7 PM Editorial |Diversification of Food Basket Through Pulses| 10th June 2020

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Diversification of Food Basket Through Pulses

Context:

COVID 19 pandemic has brought focus on Nutrition. Outbreak has disrupted food supply chains and hence availability of nutritious food grains. UN chief has warned that every 1% fall in global GDP leads to an additional 7 lakh stunted children. This disruption is seen even in countries with abundant food stocks like India due to travel restrictions.

Yet this crisis also presents an opportunity to reorient the food basket of India towards a more nutritious diet and also ecologically sustainable one. Currently there is predominance of cereals (rice and wheat) in Indian food basket. Pulses can be promoted to diversify this food basket to achieve nutritional and ecological goals.

Pulses in India:

Red gram (also tur) and Bengal gram are predominantly produced.

Red gram: A Kharif crop produced in deccan plateau. In some areas of South India it is also grown as a Rabi crop. Maharashtra accounts for 33% of total production. Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Gujarat are other prominent producers.

Bengal gram: A leguminous crop grown in Rabi period. Bundelkhand region and central highlands of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh are prominent production areas.

Importance of pulses:
  1. They are an essential part of Indian diet. Increasing disposable incomes and enhanced awareness of nutrition is increasing demand for pulses. Hence food security of India also depends on adequate production.
  2. They are a source of protein for vegetarian diet
  3. Less water intensive and hence suitable for dryland agriculture in India. One-hectare millimetre of water can produce 12.5 kg of Bengal gram while it can produce only 7 kg of wheat and 2.5 kg of paddy. This is important from an ecological perspective to reduce water stress of agriculture.
  4. They are leguminous  i.e. they fix nitrogen into soil and thereby improve fertility of soil.
Pulses production and productivity:

In 2015, total demand for pulses was 22 Million tonnes (mt) and 5 million tonnes (mt) was imported. It is expected to increase to 30 mt by 2030. Production and yields in India are very low and hence are not enough to meet future demand. Studies point out low yields are due to pests (Pod borer is pest which causes 50% yield losses) and diseases, weather related incidents and improper application of fertilizers. These have to be addressed. India has to increase yields by 30% to address future demands without relying on imports.

Steps needed to boost production and yields:
  1. Investment in research: High yield varieties, pest resistance(borer resistance), increased protein content, fast maturing varieties need to be developed by ICRISAT and other institutions. BT technology can be used for developing pest resistant varieties.
  2. Micro irrigation technologies like Hose Reel technology can be deployed for achieving ‘More Crop Per Drop’. In addition, drought resistant varieties can be developed by studying the genome and using GM tools for water use efficiency.
  3. Mixed cropping can be encouraged to plant pulses along with sugarcane and rice fallow.
  4. Fallow lands can be brought into cultivation through pulses
Pulses marketing and farmers incomes:

Farmers face a market of uncertain prices in case of pulses. Below is an example of 2015 and 2016

Price fluctuation in 2015-16  Tur dal prices soared due to high demand in 2015. Government has relaxed import restrictions to reduce retail prices. This has led to increase in imports and hence reduction in prices

In 2016, production of pulses increased due to high prices in 2015. This led to supply glut due to high production in India combined with high imports. Sharp reduction in prices led to reduced incomes to farmers

MSP prices have increased continuously. But considering high imports and supply glut, market prices remained low. Coupled with low procurement by the government, this has led to low incomes for farmers.

Hence there is a need for market reforms and predictable import and export policy. These have to balance farmers incomes and consumer interests (no high retail prices).

Steps that can be taken:
  1. e-NAM is a good initiative in achieving one nation one market. Efforts must be made to connect all states and APMC’s into it.
  2. Village level processing centres can provide markets for farmers. They need to be established by providing policy support to FPO’s and entrepreneurs.
  3. Predictable policy environment for import and export of pulses is needed. Sudden decisions to import can land the farmers in distress.
  4. Pulses need to be included in PDS and in the mid-day meals to improve nutrition standards and to provide a market for farmers.
Conclusion:

Pulses are important for food security, nutrition and ecological balance. Their production and consumption need to be promoted. This can achieve the vision of ‘Doubling farmers incomes by 2022’ as well as Sustainable Development Goals (2-No hunger; 12 -responsible consumption).

Source – https://www.financialexpress.com

Mains question:
  1. Describe cropping patterns of pulses in India? Explain the importance of pulses and steps needed to increase their production in India? [15 marks, 250 words]
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