Rs 104 and Rs 85 a kg, respectively on July 24, consumer affairs ministry data show.

Retail prices of urad and moong are Rs 105 and Rs 101/ kg respectively, at present. Imports of certain pulses are free until November 30.

Drop in arhar production in two successive years 2014-15 and 2015-16 led to its retail prices skyrocketing to over Rs 200/kg against a normal Rs 80-90/kg. Some major interventions like increase in the MSP by 9% and sowing area increase particularly in Madhya Pradesh resulted in production of arhar jumping by over 90% to record 4.87 MT during 2016-17. However, its production in subsequent years could not reach that level.

Not only arhar, overall production of pulses increased 42% during 2016-17, year-on-year. But the absolute growth in production was only 11% between 2020-21 and 2016-17, said S K Singh, a former agriculture scientist with Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). The key motivators for farmers to expand the areas are good price of the crop and assured purchase mechanism, Singh said.

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