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A National Pulses Board will succeed only if becomes more than a co-ordinating agency and has a sweeping mandate for the development of pulses industry in the country with research institutions coming directly under them..
03 Feb 2011
By Sreekumar Raghavan
Pulses consumption, availability and rising costs are topics for hot debate among policy makers, agriculturists and layman alike. Pulses could provide an abundunt supply of proteins and other vital nutrients for the Indian population but for the past several years, the gap between supply and demand hadn't been properly addressed. Eminent agricutural scientist M S Swaminathan pointed out that the Green Revolution bypassed pulses and we are paying a heavy price for it.

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The National Food Security Mission (NFSM) also allegedly focussed more on wheat and rice than pulses. An ASSOCHAM report released two years ago pointed out that that the crisis in Indian pulses was that "no serious attention has been paid to increase pulses production, especially under the National Food Security Mission, which focused more on wheat, rice, millet and corn. Efforts were made to increase the yield of these crops at the cost of pulses." To be fair to the implementors to NFSM, this allegation doesn't seem to be true.

According to a presentation made by Mukesh Khullar, Mission Director of NFSM at the Fifth General Council Meeting of NFSM on January 18th, 2011, funds released from 2007-08 to 2010-11 was highest for pulses when compared to wheat and rice. Of the total Rs 3305.8 cr disbursed under the NFSM, Rs 1326.84 crore went to pulses while rice received Rs 998.9 cr and wheat received Rs 980.06 cr. In 2007-08 as against pulses demand of 16.77 mn tonnes, 14.76 mn tonnes was produced in the contry and this has risen to 16.50 mn tonnes in 2010-11 as against a demand of 19.8 mn tonnes. For 2011-12 the demand is forecasted at 19.91mn tonnes.

The allegations that NFSM cold-shouldered pulses in favour of rice and wheat isn't quite true if we go by NFSM data but the challenge for the NFSM and also agricultural policy makers is the fact that Indian per capita consumption of pulses has fallen from 27 kg in 1960's to 11 kg by the end of 2010 as rising prices curb consumption across the country and shortfall of around 3 million tonnes every year is met with imports. Therefore, our target should be to achieve production levels equivalent to say 25 kg of percapita consumption instead of the present 10 + levels if we are to make a meaningful impact on health and nutrition requirements of the vast majority of our population.

ICRISAT scientists have pointed out that major achievements have been made in chickpea cultivation growth in Andhra Pradesh and also suggested several measures including use of improved varieties of pulses, hybrid pigeon pea is already available in the market. Among the strategies they have outlined include promotion of pulses cultivation in rice fallows, inclusion of short duration varieties of pulses as catch crops and promoting pigeon pea cultivation in hills.

They have also suggested the setting up of a National Pulses Board whose role will be to 1) co-ordinate across ministries/departments 2) co-ordinating with state government machinery 3)supply of necessary inputs 4)monitor grain procurement prices for farmers (not for traders).

It remains doubtful whether a proposal for a new commodity board would be welcomed by the Agricultural Ministry or the Commerce Ministry considering the budget constraints as a proposal for Cashew Board is still hanging fire. Pulses cultivation is largely unorganised in India and it is doubtful whether pulses farmers would get any representation in the board, if ever it is set up unlike rubber, coffee or tea boards.

A National Pulses Board will succeed only if becomes more than a co-ordinating agency and has a sweeping mandate for the development of pulses industry in the country with research institutions coming directly under them.

The sucess of rubber cultivation and fairly remunerative farm gate prices for coffee, rubber for eg, is a reflection of the roles the respective commodity boards are doing with respect to their mandate. And the success of such a board should be judged on how far it enables pulses cultivation to become remunerative to the farmers for which market preferred cultivators have to be promoted, according to ICRISAT scientists.

When the Indian population has the inclination to consume more, there is a already a market for pulses and what is now required is the right incentives for farmers in the form of high-yielding varieties and infrastrucutre support to make pulses cultivation viable.

(The author is Managing Editor of Commodity Online and these are his personal views)
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