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Soybeans are the main obstacle to self-sufficiency in Indian pulses!

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Vikas Meshram | Ground Report |After 1990, the slogan of self-reliance has come up again in the case of pulses. The area under pulses has increased since 2015 and the production has also increased but there is still five to six million tonnes less pulses than the actual demand. 

Farmers in the country’s pulse-producing states are not enthusiastic about cultivating pulses during the kharif season.  In the last 30 years, cash crops like soybean have rapidly taken over Indian agriculture, so farmers have neglected pulses like tur, urad and green gram.  As a result, the retail prices of tur, green gram, urad and chanadal are Rs 80 to Rs 120 per kg.  At the same time, the government is dependent on pulses imports for the next five years.  To improve the demand-supply ratio of pulses, three million tonnes of pulses have to be imported every year.

According to the recommendations of the National Agriculture Commission of 1976, 70 grams of pulses per person is required in our balanced diet, but to date this has not been met. At present the per capita availability of pulses is only 55 grams per day. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, India’s share in world pulses production is 25 per cent (22-25 million tonnes) and consumption is 27 per cent.

A.K., Director, Directorate of Pulses Development, Bhopal under the Union Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare. Tiwari said in his 2016 report ‘PULSES IN INDIA: RETROSPECT AND PROSPECTS’ that since 1990, farmers in the fertile areas of the Ganges have turned to other crops instead of pulses.  Many farmers were deciding to move away from pulses. Wheat production was 3,000 to 4,000 kg per hectare and pulses production was only 800 kg.  In the major northern states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana and Punjab, farmers turned to other crops as soon as they got better water and irrigation facilities. Therefore, pulses were cultivated in the direction of Central and South India. However, due to Nilgai and other animals in Uttar Pradesh, farmers also stopped cultivating pulses.  Because they cause more damage to the pulses.

Currently, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh are the six major pulse producing states in India. These states account for 80 per cent of the total production of pulses.  After gram (about 50 per cent), pulses are followed by tur and urad.  The production of green gram and lentils in the country is very low. The area under cereals, pulses and production conditions have been stable for decades and a slight increase in the minimum base price of the last five-six years has increased the tendency of farmers.  According to the Confederation of Indian Industry’s (CII) 2010 report on overcoming the pulses crisis, pulses production increased by only 45 per cent between 1951 and 2008, while wheat production increased by 320 per cent and rice by 230 per cent.  This shows the difference between dal and other crops.

Tur is the original crop of India. Yet scientists have not paid as much attention to her product as they should.  In times of food crisis there was more emphasis on food availability, now the emphasis is on nutrition, so we need to consider pulses.

Although scientists did a lot of research to improve crops during the severe food crisis in 1960, the production of turmeric remained stable. In the last few years, as a cash crop, soybean has not only limited the area under turi among the major dal producing states, but has also replaced green gram and urad in the cereal producing states like Maharashtra.

The ratio of tur and soybean should be 2: 1, but it is completely messed up.  Soybeans have invaded the country where irrigation facilities are available. Farmers are promoting soybean cultivation instead of turi.  Turkshetra has not expanded for decades. Meanwhile, soybeans are getting better prices and instant cash, which has also increased the attractiveness of farmers.

Where there is water, farmers avoid sowing tur, as the soybean crop is ready in just 110 days and yields up to seven to eight quintals per acre. Tur is ready in 152 to 183 days and yields an average of only three quintals. As soon as soybean is ready, agricultural land is available for rabi crop, but if tur is grown, the field gets stuck for a long time. If there is no proper remuneration for the produce, then why would the farmer produce such a crop?

Cereals have a Minimum Support Price (MSP), but they are rarely purchased.  Therefore, farmers use soybean instead of turi due to low yield and long duration. Because they get prices easily from the market.  The MSP of pulses has been increased, but it is equal to or less than the cost of production. In such a case, the MSP of the trumpet should be increased to a minimum of Rs 7,000 instead of Rs 6,000. To control prices and reduce imports, the government has hiked the MSP of gram from Rs 4,875 to Rs 5,100 and lentils from Rs 4,800 to Rs 5,100 for the rabi market season 2021-22. The price of soybean in the international market is good.  This gives good prices to the farmers.

