The neglect of pulses saw them being relegated to marginal lands during the Green Revolution, even as rice and wheat production grew manifold. As India grapples with a demand-supply gap it is time, through technological breakthroughs, right policies and incentives to farmers to bridge this gap.
The widening gap between demand and supply of pulses in India and the resulting inflation and increasing imports has highlighted the neglect that these protein-rich leguminous crops suffered for decades, especially during the Green Revolution.
Green Revolution saw added impetus to wheat and rice production, with more and more areas being devoted to these crops, and pulses being pushed into marginal lands (Ninan, et. al. 1993). With the United Nations declaring 2016 as the International Year of Pulses, India’s role in holistic development of its agriculture needs bolstering.
Pulses are leguminous plants belonging to the Fabaceae family. Each pod produces 1-12 grains of various colours and sizes. They are the chief source of protein for a majority of Indians and being relatively cheaper they are often referred to as ‘poor man’s protein’. In addition to this they fix nitrogen in their nodules, rejuvenating the soil and helping it to regain fertility.
India is the largest producer (accounting for 25 per cent of global production), as also consumer (27 per cent of world’s consumption) and importer (14 per cent) of pulses in the world (Table 1). The major varieties grown and consumed in India are Bengal gram, pigeon peas (arhar/tur), green beans (moong), chickpea (kabulichana), black gram (urad), red kidney beans (rajma), black eyed peas (lobiya), lentils (masoor), and white peas (matar).
However, despite being the largest producer of pulses, India is compelled to import several million tonnes every year. In fact, India imported 45,84841 MT of pulses at the unit price of 608 USD per MT during 2014-15 and 57,97699 MT at 673 USD per MT during 2015-16 to stabilize prices, as per a statement by the Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution in the Indian Parliament in August 2016 (Ministry of Consumer Affairs).
Even otherwise, the per capita availability of pulses has declined from 61 grams per day in 1951-56 to less than 40 grams per day, as against the WHO recommendation of 80 grams per day (Sundaram, 2010). Against the backdrop of malnutrition and India competing with China to attain the title of “Diabetic Capital of the World”, pulses provide the only ray of hope to decrease the carbohydrate content in food.
In order to revitalise the pulses sector, India needs a revolutionised mentality, with great deal of proactive and targeted policies and incentives.
Trends in the production of pulses
As per the annual report on Pulses, 2012-2013 by Indian Institute of Pulses Research (IIPR, 2013-14) Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka are the top five pulses producing states of India (Fig. 1). Gram is the most dominant occupying 40 per cent of total production, followed by Tur (15-20 per cent) and Urad and Moong at around 8-10 per cent each.
Of the total area under food grain cultivation, pulses cover only around 20 per cent. The share of area under pulses increased from 19 million hectares in 1950-51 to 25 million hectares in 2013-14, amounting to a 31 per cent increase. During 2010-11, production of pulses increased from 14.7 million tonnes to 19.27 million tonnes. However, the production thereafter stagnated till 2012-13. The productivity increase from 1950-51 to 2013-14 was meagre-from 441 to 764 kg/ha (Fig. 3 and 4).
Priority attached to wheat and rice during the Green Revolution resulted in the substitution of pulses. The New Economic Policy in later years also favoured HYV varieties of rice and wheat. Thus the production of pulses remained more or less stagnant, and continues to be far below achievable productivity levels. Factors such as lack of adequate irrigation facilities, low levels of procurement by the government even after declaring a minimum support price, unwillingness of farmers to grow pulses due to fluctuations in produce, and limited research and development devoted to pulses are primarily to blame.
While the percentage of irrigated area increased by more than 20 per cent for rice and more than 40 per cent for wheat, it increased only marginally from 9 per cent to 16 per cent for pulses. Consequently, production of pulses grew by a mere 12.2 per cent between 1962 and 2009, as compared to a record 162.6 per cent in the case of wheat during the same period.
While the demand for pulses has grown over the years, supply has remained static, leading to an inflation in prices. India has also banned export of all pulses, except for Kabuli Chana, since 2006, to cater to the local demand. Pulses have also been introduced in non-conventional areas such as the southern states to boost production.
Consumption pattern of pulses
The highest pulse producing states, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan, with yields ranging from 20-35 lakh tonnes, are not its major consumers. The monthly consumption of pulses per household in each of these states is less than 0.9 kgs, with the exception of Maharashtra, which happens to be both a high producer and consumer state.
