‘MSP hike can boost pulses production’

Former Member of the Planning Commission and economist Abhijit Sen said on Tuesday that Prime Minister Narendra Modi could give a push to increasing pulses production by raising the minimum support price (MSP) for procurement.

“Only by hiking the MSP of pulses significantly will their cultivation become more attractive over the growing of other crops,” Dr. Sen told The Hindu .

In his Mann Ki Baat address on Sunday, Mr. Modi had asked farmers to increase the production of pulses so that India no longer needed to import them.

An analysis by The Hindu of food grains production data to understand why farmers prefer to grow cereals rather than pulses found that pulses are among the least productive of all crops — the yields are on average 760 kg per hectare, compared to 2,400 kg per hectare for cereals, and 1,100 kg per hectare for oilseeds.

Low yields on the one hand and relatively more lucrative MSP for other food grains makes pulses an unattractive crop for farmers. For example, one hectare’s yield of jowar with a minimum support price of Rs. 15.90 per kg (as of June 17, 2015) gets the farmer Rs. 38,160. The same land used to grow urad dal or tur dal with an MSP of Rs. 44.25 per kg earns the farmer Rs. 33,630 — that’s Rs 4,500 less for every hectare the farmer devotes to pulses instead of cereals.

The reason behind this low yield in pulses — which has barely changed in more than three decades — is that pulses are technology-proof crops, argued Dr. Sen. “Despite years of trying, no amount of R&D has increased the yield of pulses significantly, unlike cereals which saw a huge increase in productivity due to technological advances.”

Another reason for the poor level of yields is that farmers are increasingly growing pulses on inferior land. “As farmers found that they were getting more out of growing cereals, pulses increasingly became marginal crops grown on marginal [less fertile] land. This has further hit yields,” Dr. Sen said.

Mr. Modi’s exhortation to farmers to grow more pulses comes at a time when a fifth of the country’s supply of pulses is imported, as the 2014-15 data shows. This proportion is much higher in the case of specific pulses. For example, 42 per cent of India’s supply of peas was imported. This number was 32.4 per cent and 31 per cent for mosur dal and moong/urad dal, respectively.

Low yield levels and a significant dependence on imports have meant that the prices of pulses have risen sharply. The consumer price inflation in pulses, at 7.9 per cent in 2014-15, was higher than the overall food inflation of 6.2 per cent. In fact, proteins, fruits and vegetables have been the main drivers of food inflation since around year 2000, as opposed to cereals and sugar, which were the main drivers in the previous four decades.