Explained: How India can achieve self-sufficiency in pulse production - Hindustan Times
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Explained: How India can achieve self-sufficiency in pulse production

Apr 22, 2024 01:44 AM IST

India's reliance on pulse imports shows a complex interplay of insufficient domestic production, exacerbated by climatic conditions and agricultural regulations

India's need to import pulses arises from various factors within its agricultural domain. Despite being the largest producer and consumer of pulses globally, India encounters significant hurdles in meeting its internal demand, mainly due to low and uncertain yields, especially in regions with erratic rainfall patterns reliant on rainfed agriculture.

Despite being the largest producer and consumer of pulses globally, India encounters significant hurdles in meeting its internal demand (REUTERS) PREMIUM
Despite being the largest producer and consumer of pulses globally, India encounters significant hurdles in meeting its internal demand (REUTERS)

Pulses play a critical role in providing a vegetarian source of high-quality protein, which is vital for economically disadvantaged communities. However, India's productivity in pulse farming lags notably behind that of leading producers such as the US and Canada. This productivity gap exacerbates the ongoing disparity between demand and supply, resulting in surging prices and limited accessibility to pulses, especially among marginalised groups.

Pulse points: Charting India's import landscape

From 2021 to 2022, India's pulse imports amounted to 3.18 million metric tonnes, valued at 16,627.58 crore (see graph 1). Notably, this marks an increase in volume and value, as compared to the preceding year, 2020-2021. From 2017-18 till 2018-19, there was a decline in the imports, but then it started to pick up again. Factors contributing to this downturn include a surge in domestic production spurred by governmental initiatives and favourable weather conditions. Additionally, the Indian government's implementation of policies promoting domestic production and regulating imports played a pivotal role. Global market dynamics, characterised by fluctuations in pulse prices and availability, also influenced import volumes.

Graph 1: India’s Import of Pluses

Graph 1: India’s Import of Pluses
Graph 1: India’s Import of Pluses

Myanmar emerged as a significant supplier, mainly for toor and urad, while Canada primarily provided masoor (lentils), and Australia served as a major source of chana (chickpeas). The spectrum of imported pulses encompassed toor, yellow peas, moong, urad, and lentils, each playing a distinct role in Indian cuisine and consumption patterns.

India imports pulses for several reasons. First, domestic pulse production is insufficient to meet the country's increasing demand. Additionally, India has experienced several droughts in recent years, which have affected the growth of pulse crops. Second, India has strict regulations on using fertilisers and pesticides, which can make it difficult for farmers to produce the desired yield. Finally, importing pulses allows for greater variety in types and quality as India seeks to improve its pulse production.

The government remains steadfast in its pursuit of self-sufficiency in pulse production. Continued endeavours to bolster domestic production through technological advancements, enhanced irrigation infrastructure, and robust farmer support schemes remain imperative. However, there is only a slight change in the area under pulse production from 2015-16 till 2019-20. However, the production of pulses increased over the years, with a slight decline in 2019-20 (see graphs 2 and 3).

Graph 2: Crop-wise area under pluses

Graph 2: Crop-wise area under pluses
Graph 2: Crop-wise area under pluses

Breaking the pulse import cycle: Can India be self-reliant?

Numerous factors contribute to the stagnation observed in pulse production, including inadequate adoption of modern production techniques, price volatility, production risks, and insufficient irrigation infrastructure. With India's population poised for continued growth, forecasts suggest a substantial rise in pulse demand, projected to reach 39 million tonnes by 2050, according to the Indian Institute of Pulse Research. Fulfilling this demand requires increasing domestic production and ensuring competitiveness in the global market.

Graph 3: Crop-wise production of pulses

Graph 3: Crop-wise production of pulses
Graph 3: Crop-wise production of pulses

Over the years, India's pulse imports have surged, driven by the widening gap between production and consumption. This trend underscores the mounting pressure on domestic supply to meet escalating demand. Despite increased imports and production, prices persist at elevated levels, highlighting sustained consumption demand fuelled by population and income growth. India sources pulses from various countries, including Canada, the US, Australia, and Myanmar, benefiting from favourable trade conditions like low freight rates and expedited delivery.

To tackle the challenge of reliance on pulse imports, India must prioritise strategies to enhance domestic production through adopting efficient crop production technologies, supportive policies, and targeted market interventions. Public distribution systems can play a pivotal role in ensuring affordable access to pulses for disadvantaged populations, stabilising prices and providing essential market support to growers.

Ultimately, reducing dependence on imports and promoting domestic production is imperative for ensuring nutritional security and diversifying the consumption basket, particularly for vulnerable communities reliant on vegetarian diets. By addressing constraints in the supply chain and implementing sustainable long-term strategies, India can progress towards achieving self-sufficiency in pulse production and bolstering food security nationwide.

Moreover, maintaining a delicate equilibrium between import regulations and domestic requirements is vital to ensure a steady supply chain and affordable consumer prices. By navigating these challenges adeptly, India can aspire towards greater autonomy in its pulse sector, enhancing food security and economic resilience.

Anjal Prakash is a clinical associate professor (research) at Bharti Institute of Public Policy, Indian School of Business (ISB). He teaches sustainability at ISB and contributes to IPCC reports.

 

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