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Pulses production remained stable in 1960 and the country was facing a food crisis. When the GB in Uttarakhand.  Pant Agricultural University, Jawaharlal Nehru Agricultural University in Madhya Pradesh and University of Illinois in the United States jointly tried to overcome protein deficiency by increasing soybean production. The initial tests took place in 1965-66. The South American soybean variety, which matures in 110 to 130 days, used 3 to 4 tons per hectare.

From April 1, 1967, the efforts of scientists continued through the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). According to the Indian Institute of Soybean Research, the area under soybean in India has increased from 32,000 hectares in 1970-71 to 12.90 million hectares in 2020-21. Also in 1960, the production of soybean was 14,000 tons and the production was 426 kg per hectare. In 2020-21, this production has increased to 13.7 million tonnes. Meanwhile cereal crops have been neglected and are still struggling for their production.  B.B., a scientist at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture. Singh, along with his colleagues, wrote in his article ‘Success of Soybean in India: The Early Challenges and Pioneer Promoters’:  were being used by the farmers for these crops, and the question of where soybean would fit in the cropping system arose. It was mentioned by M S Swaminathan, the then Director General of ICAR, that unless a crop is grown in one million ha and produces at least a million t per year, it may not make much difference in the Indian economy. Soybean scientists in India started looking for possible niches, including intercropping, relay cropping, rotation, and utilizing fallow lands where soybean could be grown.  A major niche was found in Madhya Pradesh, where a large area used to be left fallow in the rainy season to conserve moisture and fertility. ”

If we look at the distribution of five major cereals on the basis of rabi and kharif, the rabi season saw a record production of 126 lakh tonnes of gram in 2020-21. The share of gram in total pulses is 60 per cent, while that of tur, green gram, urad and lentil is only 40 per cent.  Chanadal is a strong pillar and can be used in many ways as compared to other pulses.

However, increasing gram production during the rabi season is still a challenge.  There is a shortage of good and improved seeds. A major crisis in the pulses sector is the major pulses sown during the kharif season, whose prices increase almost every year. It hurts the poor and the middle class.  These major pulses include tur, green gram, urad. At the same time, soybean has the largest share of oilseed crops in the kharif season. This did not reduce the production of green gram and urad, which is sown early (April-May) in Vidarbha with excellent agro-climatic conditions.

However, statistics show that the total pulses and oilseeds stand at the same level in terms of sown area. According to official figures from the Ministry of Agriculture, the total area under pulses increased from 13 per cent in 2007-08 to 14 per cent in 2019-20. Comparing the area and production of major cereals and oilseed producing states during the kharif season, it is clear that soybean is currently more attractive to farmers.

According to the Union Ministry of Agriculture estimates, the country has produced 134 lakh tonnes of soybean in 2020-21, while pulses such as pigeon pea, green gram and urad produced 91.16 lakh tonnes. Maharashtra’s soybean area was 20 lakh hectares in 1990 and production was 1.89 lakh tonnes. In 2029-20, it was 37.36 lakh hectares and the production was 39.41 lakh tonnes. In 1990, the area under turi was 10.07 lakh hectares and the production was 4.2 lakh tonnes. Thirty years later, in 2019-20, the tur area was approximately 11.95 lakh hectares and the production was 9.72 lakh tonnes.
In terms of production, India will have to increase the area under cereals along with oilseeds and adopt a strategy of crop rotation. However, the idea of increasing the area under pulses along with oilseeds can be very risky for farmers, as it depends on the reaction of the market.

Ten years ago the area under the tar was very high. As soon as irrigation was arranged, people started cultivating paddy. Not only is the soil deficient in nitrogen due to the loss of cereal crops, but the organic carbon is also less than the normal 0.5 per cent.  Such a situation affects productivity and increases costs. Turi takes a lot of time, so farmers are more inclined towards cash crops. This means that soybeans are the main obstacle to becoming ‘self-sufficient’ and ‘self-sufficient’ in Indian pulses.

