Pulses are a rich source of protein, fiber, iron, and other micronutrients. They also provide nitrogen-fixation in soils during their reproductive phase. Thus, they can be a both climate and nutritionally-smart component of diets.
A roundtable discussion entitled “Enhancing opportunities for Increasing Production and Consumption of Pulses,” was organized by the IFPRI South Asia office as part of chain of global events on promotion on production and consumption of pulses on January 5, 2016. This year has been recognized by FAO as International Year of the Pulse and a series of events are being organized across the globe.
The three pulses that are very important in the Indian context are urad, chickpea and pigeon pea. The reasons for low production of pulses included that e cereal production was replacing pulse production in the historical pulse growing regions of India. The reasons for this switch includes minimum support prices (MSPs) that support cereal production in the indo-gigantic plains. The large price wedge between the farm gate price and the market price is another reason driving the farmers away from pulse production. In addition, cereals are still considered as low risk crops due to lower dependency on rainfall and increased government subsidies and support schemes. High risk and low profit makes pulses less desirable crop option. In addition, losses of pulses to pests both in the field and in storage due to lack of pest control and storage facilities are some of other reasons that were discussed for low production levels.
The other main concerns discussed for low acreage conversion to pulses are high livestock grazing (particularly the Indian blue bull) in the plains and diseases (especially root rot and wilt) leading to huge yearly yield losses. In addition, low availability and adaptability of pulse seed varieties is another issue. The lack of marketing efficiency is another problem in the pulse sector as it becomes highly unlikely for private players to enter tiny segregated markets. This could change with less segregated marketing structures. For example, Tata group noted that they have been able to provide as high as 100 Rupees per Kg in scenarios where they were able to buy in bulk.
The demand gap can be filled by undertaking several important steps. Policy solutions are needed such as an increase of MSPs for pulses and inclusion of the pulses into the Indian PDS system. Also, the government can play a key role in pulse consumption promotion through education regarding the health benefits. However, it was unanimously agreed that any such policy implementation should be based on some empirical analysis to ensure effectiveness as subsidies can be prone to leakages.
It was also emphasized that for promoting pulse production, public private partnerships should be strengthened which can help both in convergence of farmer groups and markets and markets should be integrated for better efficiency. Better insurance products could ease some risk. There should be additional efforts on pulse varieties to increase their adaptability in the Indian cropping system. They should be made part of the catchment cropping, intercropping, and reviving of the rice fallow lands. There are 11 million hectares of rice fallow land in Eastern India that can be used to harness some of future pulse demand. Pulse cropping should be promoted in the northern Indian which has become home to just rice-wheat rotations.
Awareness by the consumers about the nutritious benefits of pulses is still needed. The efforts across ministries have to be integrated. The role of Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs) and Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs) should be increased. The research gap for transgenic pulse species and convergence of markets should be filled. The scale of operation is important to avoid inefficiencies and direct market linkages are important.
By: Jaspreet Aulakh, IFPRI