How Can India Become Self-Sufficient in Pulses

Pulses are a staple of the Indian diet and will remain an important source of protein for a vast majority of Indians. Some suggestion on how the government can ensure demand is met.

Siraj Hussain, Former Union Agriculture Secretary, May 18, 2023

The National Family Health Survey-5 conducted in 2019-21 revealed that only 16.6% of men and 29.4% of women have never consumed non-vegetarian food (fish, chicken or meat). Despite this, pulses will continue to remain an important source of protein for a vast majority of Indians. This is due both to the availability and affordability of vegetarian diets.

Researchers at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) have highlighted that the average Indian diet has excessive consumption of cereals but is deficient in proteins, fruits, and vegetables. Rural India consumes only 194 grams of protein a day, against the recommended 459 grams. Urban Indians consume 242 grams. Richer Indians are consuming too much processed food.

Mission for increasing production of pulses

Successive governments have been quite concerned about the importance of pulses in Indian diets. After the global food crisis of 2005-06, the UPA government launched the National Food Security Mission (NFSM) in May 2007. Its target was to increase the production of pulses by 2 million tonnes by the end of the 11th five-year plan in 2011-12.

NFSM was successful and the production went up from 14.20 million tonnes in 2006-07 to 17.09 million tonnes in 2011-12. However, in 2014-15 and 2015-16, there were two successive droughts and the production of pulses fell by about 2-3 million tonnes as compared to 2013-14. This resulted in high inflation in the initial years of the first Modi government.

Subramanian committee

In 2015, the Union government set up a committee headed by the then chief economic adviser Arvind Subramanian to review the policy interventions required to incentivise the cultivation of pulses.

Several recommendations of the committee have since been implemented by the government. The Modi government has continued with NFSM-Pulses.

The government has also provided a substantial hike in the minimum support price (MSP) of pulses. Between 2013-14 and 2021-22, the MSP of Kharif pulses like tur and urad increased by 46.5% while the same for moong has increased by 61.7%. In the case of Rabi pulses, the MSP of chana has increased in the same period by 68% while the same for lentils (masur) has increased by 86.4%.

The increase in production from 19.26 million tonnes in 2013-14 to 27.81 million tonnes in 2022-23 (2nd advance estimate issued on February 15, 2023) is a result of these interventions.

However, several recommendations of the Subramanian Committee have not been implemented.

Procurement of pulses

The government should procure pulses at MSP. For this, the government should allocate an additional Rs 10,000 crore to procurement agencies. The Modi government enhanced the allocation under Price Support Scheme (PSS) and set up a Price Stabilisation Fund (PSF) for the procurement of pulses. Procurement reached an all-time high of 41.83 lakh tonnes in 2018-19. In 2021-22 it was 12.49 lakh tonnes.

However, for 2023-24, the finance minister has provided only a token allocation of Rs one lakh each for PSS and PSF.

The pulses procured at MSP should be disposed of effectively as their shelf life is shorter than that of wheat and rice. This is a more difficult recommendation and we have seen that Nafed, the main procurement agency builds up a large stock of pulses which have been sold off at prices lower than the economic cost.

The committee recommended that the export of pulses should not be banned. In November 2017, the Government allowed the export of pulses as domestic prices had fallen to levels lower than MSP.

The committee further recommended that the state governments should be advised to remove pulses from Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) Acts, so that pulses can be sold and purchased outside the physical boundaries of APMCs. This is already allowed in many states, and the only condition is that the applicable market fee must be paid by the purchaser. In major pulse growing states, the fee is just about 1-2%, so it is not really a disincentive to private processors to purchase pulses outside the APMCs. However, most of the trade still takes place inside APMCs only as the physical infrastructure needed for a large volume of trade is not easy to replicate.

The government should set up a new institution for pulses which would be owned by the government, private players, and the public sector. But it should be managed by an independent board of directors. It should be allowed to engage in purchase storage and trading for other crops also, including fruits and vegetables. However, this recommendation has not been accepted as Nafed is already in the market and it has long experience in the procurement and sale of pulses. In 2015-16, the Price Stabilization Fund was set up to enable the government to purchase pulses even at a price higher than the MSP, if the Government felt that the open market prices are likely to increase in the off-season.

In the medium-term pulses production must be incentivised in the irrigated areas of Punjab. There has not been any progress on this as the procurement of pulses is not assured while almost the entire surplus of non-basmati paddy is procured.

For increasing the yield of pulses, the technology of genetic modification should not be shunned. The yield of pulses is lower than in other countries. For example, the yield of tur in India is only 859 kg/ha (2021-22) whereas the same in Myanmar is nearly double that. The Government is still ambivalent about the use of GM technology.

MOUs for duty-free import of pulses

In addition to the steps taken to incentivise domestic production of pulses, the government also signed agreements for duty-free import of pulses from Mozambique, Malawi and Myanmar.

In May 2021, pulses were placed under the Open General License (OGL) category. In July 2021, Essential Commodities Act was invoked which enabled the state governments to impose stock limits on traders on tur, masur and urad.

Steps to augment production

Varietal and seed replacement are the major focus areas of government for increasing the production of pulses. For tur, masur and urad, seeds of high-yielding varieties, which are available either with the central seed agencies or in the states are distributed free. The government hopes that intercropping can effectively increase the production of pulses. The government is targeting rice fallow areas in Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

Despite these efforts, the production of Kharif pulses has stagnated and India is still import dependent. In 2021-22, about 27 lakh tonnes of pulses were imported. This had 8.4 lakh tonnes of tur, 6.1 lakh tonnes of urad and 6.7 lakh tonnes of lentils.

The largest crop of pulses is chana (rabi) which contributes about half of India’s production of pulses. Chana prices have remained below MSP for the last two years and yet future trading has remained suspended since August 2022 and the same has now been extended till December 2023. In the absence of an option to hedge, the farmers have no clue about the prices they should expect. India is producing more chana than required. Diversion of area to mustard may help the farmers realise better prices.

Taking a cue from this, the sown area under chana (around 11.2 million hectares) in the current rabi crop is 1.8 per cent less than last year. If the prices continue to be lower than the MSP, the Nafed may again have to procure a large quantity of chana. In 2022-23, Nafed procured about 26 lakh tonnes of chana which will be given to state governments at a subsidy of Rs 15 per kg for distribution under PDS or welfare scheme.

Going forward

The NITI Aayog has projected that the demand for pulses will increase to 32.64 million tonnes in 2029-30. The three-year action agenda of NITI Aayog (2017) mentioned that a technological breakthrough in pulses and oilseeds is the need of the hour.

For increasing the production by about 5 million tonnes over the next seven years, diversion of area from rice may be necessary. If this expansion of area has to come in irrigated areas, a concerted policy is required to ensure remunerative price signals for pulses.


Siraj Hussain is a former Union Agriculture Secretary and a Trustee of the WFP Trust for India.

Originally appeared in The Wire, 17/02/2023.

Link to article: https://thewire.in/agriculture/india-pulses-self-sufficient


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