Per capita consumption of pulses is highest in Himachal Pradesh (1.264) and Uttarakhand (1.020), which are amongst the lowest producers. On the other hand, the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka are large consumers, with monthly per capita consumption ranging over 0.9 kg .
On the other side of the spectrum are the northeastern states of Meghalaya, Nagaland, Mizoram, Tripura, Manipur, Sikkim, besides West Bengal, which show the lowest per capita consumption ranging from 0.31 to 0.49 (Fig. 2).
Reasons behind the demand-supply gap
There exists a wide gap between the demand and supply of pulses. While the demand for pulses in 2020 is projected at 30.9 million tonnes, the supply is said to be only 24.9 million tonnes. The gap of 6 million tonnes can be bridged by pushing a growth rate of 6.51 per cent. Sadly enough the current rate of growth is only 3.35 per cent.
Though pulses require less water than wheat or rice, irrigation and fertile soils are necessary. In the absence of adequate moisture at the time of growth, crop failure or lower produce may result. Hence, the shifting of pulses to marginal areas has markedly affected the production of pulses.
Besides, being self pollinating plants, (except pigeon pea), pulses have limited scope for hybridisation. Neither do they respond well to fertilizers, unlike rice and wheat. Of late, the government has been successful in having scientists develop improved varieties of pulses. In fact over the last decade, seven short duration (140-160 days) high yielding varieties of arhar namely Phule T 12, BDN 711, PA 291, VLA-1, Pusa 2001, Pusa 2002 and CO-7 and nine short duration (60-65 days) high yielding moong varieties namely HUM 16, IPM 02-3, PKVAKM 4, Pusa 0672, IPM 02-14, MH 421, SML 832, Co-8 and Shalimar Moong-2 have been released for propagation in different states by the National Agricultural Research System (NARS) comprising of Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) institutes and State Agricultural Universities (Ministry of Agriculture, Department of Agriculture, cooperation and Farmers Welfare). These high-yielding varieties, which are also suitable for multiple cropping systems and newer niches, are being promoted through the production of their breeder seeds to farmers in different states. To augment the availability of quality seeds, 100 seed hubs have also been established in 2016-17 across 22 states to promote production of pulses, as stated by the Minister of State for Agriculture and Farmers Welfare in Parliament in August 2016.
From a farmer’s perspective, pulses are viewed as a marginal crop. If a farmer has irrigation facilities, he would rather grow rice or wheat since he has assured returns in terms of produce and cash, none of which pulses assure. Notwithstanding a higher minimum support price since the last few years, the government procures only 4 per cent of the total produce. Contrast this with the 80 to 100 per cent of the wheat procured in many places. Moreover, pulses are easily attacked by pests if stored without splitting.
There is also an urgent need to draw the attention of the private sector to pulses by the introduction of innovative products. Blending of pulses with wheat and other cereals to produce high protein foods is under research and can be turned into a viable option. Pulses can also be distributed through the public distribution system (PDS) to safeguard farmers through procurement. This could also enable the poor to better their protein intake.
A Pulses Revolution on the lines of the Green Revolution is the need of the hour, since pulses too need the support and attention of the government, farmers, and the public and private sectors. Although some major technological and institutional breakthroughs have already been affected, losses of pulses due to faulty storage, inefficient marketing mechanisms, and the absence of adequate irrigation need to be avoided. The inclusive growth of cereals, pulses and vegetables is the best way to food and nutritional security.
Government of India, 2014. Agricultural Statistics at a Glance. Commodity Profile for Pulses- Jan 2016.
Indian Institute of Pulses Research – http://www.iipr.res.in/. Annual Report on Pulses, 2012-2013
Government of India, August 2016, Ministry of Agriculture, Department of Agriculture, cooperation and Farmers Welfare.
Government of India, August 2016, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution.
National Sample Survey 68th Round. 2011-12. Household Consumption of Various Goods and Services in India: pp A-193-332.
Mohanty S. and K. J. Satyasai. 2015. Feeling the Pulse- Indian Pulses Sector, NABARD Rural Pulse, Issue X.
Ninan K. N. and H. Chandrashekhar,. 1993. Green Revolution, Dryland Agriculture and Sustainability -Insights from India, Economic and Political Weekly .
Reddy A. A., M. C. S. Bantilan and G. Mohan. 2012. Enabling Pulses Revolution in India- Policy Brief no. 26 – ICRISAT.
Sundaram I. S., 2010. India needs a Pulses Revolution, Facts for You.