Managing Problems of Pulse Production and Prices in India

Written By ADITYA

It is a sheer but timely coincidence that India has witnessed an unprecedented rise in the prices of pulses in recent months and the United Nations’ General Assembly has declared 2016 as the International Year of Pulses. In this context, the past 65 years of field experiences in India reveal year to year significant variance in the area under pulses and per hectare yield resulting in a lower output of pulse production. This has occurred despite the existence of several programs aimed at developing yield-enhancing technologies.

Thus, details embodied in this article suggest that during the year 2016 India must initiate actions on the need for:

  • Significantly improving India’s capacity to forecast nearer to correct estimates of area under pulses and output of pulses through better use of technology and methods in the 21st century.
  • Putting all-out efforts to transfer the proven and demonstrated technologies at farmers’ fields accompanied by an efficient system of linking institutional credit with on-time availability of quality inputs and marketing services that can guarantee expected yield.
  • Building a need-based buffer stock with accountability for proper management incurring no wastage.
  • Keeping a close watch on the crop growth in 30 pulse-exporting countries through services of the FAO and our embassies that can help negotiate favorable terms for timely import as and when imminent.
  • A better system of easy availability of pulses in the open market throughout the year through efficient and rigorous enforcement of essential commodities Act and need-based/warranted distribution through PDS if necessary or direct benefit transfer scheme.

Managing Problems of Pulse Production and Prices in India


Unique role of pulses

Pulses occupy a unique place in India’s nutritional food security as they are major sources of proteins for vegetarians. Pulses contain 22%-24% protein, almost twice the amount of protein available in wheat and thrice that of rice. Pulses supplement the staple cereals in the diets with health-sustaining ingredients viz. proteins, essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals. Pulses are nutritious and are known to reduce the impact of several non-communicable diseases such as colon cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Calorie catastrophe has been signaled because of a higher intake of carbohydrates and a lesser intake of protein.

For agriculture too, it has several unique features viz.

[i] pulses grow on a wide range of soil and climatic conditions. They are better suited in different farming systems, such as crop rotation, mixed and inter-cropping systems. Being legumes help to fix atmospheric nitrogen into the soil and release soil-bound phosphorus. They add organic matter into the soil in the form of leaf mold. Some pulses are suitable as green-manure crops. They help check the soil-erosion. All these contribute to maintaining soil fertility level [ii] most pulse crops are of short duration which facilitate growing second crop on the same land in a year[iv] pulses as industrial crops provide raw material to industries, such as dal industry, roasted grain industry, papad industry, etc. [iii]they serve as a rich source of nutritious fodder for cattle.

More importantly, pulses have low carbon emission and water needs which make them ideally suited in India’s farming system. As per recent estimates, water needs for the production of one kg meat are five times higher than that of pulses. Further, one kg of legumes emits 0.5 kg carbon equivalent as compared to 9.5 kg carbon equivalent for the production of one kg meat.

Government’s initiatives

The government has initiated several nation-wide programs to step up pulses productivity, production and profitability viz. All India coordinated the pulses Research Project [1965], intensive pulses development project [1969], central sector national pulses development project [1985], the integrated scheme of oilseeds, pulses & maize [2002] and national food security mission [2007]. Despite all these programs India has imported pulses on an average of 2.812 million tons[MT] amounting to Rs.5933 crore annually during 2001-02 to 2013-14 with 16% CAGR in terms of value.

During 2007-08 to 2013-14 imports and amount substantially increased from 2.83 MT [Rs.5375crore] to 3.05 MT [Rs.10551 crore]. Imports ranged from 11% to 20% of domestic production during 2001-02 to 2013-14. Imports are from 30 countries but the major ones are Canada, Myanmar, USA, Russia and Australia. The gap between the supply and demand in this year has shot up prices of most pulses beyond the reach of even the middle class. It is against this background when the United Nations General Assembly has declared the year 2016 as the international year of pulses,

Area, Production & Productivity

During 1950-51 to 2013-14, the area under pulses increased by 31%from 19.09 million hectares [mha] to 25.23mha and productivity per hectare increased by 46% from 441 kg to 764 kg with a significantly disappointing 0.64% CAGR of productivity.  It was abysmally low at 0.50% for five decades [1950-2000] which, however, improved to 2.4% during 2000-01 to 2013-14. During 1950-51 to 2013-14, the CAGR of the total area under pulses was at 0.08% much lower than 0.21% of the total area under food grains, 0.58% [rice], 1.70% [wheat], and 1.40% [oilseeds] Per capita net availability of pulses is reduced considerably from 51.9 gram/day in 1971 to 41.9 gram/day in 2013 and is significantly lower than 80 gram/day as recommended by the WHO.

