Why crisis is looming large on the pulses front

Published: January 26, 2018 4:43:50 AM

Pulses are not only a principal source of proteins for most Indians, but also constitute a major part of their daily diet. Disappointingly, their production in the country hasn’t kept pace with the growing demand, fuelled by the country’s rising population on the one hand, and its growing income on the other.

Pulses , Pulses crisis, Pulses production, India pulse productionPulses are not only a principal source of proteins for most Indians, but also constitute a major part of their daily diet. Disappointingly, their production in the country hasn’t kept pace with the growing demand, fuelled by the country’s rising population on the one hand, and its growing income on the other.

Madhoo Pavaskar

Pulses are not only a principal source of proteins for most Indians, but also constitute a major part of their daily diet. Disappointingly, their production in the country hasn’t kept pace with the growing demand, fuelled by the country’s rising population on the one hand, and its growing income on the other. As a result, India has had to import increasing quantities of pulses at rising prices from year to year. During the decade ending 2016-17, India’s pulse production ranged from 14.2 million tonnes (mt) to 22.15 mt, representing an annual average growth of 4.54%, but averaged around 17 mt only, witnessing sharp ups and downs in-between, though. Unsurprisingly, imports increased from 2 mt to 6.5 mt through the same period, disclosing that the domestic consumption of pulses, assuming the same to be equal to their availability, has improved from 16.2 mt in 2006-07 to 28.65 mt in 2016-17, which characterised a consumption growth of 5.89% per annum.

Using the population data, the per capita consumption of pulses has increased from 14.2 g in 2006-07 to 22.08 g in 2016-17, revealing a compound growth of 4.5% per annum. At this rate, the per capita domestic consumption of pulses may be estimated to rise to at least 25.20 g in 2019-20 and further to at least 31.5 g in 2024-25. In fact, since the per capita pulse consumption is increasing at a rising rate from year to year, the actual per capita consumption in 2019-20 and 2024-25 will be higher than that estimated on the basis of the past growth rate. At the same time, India’s population is expected to grow to nearly 130 crore in 2019-20, and subsequently to 143 crore in 2024-25, assuming that the population growth rate will gradually decline from the average annual of 1.32% over the decade ending 2016-17. This necessarily implies that the aggregate requirement of all pulses together will rise to 34 mt in 2019-20 and to 45 mt in 2024-25, as against 28.65 mt in 2016-17.

On the other hand, assuming even optimistically that the domestic production of pulses will rise at 5% per annum through the next three years, as against the annual growth of 4.54% witnessed over the past decade, the total pulses production in the country may be projected to rise to 25.6 mt in 2019-20. Further, even if the growth in production was to rise to as much as 6% over the following five years, India’s output may at best be expected to touch 34 mt in 2024-25. Total pulse imports in 2016-17 constituted 22.8% of the aggregate consumption, as against 12.2% a decade earlier, indicating that dependence on imports is rising year after year. With projected domestic consumption expected to grow to 34 mt in 2019-20, and 45 mt in 2024-25, it seems that the country will be required to import no less than 9 mt in 2019-20, and as much as 11 mt, or even more, in 2024-25, which means that the share of imports in India’s pulse consumption will rise to almost 25%, if not more, over the next eight years. As it is, the cost of pulse imports has increased more than eight-fold, from Rs 33.34 billion to almost Rs 280 billion, through the past decade ending 2016-17. The per kg cost of pulse import has increased from Rs 16.88 in 2006-07 to Rs 42.80 in 2016-17, representing an annual average rise of as much as 10% per annum. If India were to continue to import larger and larger quantities of pulses, as estimated, the unit cost of such imports is to increase for sure. With demand running ahead of supply in India, the pulses-exporting countries in the world will certainly be in a better bargaining position than Indian importers. In the circumstances, it would not be surprising, if the import price of pulses rises to Rs 57 per kg in 2019-20, and to as much as almost Rs 100 per kg in 2024-25.

With the rising import cost, the domestic prices of pulses are already on the rising curve. Thus, the index of wholesale prices of all pulses together has so far increased nearly three-fold from 149.18 in 2006-07, the base year being 2004-05 (= 100), to 405.5 in 2016-17, a rise of 11% per annum. With the rising import bill in the near future, one need not be stunned if the index of pulses prices will rise to 555 in 2019-20, and to even more than 900 in 2024-25. Clearly, pulses being a major source of protein, especially for a large vegetarian populace in the country, the impending crisis in pulses for India’s growing population is obvious. It follows that the authorities need to take suitable steps to augment the domestic production of pulses not so much through expansion in acreage; as such a possibility is limited due to the restricted availability of cultivable land in the country, as through the adoption of improved technology. To be fair, the pulses yield in India is quite low compared to such yields in other pulses-growing countries.

Thus, during the last decade, the average per hectare yield of pulses in India was just two-third of the world average. While in many advanced countries of the world, the pulses-yield was as high as 1 t per hectare, India’s average yield had varied from 585 kg to 716 kg per hectare through the decade ending 2016, and had averaged around just 650 kg. The country clearly needs a technological breakthrough for improving the pulse yields. This may be achieved either through a varietal breakthrough, or adoption of better cultural practices. Considering the advantages of pulse cultivation in that it improves fertility of the soil through nitrogen fixation, besides providing the much needed proteins to the malnourished and undernourished population in the country, it is high time for the agricultural authorities to look into the development of high-yield pulse varieties, along with the adoption of improved techniques of cultivation.

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