Author: Parveen Kaswan ( Author is an Engineer and holds a Masters Degree in Engineering Designs from Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. He hails from a farmer family in Northern Rajasthan. Can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
This is second article in the blog series on ‘Indian Agriculture‘.
Interestingly India is the largest producer, importer and consumer of Pulses in world. The reason for this production is India’s geo-climatic factors – as these crops can grow fine in semi arid and rain fed areas – and demand. Such regions are widely available in India and they are rain fed only. Only 15% area under pulses production is covered by assured irrigation.
Currently price of Pulses are skyrocketing. Government has done all what it can do in short time period. For example – Stoping exports, allowing imports at zero duty, banning future trading and cracking down on hoarders. It is also using Price Stabilisation Fund for pacifying the prices. It is also going for a Buffer Stock, possibly through imports.
Pulses provide cheap protein for majority of vegetarian people. On the contrary the production of pulses has not increased according to demand. Though we have seen some improvements in last few years because of some government initiatives but they are not proving enough. The overall per capita pulses availability has decreased from 1950s onwards. The growth in total production is less than growth in population. The mismatch is being covered by imports.
So, albeit India being the largest producer and consumer of pulses, ends in becoming largest importer also.
The reason for low production is low productivity per hectare vis-a-vis other countries. India’s productivity is 730Kg/hectare whereas USA and Canada’s productivity is as high as 1900Kg/hectare. The pulses in India are grown in semi arid lands (Rajasthan, MP, UP, Maharashtra, AP etc.) which are the same land which face high rainfall variability, as a result they are highly vulnerable. Good land, with sufficient water availability, is usually reserved for other crops.
In 2013-14 total production was at 18.5 million tonnes, so to meet demand India has to go for imports from countries like Canada, Russia, Myanmar, Australia etc.
Same happened this year when there is demand and supply gap. The production was effected by low rainfall during last three seasons and then subsequent speculation led to the hoarding. Additionally crops were damaged by western disturbances. If we go by data, it is quite evident that other countries are small producers of Pulses vis-a-vis India. We can only fill this gap of demand and supply by imports upto a level only. The key solution lies in the increment in production by increasing land under pulses and increasing productivity per hectare.
This year Basmati Rice prices are collapsed by more than 50%. The increment in cotton’s minimum support price (MSP) are modest and so is true for last season’s wheat MSP. The thing we should notice is these are high input crops. For example Rice is a huge water demanding crop whereas crops like groundnut or chickpea are less water demanding. Rice is also a labour intensive crop for whole crop cycle and so as cotton especially in times of cotton-picking. During current season even a person growing groundnut (price 3600-4600 ) is doing quite fine against a rice farmer (1400-2400). This provides ample scope for changing the crop pattern in some of the well irrigated areas in India. Cotton needs high amount of input in respect of pesticides and now high grade seeds. As pulses prices are high, growing it can also be a profitable proposition. The productivity per hectare can be increased by government’s active support in terms of better seed and timely fertilizer application as lessons can be learnt from Gujrat and Bihar (average yield of 1100 Kg/hectare).
Now look at this from another angle. According to some studies, in India, around 5000 litre of water is consumed for one Kg of rice production !! Whereas other crops such as chickpea or groundnut requires negligible water in comparison to rice. Though we are comparing two totally different commodities with different productivity and demand level but still one perspective can be about resource utilisation also. How about making other crops more profitable which consume less water in a water stressed country and also keeping in mind the future needs. These crops have very good potential for dry land farming which is a need for India.
Remember the crops like Wheat, Cotton, Sugarcane and Rice are the crops which are cornering most of the subsidy bill especially input subsidy. Through artificial fertiliser application Nitrogen is added (other than Phosphate and Potassium) as the main Indian soils are deficient in this respect and additionally it has created an imbalance in soil micronutrients. The another benefit of adding pulses in crop pattern is that it is a nitrogen fixing crop !! Peculiar case is that crops like Sugarcane are suffering from over production and at the same time some crops are facing low production. Many a times the buffer stock of wheat is 2 to 3 times more than what is required.
The reason behind people going for Wheat growing in large is that government takes procurement of wheat very seriously. Though this year farmers faced glitch in wheat procurement also in North Wetsren India due to lack of Jute Bags !! Whereas it do announce MSP for some 25 crops but procurement is not done by it. If government announces a better MSP for pulses in advance and also promise procurement at time, it can tap a lot of potential. Promise of procurement is very important for farmers.
So this is my humble submission. Though we need some quick steps to rectify the curent scenario but we need long term perspective of the problem. The solution of pulse-problem lies in increasing the production by:
-increasing acreage under the pulses by changing the cropping pattern. Replacing it with other crops which have high input costs and consume more resources. This can be done by providing better information to farmer about incentives of pulses cropping and motivating them to go for other crops.
-MSP declaration on time with promise of government procurement so that it can replace other crops in market and also save government from going for buffer stock as a knee jerk reaction.
-increasing per hectare productivity by better seeds availability, fertilisers and irrigation facilities.