MFOI 2024 Road Show


Now is the time for pulses


Pulse is common man food but year after year, import of pulses is increasing. The consumption is not only increasing because of growing population. As population and income are increasing, the demand for this staple in India. According to Indian Institute of Pulses Research (IIPR), Kanpur, the pulse requirement of the country is expected to have a required annual growth rate of 4.2% whereas the local production is either stagnant or decelerating. Under these circumstances, the country has to look for technological options to increase the production of pulses by both increasing area under pulses and increasing productivity per unit area.

In this regarding, we met Dr Satish Chandra who is very renounced person in the field of pulses. Dr. Satish Chandra is a former Director of ICAR's Institute of Pulse Research, Kanpur and a former ADG-PIM (ICAR). Dr. Chandra was a Rockfeller Fellow during doctorate and a Post Doctorate Fellow at IARI and University of IIIinois, USA, respectively. He was in the team of scientists during Green Revolution and developed wheat varieties, pearl-millet hybrids and chickpea varieties. He has experience of international collaborative research with universities in Australia and USA, and with CGIAR Institute like CIMMYT, ICRISAT and ICARDA. Currently, he is Director at Indian Society of Agribusiness Professionals (ISAP), advises on programme development strategy and heads the implementation of agri-based rural development programmes.

In an interview with Krishi Jagran Team, Dr. S. Chandra shared his experiences while responding upon pulse production scenario, he emphasized the current challenges at farmer level and also on government end.

In this era of new agricultural innovation and technologies, India is still lagging in pulse production. Kindly give your views on pulse production and challenges. 

There can be no two opinions on the fact that India can and needs to produce more pulses than the current levels. Pulses are the lifeline to food and nutrition security for more than half of the country’s population. At the same time let us have a look not just at the pulse production scenario, but the more relevant and vital issue of nutritional security. Proper protein nutrition at pre-school stage is vital for development of the brain. In adults, proper protein nutrition helps maintain a healthy life style. It can even work against obesity as it can prevent gaining weight in the first place. Pulses are important source of protein and more so in India with such a vast majority of vegetarians. However, a study in 2013 by IFPRI finds that only 7.6 million tonnes of pulses are used in India directly as a food item (dal), while the rest of the production goes to manufacture snacks and foodies for home 

consumption and export. The point I want to make is that it is the traders’ lobby which is projecting the shortage of pulses out of proportions. There is a lot of exposure in media about the losses of wheat or rice in PDS in FCI godowns or so called open roof godowns – even Supreme Court of India took notice of it. Several kinds of market studies are warranted in pulses but have not been attempted yet. The fact is that about 23 to 28 % losses (as estimated by different authors) occur to pulses in the stores of hoarders who do not want to sell pulses below a pumped up market price. It is the lack of affordability against this artificial pricing of pulses by traders which causes pulse shortage and the consequent inflation. Talking of affordability, 

I am reminded that when I joined the Directorate of Pulses Research in Kanpur (1981), I used to pass by a jhuggi jhopri settlement (half of Kanpur population was migratory labour) where Dal was being prepared on kerosene stoves. By the time I left Kanpur six years later, and during which period pulses production had gone up from 10.5 million tonnes to 13.6 million tonnes, these jhuggi folks had graduated to boiled eggs in place of arhar dal. Why ? It cost less fuel, was equally nutritive, it cost less and it was highly convenient to reach workplace in time. And tur dal ? Its price during these six years, advanced from Rs 0.75/ kg to Rs 2.10/ kg.

By saying what I have stated above, I have certainly not deviated from the issue under consideration. Our research system is priority driven. More emphasis is given on cereals which can be consumed even without pulses and are needed by everyone as a source of energy for the body. Pulses stayed as pulses as a group. While research on wheat and rice as cereals is single crop based, pulses are treated as a group which itself reduces the research emphasis to one tenths (there are ten pulses under the research periphery). Secondly, wheat and rice research in this country has drawn heavily from the dwarf varieties, bred outside India, which supplements India’s own research bank balance. Pulses do not enjoy this kind of advantage. Inspite of all this,

it can be said that India is at the vanguard of the research on pulse crops in the world. I am sure that the present developments in the pipeline especially on making pulses as much of ‘sure crops’ as wheat and rice, are at a stage that India is poised for significant advance in pulse production. Today, growing a pulse crop is a farmer’s last priority and is relegated to the worst piece of land, gets no irrigation in 78 percent of the cases. As soon as any pulse becomes a sure crop, free from the multiple hazards of diseases and pests, it will become farmer’s first choice, needing less cost and investment on crop production in the face of rising risks of fertilizer availability, prices and other input costs, etc. It may take a few years, but I would like to tell farmers that ‘now is the time for pulses’.

