Indian agriculture is seeing record crop production on one hand and increased farmer protests on the other. Pricing and policy are central to these protests. In several states, farmers fear that a bumper crop combined with an erratic monsoon will bring down prices and affect livelihood. India faces a pulses deficit of about six million tonnes. There is low per capita consumption – below the 40 grams per day recommended by the Indian Council of Medical Research. Recent analysis by the multi-country LANSA consortium project led by the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), showed that as per the National Sample Survey 61and 68 rounds, only Himachal Pradesh met the daily requirement of pulses. States like Jharkhand, Rajasthan and West Bengal did not even meet 50 per cent of the norm set for daily protein intake. In a country where 37 per cent of children under five years of age are stunted and 34 per cent are underweight (NFHS-4), pulses are an important tool to address malnutrition.
The study further recommends ensuring availability through the public distribution system and increasing consumption of less popular but more nutritious pulses. Currently, India has a policy for five pulses only – tur, moong, urad, lentil and gram. State governments could explore creating special schemes for pulses.
India produced over 106 million tonnes of rice and over 95 million tonnes of wheat in 2013-14. This is about 10 million tonnes higher than the demand for each of these crops. In the same period, just about 19 million tonnes of pulses were produced and this fell to 17.5 million tonnes in 2014-15, as against the annual demand for about 24 million tonnes, the release said. There is a much more efficient system for procurement and lucrative minimum support prices (MSP) for rice and wheat than for pulses. Announcement of MSP for pulses prior to the sowing season is of great importance. If the MSP is announced in June-July it can have a significant impact on farmers’ choice of crops. Steps are also needed to ensure that the MSP actually reaches the farmer and is not exploited by middlemen.
Ongoing work by MSSRF in Tamil Nadu’s Pudukkottai District shows that the farmer-producer-company system ensures a 10 per cent premium for farmers above the prevailing local market price for pulses. This is an incentive to farmers in that region to cultivate pulses, since they are assured of procurement by their company in an ethical manner with no hidden costs.
Since pulses need less than one-fifth of the water rice requires, they are also water-smart. Getting farmers to grow pulses is important to increase income, reduce water requirement for farming and improve the nutritional status of the people. In the current year, India may face a deficit monsoon. Announcing a remunerative MSP for pulses could be one way to meet a tough situation, and the time to make such an announcement is now.