According to the Working Group Report on Pulses prepared by the Policy Commission in February 2018, the growth rate of pulses, urad and green gram was 8 per cent in 1980 and remained the same till 1990,

2017-18 was a very important year for pulses, as the production of pulses was the highest this year at 254.1 lakh (25.41 million) tonnes and in the third quarter of 2020-21 we will have a record production of approximately 255.7 lakh tonnes (25.5) tonnes. But it is worth noting here that this increase in the total figures is due to the gram in the rabi season. Turi, which is the second largest contributor to pulses production, has seen a decline rather than an increase.  In 2017-18, the production of gram was 113.8 lakh tonnes, while that of tur was 42.9 lakh tonnes. If we look at the third advance forecast for 2020-21, the share of gram is 12126.1 lakh tonnes.  The share of trumpets is only 41.4 lakh tonnes.

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Excessive rainfall as a result of climate change is affecting the crop cycle.  That is why the tragic story of the long struggle over the field, production and distribution of cereals has not stopped.  The latest figures released by the Union Ministry of Agriculture on July 16, 2021 show the sowing situation in the last six years of the kharif season.  In the kharif season of 2017-18, a record sowing of 100.044 lakh hectares was done.  This led to record production.  In 2021-22, only 70.643 lakh hectares have been sown. Sowing has declined in all the six major dal producing states as compared to previous years.  The biggest shortfall was in Rajasthan, where sowing was done on 27.228 lakh hectares in 2017, while this year only 9.198 lakh hectares were sown.

Shortage in kharif sowing could once again hurt the production figures and further reduce the production of major pulses like tur, urad, green gram. This proves to be disappointing not only for imports but also for prices.  The shortage of pulses production is directly reflected in the rise in prices, import dependence and changes in the law.  The government has consistently resorted to this method in the name of controlling the prices of pulses.  In the last five years since 2015, in the name of controlling the prices of essential commodities, the government has gone against the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 and has twice fixed the storage limit for pulses. The notification issued on July 2, 2021 was strongly opposed by wholesalers, retailers, mill owners and importers. So the government had to reconsider and raise the storage limit again.

An amendment to the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 empowers the Central Government to fix stock limits on essential commodities with immediate effect. In fact, this provision is for the benefit of agribusiness professionals.  It will not benefit the income of the farmers. He says changes to the Essential Commodities Act 1955 are illegal. The law stabilized food inflation during a nationwide lockdown. The government is well aware of this, but it seems that its intentions regarding storage limits are in the commercial interest.  Prior to this abrupt notification on storage of pulses, in 2020, the government had said in an amendment to the Essential Commodities Act, 1955, that the Essential Commodities Act or the stock limit would apply only when the price of pulses was higher than the MSP or the country was in a state of emergency.  In the absence of such a situation in reality, the government used storage limits.

 In the case of wholesale inflation, demand has increased during the festive season. That’s when artificial inflation occurs. However, retail inflation hurts rural and middle class consumers more. In June 2016, tur dal was Rs 170 per kg and urad dal was Rs 196 per kg.  In 2021, the retail price of pulses has gone up to Rs 100 per kg, while that of gram, green gram and urad has gone up to Rs 80 per kg.  In 2020-21, the government used reserves of pulses to keep retail prices stable.  For example, Moog, Urad and Tur states were exempted. The cost of supply is left to the departments. Thus, as a minor intervention, 2.3 lakh tonnes of pulses have been released in the open market. The government says prices have stabilized from April 1 to June 16 this year.

However, this has come as a big shock to the farmers. The same stocks that are procured on MSP through NAFED, the National Agricultural Co-operative Marketing Federation, are offered at a lower price in the open market. This lowers the prices and other pulses cannot get a good price in the market.  NAFED, the major buyer, has procured 76.3 lakh tonnes of pulses from 38 lakh farmers since 2014 and the reserves have been sold at a loss under the open market sale scheme. This not only affects market prices, but also discourages private enterprises from buying pulses directly from farmers.

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