Low productivity

Factors responsible for low productivity per unit area and resources, inter alia, include

[i] between 1966-67 and 2012-13, the area under irrigation increased from 38% to 59% for rice and 48% to 93% for wheat as against 9 %to 16% for pulses. Around 84% area under pulses is rain-fed with soils relatively of low fertility [ii] drought and heat stress influence 50% reduction in seed yields particularly in arid and semi-arid regions of the country [iii] soils growing pulses have a high level of salinity and alkalinity in semi-arid tropics and Indo-Gangetic plains
[iv]  poor drainage leading to waterlogging during the rainy season in States of UP, Bihar, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, MP and Jharkhand causes substantial yield losses in pigeon-pea in particular [v] farmers use their own saved seeds and practically use no phosphatic fertilizers. The green revolution pushed pulses cultivation in marginal and sub-marginal lands resulting in declining productivity [vi] pulses being rich in nitrogen and phosphorus content are easy victims of insects, pests and diseases which severely reduce the productivity of chickpea, pigeon pea and lentil [vii] while small and marginal farmers more often prefer to growing staple cereals for home consumption, other farmers prefer to growing cash crops on larger area rather than pulses [viii] inability of small, marginal and tenant farmers to access institutional credit discourage them to purchase and use seeds of high-yielding varieties, phosphatic fertilizers and adopt improved technology.  In years to come, the extreme temperature under the impact of recent global climate change is likely to affected grain yields.

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Ineffectiveness of MSP

The NAFED and SFAC are responsible to procure pulses under MSP but unfortunately, they procured an insignificant quantity [1% to 4% of output against 28% to 30% of cereals during 2012-13 to 2014-15] despite MSP for pulses in the last five years were higher than rice and wheat.  Procurement was insignificant amounting to 6.56 lakh tons from July 2013- June 2014 reflecting no impact of higher MSP. The Santakumar committee has aptly observed that despite MSP are announced for 23 commodities substantial benefits accrue to wheat and rice growers in selected States leaving pulse-growers often receiving prices much below MSP. The absence of efficient marketing arrangement and production constraints created a huge gap between demand and supply resorting to imports.


Demand by 2030 & 2050

According to Indian Institute for Pulse Research, by 2030 and 2050 demand for pulses would be around 32 MT and 50 MT to meet the country’s rising population, urbanization and income of middle class. To meet this demand not only an additional 3.0 to.5.0 mha area would need to be brought under pulses cultivation but also productivity per hectare will have to rise to 1361 kg and 1500 kg respectively. This can be achieved by extending following promising cropping systems: which researchers have evolved and successfully demonstrated their economic benefits among farmers.

Chickpea in Rice-fallows: State Agriculture Universities in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, West Bengal and eastern Madhya Pradesh by conducting large-scale on-farm trials established that short-duration varieties of chickpea and lentil can be successfully grown after rice harvest and with reasonably high per hectare yield of 1000 Kg to 2500 Kg. Short-duration desi and Kabuli chickpea varieties were found suitable. Also, farmers preferred the Kabuli varieties, viz.  ICCV 2,  KAK 2 and JGK in most areas as they fetch high market prices. More recently, a heat-tolerant chickpea variety JG 14 has been found to be highly adaptable to late-sown conditions in the rice fallow area in the above States.

India has been one of the four countries in the prosperous agricultural Indo-Gangetic Plains of South Asia which raises rice in around 14.3 million hectares which, however, remains fallow during the winter season. Rabi pulses, particularly chickpea, lentil and grass pea can be successfully raised on these rice-fallows which can optimally utilize the available land resources and enhance the output of pulses.

