ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Problem in Dals

Why has pulse production stagnated despite measures to boost production being well known?

This season, the prices of pulses (dals) have been on fire. According to the Price Monitoring Cell of the Department of Consumer Affairs, Government of India, the average retail price of red gram (tuar) doubled from around Rs 80 a kg in March 2015 to Rs 150–Rs 160 a kg in November 2015. What could this price rise be due to? Obviously, there has been a persistent demand–supply gap in the case of pulses in India. Projections of future demand for pulses by the Twelfth Five Year Plan put demand at 25 million tonnes in 2020–21, whereas India’s production in 2013–14 was around 19 million tonnes. So, production has to grow by at least 3.5% per annum to close the gap by 2020–21. The past record does not offer much reason for hope. Between 1996–97 and 2013–14, total production of pulses grew at an annual rate of just 1.83%. Growth has mainly been in rabi pulses like Bengal gram (chana), while kharif pulses like red gram, produced largely under rain-fed conditions, were growing at a rate of less than 1% only during the same period. More importantly, the per hectare yield of pulses recorded a growth rate of only 1.14% per annum over this 17-year period. To meet the future demand for pulses, the yield growth required would be at least twice this figure. Hence, there is an urgent need for a breakthrough in the production of pulses in India.

While the current price rise is somewhat unprecedented, prices of pulses have been on a rising curve for a long time. Between January 2005 and October 2015, the price index of pulses moved up by nearly 270 points. The “real price” of pulses, expressed as the ratio of the price index of pulses to the price index of all commodities, nearly doubled during this period. The government has been resorting to large-scale imports for the last several years, equivalent to 15%–20% of domestic production, to control price rise. The fact that price rise of this sort has not induced a significant area shift in favour of pulses perhaps shows the limits of price incentives in influencing cropping decisions.

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