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PULSES: FROM SCARCITY TO SUFFICENCY
THE STORY OF ATMANIRBHARTA
10/28/2020 12:09:54 AM
Dr. Parveen Kumar

Pulses constitute a key component and a vital source of protein in our diets. India is the biggest consumer of pulses in the world. Pulses are rich in complex carbohydrates, proteins, vitamin B complex, micronutrients and fibers. These being low in fat help manage cholesterol, improve digestive health and regulate energy levels. Due to an increasingly health and nutrition conscious population in India, the demand for pulses is growing rapidly. India produces a quarter of the world’s total production of pulses and consumes almost one-third, importing 2–6 million tons annually and most of import is from Canada, Myanmar, Australia and African countries to meet the domestic demand. Pulses remained neglected a lot in the green evolution era as well as post green revolution era. During the Green Revolution period (1964–1972) in India, the focus was to achieve food self-sufficiency through modernizing and intensifying agriculture to raise yields of the major cereals rice and wheat through the use of improved seeds, multi-cropping methods, modern fertilizers and pesticides, and so on.
As a result, production of rice and wheat went up cosiderably. However, over the same period, production of pulses in India increased only by about 47% to about 18.5 million tons (from about 12.5 million tons). The regions where pulses are grown in the country are largely rainfed areas. If not pulses, cotton or soybean may be grown in these areas. These rainfed areas were resource poor, characterized by low yields and largely dominated by small farmers with no support for growing pulses. As a result of this, the smallholder farmers in India shifted their cropping pattern away from risky pulse crops to less profitable but more stable crops such as cereals. Apart from this, rising costs of labor, low genetic yield potential, frequent crop failures and yield instability, lack of institutional support in the form of input delivery, guaranteed procurement, remunerative price were recognized as challenges in reviving the pulse of pulses in the country. Due to low production in the country, India used to import pulses in large quantities. Fortunately, things are different now. With proper strategies, an enhanced Minimum Support Price and procurement schemes for pulses, domestic production shot up, putting us on the path to self reliance i. e Atmanirbharta. The government devised various short term, medium term and long term strategies to augment the production of pulses. These include strengthening seed delivery system by encouraging high-quality seed production of pulses, Ensuring remunerative prices for farmers by judicious consideration of Minimum Support Price (MSP), Effective procurement by arranging procurement centers close to producers, expansion of area under pulses by utilizing fallow lands and reclaimed wastelands for pulses production, formation of Farmer-Producer Organizations (FPOs) for value addition through processing of pulses and shortening of the value chain, developing short-duration and pest- and disease-resistant cultivars, with adequate funding support for R&D, integrating pulses into the public distribution system (PDS) to ensure minimum consumption by poor households even during scarcity. All these strategies start paying back.
In 2015-16, the country witnessed unprecedented shortage and inflation due to successive droughts. The 2015-16 crisis did not went down in the history of Indian agriculture as a wasted opportunity. Instead, it set forth an ambitious and desirable outcome to make the country self sufficient in pulses production. The government acted on supply, demand and regulatory fronts with equal emphasis. The twin factors critical to an immediate increase in pulses production was the minimum support price (MSP) and procurement from farmers directly at MSP. Additional coverage was provided for pulses under the National Food Security Mission (NFSM). The government aimed at increasing acreage productivity and production of pulses through distribution of seed mini-kits, subsidy on the production of quality seed and creation of 150 seed hubs that involved various institutes of Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and state agriculture varsities for lying out of various Front Line Demonstrations (FLDs) on different pulses in the country.
The Minimum Support Price on pulses was increased by 8-16% in 2016-17. Elaborate arrangements were made for procuring of pulses from farmers under the Price Support Scheme (PSS). The government guarantee for procurement operation was increased manifold. Foreseeing the need to have a strategic buffer of pulses, a 20-lakh-tonne buffer stock was formed through the Price Stabilization Fund (PSF), with a corpus of more than Rs 10,000 crore. The state governments, particularly of pulse-production leaders like Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, and Karnataka, worked in close coordination for the procurement of pulses. Farmers were greatly enthused by the attractive MSP. There was a 42% increase in production of pulses, unheard of in any other category of food articles. The National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India Ltd (NAFED) played a pivotal role in procurement under PSS and PSF, by procuring 8.7 lakh tonnes in 2016-17. This was equivalent to the procurement made in the last 15 years put together. The MSP of moong was increased by 25%, and the result was an increase in production by 22%. Similarly, in the case of grams, the increase in production has been in line with the MSP increase. MSP increase is a strong signal to the farmer that market prices are going to increase, and hence, a decisive factor in determining which crop to grow depending on the soil type and other environmental factors. This direct and strong correlation between MSP and production holds good for pulses also. Increasing the MSP of pulses, coupled with robust procurement operations under Price Support Scheme or Price Stabilization Fund have given the farmers a much-needed breather in uncertain agri-climatic conditions. The otherwise fallow land is now being used for sowing two pulse crops (kharif and rabi) in most of the regions. According to Mr. Narendra Singh Tomar, the country is on track to become self-sufficient in production of the protein-rich commodity. The country had produced 23.40 million tonnes of pulses during 2018-19 as against a domestic annual demand of 26-27 million tonnes. Earlier, we faced huge shortage of pulses earlier but now the situation has improved. Stating that India is almost on path to become self-sufficient in pulses, Tomar said: ‘As of now, maximum of the domestic requirement is being met in India Itself. We will further boost pulses production and will also help in meeting the global demand’.
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