Pigeon-pea in Rice-Wheat cropping system: Experiments on research stations and field trials on farmers’ fields during 1999-2002 using extra-short duration pigeon pea varieties, viz. ICPL 88039,[now known as VP Arhar]  in Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh confirmed that pigeon pea can be grown profitably in place of rice during the Kharif season (sown in late-May and harvested in late October or early November), allowing timely sowing of wheat crop. Pigeon pea yields per hectare were 1500 Kg to 3000 Kg with an average of 2000 Kg.  As pigeon pea adds nitrogen through the biological nitrogen fixation process accompanied by leaf fall (contributing about 40-50 kg N to the system), the succeeding wheat crop needs less nitrogenous fertilizers.

The net economic returns under the pigeon pea-wheat system were higher as compared to the rice-wheat system. Continuous Rice–Wheat cropping system being followed for several years in the Indo- Gangetic Plain region of India has impacted adversely on soil fertility and the increased incidence of pests and diseases pose a serious threat to the sustainability of the rice-wheat cropping system. The inclusion of legumes in the rice-wheat cropping system promises to restore soil fertility and reduce other associated problems.

Pigeon-pea at high altitudes: Extra-short duration pigeon pea can successfully be cultivated up to the elevation of 2000 m above sea level in Uttarakhand. A pilot study along with several on-farm trials across different elevations in Uttrakhand during 2007-08  by V P Krishi Anusandhan Sansthan, Almora and the Department of Agriculture, Uttarakhand showed that pigeon pea variety �?VL Arhar-1’ (ICPL 88039) can be grown successfully in low and medium hill regions. VL Arhar-1 proved to be highly adaptable in regions with high elevations and yielded 1,800 kg/ ha of grains. The long duration of cold and frost can severely damage the foliage and flowers of pigeon pea. Therefore, its cultivation should be confined only to regions with low and mid-hill regions. Farmers’ willingness to cultivate extra-short duration pigeon pea cultivar VL Arhar- 1 extensively in Uttarkhand can be profitably capitalized.

Area expansion

An additional area of 2.5mha can be brought under pulses through adopting [i] cropping system like mung/urad bean as a catch crop in summer season under cereal-based cropping system [ii] inter-cropping with short-duration pulses [mung, urad, cowpea] in sugarcane, millets, cotton etc.[iii] new cropping system such as pigeon-pea-wheat in the northern region, rice-lentil in the eastern region and urad-rice in the southern peninsula.

Andhra Pradesh Shows the Way

Farmers in southern India started growing short-duration and wilt resistant chickpea varieties in rain-fed rice-fallow lands. Andhra Pradesh, a state once considered unsuited for chickpea cultivation due to its warm and short-season environment, has now ushered in a chickpea revolution because of growing early maturing chickpea varieties. During 2000-09, the State increased area five times under chickpea from 102,000 hectares to 602,000 hectares and raised yields 2.4 times per hectare from 583 kg/ha to 1407 kg/ha, the synergic effect of which was nine times increase in the output from 95,000 tons to 8,84, 000 tons. Between 1991 and 2010 average increase in yield of two major pulse crops viz. chickpea and pigeon pea were as high as 81% to 100% in Andhra Pradesh recording a substantially higher increase in yield than the national average yield increase.

The attributes to such a phenomenal rise in the output included, inter alia:

(i) development and on-time availability of high-yielding, short-duration, Fusarium wilt resistant varieties suited to short-season and warmer environments of southern India

(ii) motivation and willingness of a large number of farmers to adopt  improved varieties and  easy access to production technologies

(iii) successful commercial cultivation by mechanizing field operations and efficient management to minimize the incidence of pod-borer infestation

(iv) availability of grain storage facilities to farmers at the local level at an affordable cost. Andhra Pradesh has now the highest average yield of 1.4 tons /ha with more than 80% of the chickpea area under improved short-duration cultivars.


The potential of markets should be harnessed through:

1. Value chain approach right from the production at farm level [and encompassing post-harvest, processing, packaging, transportation] to marketing for small and marginal farmers to reduce losses/wastages and increase income.

2. Better price discovery and transparency for which facilities have been created for electronic trading of pulses in a few APMCs in Karnataka, AP and Telangana.

3. Quickly launching the recently envisioned National Common Market.

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