We had seen that presently the Indian Pulse production is in the tune of 17 million tons annually and during 90s the production was around 12-13 million tons . It seems that the increase in pulse production is in very slow pace. How you assess the journey of more than 20 years with only increase of 4-5 million tons ?

Pulses are cultivated over a vast area of 17 to 20 million ha in India (sometimes touching even 22 million ha). But this terrain is the most inappropriate for crop raising. In fact, it will produce nothing if it is not devoted to pulses. Now, therefore, the increase in pulses production has to come from increased productivity and not from more coverage of area. However productivity is not so low – it is so uncertain. 

If we see the best yields of gram and arhar, and compare the returns per unit area against the cereals, the former will come home a winner. It is the inconsistency due to a combination of biological hazards (pests and diseases), environmental hazards (drought, flood, heat or cold wave) and management hazards (no-input cultivation) that pulses continue to suffer. In a more congenial environment, the gram crop has moved south – the loss of area in gram in the north is 54 percent while productivity and area gains in southern states of Telangana, Andhra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are in the range of 18 to 37 percent. As mentioned above, the lack of priority to pulses research has been diluted and stage is set for more productive varieties to hit the farms in next few years.

As an Bhishampitamaha of the Pulse production kingdom what you foresee the role of the Government and the Farmer of the pulses to overcome these challenges . What is your Advice?

Every age has its Bhishmapitamahs. And like Bhishmapitamah of the epic Mahabharat, my advice may not be heeded by the ruling party. However before coming to the policy environment, I must say that India’s farmer is amongst the most competent of the farmers anywhere in the world - the green revolution, the white revolution, the yellow and the blue revolutions and so forth which have helped India to keep its head high are the result of the hard work that farmer is willing to put up in his endeavor with agriculture.

Give him the best of the technologies and he will put it to practice. However, I am not so sure about the government’s policies which are motivated by lobbies. While the MSP is assigned to major pulse crops cultivated in India, the market and procurement systems are not in place. In effect, it amounts to lip sympathy with pulses. The price that farmer gets for pulses as a proportion of the consumer price is about half when compared to the cereals. Warehouse space for pulses in the rural environment is practically missing. Infrastructure for value addition at farm gate must be given a priority and the mandi act that still forbids farmers to sell directly to consumer in certain states must be suitably amended. 

The policy environment and policy implementation deserve to be streamlined. It is for the vegetarians to create as influential a lobby as the traders seeped in capitalist practices much against the interests of the farming community or an enabling production environment. One last suggestion; subsidies do not reach farmers so divert a part of subsidies to provide elaborate crop insurance to farmers. That will be a bigger help to farming community, who often resort to suicides due to helplessness when crops fail.

It will be highly appreciable if you suggest some tips for the inter-cropping in pulse Crop and also suitable solutions to improve soil for the benefit of the agriculture.

This is an era of advanced agri-practices, agri-technologies, agri-innovations and equally importantly, rediscoveries of the forgotten art of livelihood security. Intercropping even if in a less scientific approach, has always been the mainstay of Indian agriculture surviving millennia of tumultuous environmental hazards,

like droughts, floods and famines. Gram -linseed,   gram - barley, jowar – tur (arhar) and many more imaginative intercropping systems have been India’s dependable practices aimed to address perennial problem like monsoon management, and soil fertility management. The present scientific approach is happily directed to sharpen and magnify the impact of these known beneficial practices. In the process, a number of new crop varieties have been evolved that not only improve and strengthen the intercropping practices per se but make the process more efficient and economical by enhancing the compatibility of the crop combinations, as well as enhancing the productivity per unit area, per day and per drop of water. That is what modern agriculture is all about.

How do you feel while comparing the earlier age of agriculture and the present scenario in view of your contribution towards giving boost to the Green revolution as member of the then team?

Comparisons are odious. Every era has its pluses and minuses. I do believe that progress is possible only when disciples (shishyas) can dare to excel the gurus. The current teams handling different research areas, like the older ones, are full of promise and have the potential to make the path of progress smooth, rewarding and sustainable. They do have the disadvantage of having to meet the motivated campaign against agricultural progress by false propaganda against science in agriculture, by capitalizing on the unforced ignorance of a vast majority of India’s population.

If my remarks as a veteran of our historic green revolution, are not misconstrued, I would like to point out that the print as well as electronic media have to prove themselves worthy of a progressive front and filter or screen the news, views and reports of malpropaganda by some vested interests, meant to discredit science and proven technologies in agriculture. These vested interests are out to exploit the scientific ignorance of the masses in by using pseudo science and pseudo scientists as their trump cards.

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