Protein Shock in the Offing
Falling Pulse Production
The Reserve Bank of India Deputy Governor, Subir Gokarn recently expressed his apprehensions about the spurt in prices of pulses that could be the precursor to a. ‘protein shock’.
The Reserve Bank of India Deputy Governor, Subir Gokarn recently expressed his apprehensions about the spurt in prices of pulses that could be the precursor to a. ‘protein shock’. The average annual increase in the wholesale price index for pulses, at 28.3 per cent in July, was way above even the 10.1 per cent inflation in all food articles. Moreover, poor monsoon rains have led to lower kharif acreages this time, particularly in Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Karnataka, which may have a bearing on prices in the coming months as well.
Scientists on their part have brought out many innovations like varieties and hybrids, maturing in 150-180 days unlike traditional varieties which traditionally took 300-350 days, while giving the same or higher yields. Thus farmers have gained from productivity improvements on a ‘crop-day’ basis. The other significant research accomplishment pertains to breaking geographical barriers. Earlier chana was grown only in the North, whereas Andhra Pradesh alone now produces close to one mt. Yields in the State have than doubled since the nineties, courtesy breeding of both short-duration as well as better wilt-resistant varieties.
Despite of all these accomplishment the pulse production has not increased to that level that it could fulfil the demand and contain the rising price of pulses. This raises a larger question on why the country isn’t able to increase pulses production on a sustainable basis.
The problem in pulses has to do with their ‘orphan crop’ status. Pulses neither receive sufficient official procurement support that wheat and paddy get, nor do farmers view them as commercial crops at par with cotton or soyabean. It has resulted in their cultivation, over the years, being pushed to marginal lands prone to moisture stress.
Breaking this impasse requires a conscious strategy to promote pulses production, including in irrigated areas. The fact that pulses can fix atmospheric nitrogen, and deliver thereby up to a quarter of nutrient savings for the succeeding crop, will additionally help the Government save on its fertilizer subsidy bill.