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Have we achieved self-sufficiency in pulses

Have we achieved self-sufficiency in pulses?

Fri Feb 02 2018


With two successive years of high output, large quantity of unsold stocks with the State agencies and low farm-gate prices, many within the government seem to be convinced that the country has attained self-sufficiency in pulses, and that imports are not needed any more. Any such view is not only simplistic and misplaced but also fraught with risks for the nation’s consumers.


Without doubt, India’s record harvest of 23 million tons (mt) in 2016-17 is most likely to be followed by an equally impressive output this year. While record output for two years in a row is a matter of great satisfaction, there is no guarantee that in the years ahead we would continue to plant large acreages and harvest equally large crops.


We have seen in the past how volatile and unsteady pulses cultivation could get. After stagnating at 14-15 mt till 2009-10, pulses production showed a quantum leap in the following two years to 18-19 mt. At that time too, many asserted that India has reached self-sufficiency in pulses.


It took one bad year (2015-16) to change the mood from euphoria to despair and desperation; and everyone knows how the government had its back to the wall in fighting shortage and price escalation.


It is better to remain cognisant of the fact that Indian agriculture is fragile and vulnerable. Global warming and climate change are beginning to take a toll. The country is only one bad monsoon away from a major farm disaster.


Importantly, demand estimates have to be scientific. Income and price elasticity of demand cannot be wished away. A 22-23 mt of harvest and, say, 2 mt of inventory do not make for self-sufficiency.


While harvest of 22-23 mt of pulses is in the raw form, consumption demand is for split pulse or dal. First, one needs to arrive at the marketable surplus after taking into account the quantity retained for sowing and then consider milling yields or milling losses.


So, 22-23 mt of raw pulses will eventually result in about 18-19 mt of dal. Considering that pulses are among the most economical vegetable protein, we need to maximise their consumption to ensure nutrition security. A per capita availability of 20 kg/year would translate to 24 mt of dal, equivalent to 28-30 mt of raw pulses. Indeed, we are far from reaching that production level.


Through hasty or poorly thought-through and sudden trade and tariff policy changes, we have already alienated our traditional suppliers. African pulse growers are the worst hit because of India’s quantitative restrictions.


It is important for policymakers to pursue strategies to boost domestic pulse consumption; and that’s the way to support domestic growers even while helping advance nutrition security. We seem to be obsessed with production and not with distribution and consumption.


Higher production alone does not make for self-sufficiency. We need to meet all the food needs of people through indigenous production.


Another area that deserves attention is the skew in consumption. Consumers at the lower end of the income spectrum do not get to consume adequate quantities of pulses. Other sources of protein like milk, egg and meat are expensive. Self-sufficiency must result from boosting consumption of pulses.


The author is a global agri-business and commodities market specialist. Views are personal



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