Thursday, September 10, 2009

Pulses and Oilseeds Policies: The fault to the core

INDIA is the world’s largest consumer and importer of pulses and edible oils. Pulses are the major sources of body building proteins for majority Indians.

But the per capita consumption of pulses has declined. A factor responsible for this situation is the nonchalant attitude of the government towards increasing pulses production, especially under the National Food Security Mission (NFSM), which focused more on wheat, rice, millet and corn. The situation has resulted in prices doubling during the last one year.

Pulses’ demand remaining price sensitive, the per capita consumption has gradually declined over the years. While total pulses availability in the country has reflected a growth of mere 1.39% (CAGR) during the last two decades, population has increased at a CAGR of more than 1.8%. Low import tariffs have helped increased imports, including the June 8, 2006 decision of allowing pulses shipments into the country duty-free. In order to battle against rising domestic prices and for fulfilling domestic needs, government allowed duty free imports from June 8, 2006. Consequently, imports touched 2.26mt in 2006-07, the maximum since 1980-81. Interestingly, India's export of pulses grew at a far greater pace than imports, from 1.09 thousand tonnes in 1980-81 to 447.44 thousand tonnes in 2005-06. Looking at the rising consumption of pulses in India against domestic output and resultant high prices, the government has banned export of pulses.

India’s oilseed output in 2008-09 is estimated to be 28.16mt against the demand of 45.46mt. The output in 2009-10 is projected to fall due to deficient monsoon this year. The earlier policy allowing free import of oilseeds was detrimental to the interests of oilseed farmers and a set-back for achieving self-sufficiency in oilseeds. As a result, the country remained dependent on imported edible oils. There has been a significant increase in imports of crude palm oil from Malaysia and Indonesia.

There is potential to produce about 25 lakh tonnes of oil from non-conventional sources, but hardly about eight lakh tonnes are being utilised. It is important to work out a strategy to exploit these sources.

The spectacular success of the yellow revolution in 1998-99 could be attributed to an increase in the cultivable area to about 26mha and an integrated approach that gave over-riding priority through a technology mission. Aimed at accelerating self-reliance in oilseeds, the approach adopted envisaged development and extension of modern technological inputs to farmers, thereby providing them incentive prices and storage and processing facilities.

At present, there is not much scope to expand the cultivable area under oilseeds. These energy-rich crops suffer from a number of constraints as they are grown in poor environment and are susceptible to pests and diseases. Besides, farmers preferred to grow high-yielding cereals to earn higher profits. However, in the recent past, improved technology has helped in boosting output.

As major crops, oilseeds meet the country’s needs for edible oils. A second yellow revolution is the need of the hour. Also, a technical breakthrough in dryland farming is needed to maximise yield, productivity and farm income. Making the country self-sufficient in oilseeds would have a great impact on agriculture and the economy and would help reduce our dependence on foreign markets.

New promising oilseeds and pulses like, sunflower, soybean, arhar etc. can be vehemently promoted to break the jinx of productivity barrier and to make the sector alluring to the growers as well as the industry.

Government’s faulty policy has to be mainly blamed for this lackadaisical oilseed scenario as during the same period many schemes had been taken off for foodgrains and horticulture crops, in the name of food security. MSP and other public support have been extended for many of the crops. The private investment is also not much appreciable, in the wake of good and guaranteed remuneration and supports offered by Govt. to the high value crops. The pulses and oilseeds have many slack sides too, i.e., lack of hybrids and improved seed varieties, least R&D, opportunistic ad-hoc policies, no incentives to the growers, risk of crop failure and economic burden on the neglected and rugged tracts. Least adoption of advanced production practices and their inability to go for intensive production also adds to the glitches.

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