Chennai, June 23, 2017: Indian agriculture is seeing record crop production on one hand but increased farmers protests. In several states, farmers fear that a bumper crop combined with erratic monsoon will bring down prices and affect livelihood. Pricing and Policy are central to these protests.
India faces a pulses deficit of about 6 million tonnes. There is low per capita consumption – below 40 grams per day as recommended by the Indian Council of Medical Research. Timely announcement of Minimum Support Prices (MSP) for pulses and prior to the sowing season is of great importance. Announcement on MSP for pulses ideally in June – July can have a significant impact on farmers’ choice of crops.
India produced over 106 million tons of rice and over 95 million tons of wheat in 2013-14. This is about 10 million tons higher than the demand for each of these crops. In the same period we produced just about 19 million tons of pulses which reduced to 17.5 million tons in 2014-15, although there is annual demand of about 24 million tons of pulses. This deficit situation in pulses exists, because there is a much more efficient system for procurement and a lucrative MSP for rice and wheat. India currently has a policy in place for five pulses only – tur, moong, urad, lentil and gram. Further, there is need to ensure that the MSP actually reaches the farmer and is not exploited by middlemen. State governments could explore special schemes for pulses in respective states.
Recent analysis by the multi-country LANSA consortium project led by MSSRF showed that as per the National Sample Survey 61st and 68th rounds, only Himachal Pradesh met the daily requirement of 40 grams of pulses. States like Jharkhand, Rajasthan and West Bengal, did not even meet 50% of the norm set for daily protein intake. In a country, where 37 per cent of children under 5 are stunted and 34 per cent are underweight (NFHS-4), pulses are important to address malnutrition. The study further recommends ensuring availability through Public Distribution System and increasing consumption of less popular but more nutritious pulses.
An example from ongoing work by MSSRF in Tamil Nadu’s Pudukkottai district shows that the farmer producer company procures pulses at 10% premium for farmers above current local market price. This ensures that farmers in that region cultivate pulses, since they are assured of procurement by their company in an ethical manner with no hidden costs. Farmers benefit directly from this system that ensures appropriate price for their produce.
Since pulses need less than one-fifth the water rice requires, they are also water-smart. Getting farmers to grow pulses is important to increase income, reduce water for farming and improve nutritional status. In the current year, we may face a deficit monsoon. So announcing a remunerative MSP for pulses may be the way ahead. It is time to make this announcement now.