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Know the Pulse

For hundreds of years, India has practised agriculture. She has over 400 million acres of arable land. Her tropical climate permits farming round the year in most parts of the country. With over two-thirds of the population living in villages, familiar with farming, copious manpower is available. Contrast this with the US which is another country endowed with such large tracts of arable land. But in most parts of the US only a single crop is possible. The season is limited to a few months - from April to September. Yet US produces more than thrice Indias agri production!

Know the Pulse

Low productivity and more importantly, the lack of focus and a coordinated effort between the Centre and the states, account for India producing to a fraction of her potential. There is mindless fragmentation of land holdings – the average in Tamil Nadu is around two acres per capita and slightly less than the national average; land ceiling laws, further accentuated by division of family holdings through generations; lack of application of science, technology and management and the absence of even simple tools and implements to reduce drudgery and increase productivity have come in the way of reaching decent levels of productivity of agriculture products.

 

Look at the potential:

One, Midwest USA that produces corn (maize/cholam) in such abundance has productivity levels of 10,000 kg/acre. In India, the average is just 800 kg/acre.

Two, average production of tomato in California (with just 10 inches of rain a year) is over 80 tonnes/acre. Israel, the even more water-starved country, has established productivity of 200 tonnes/acre. In India, the average is 5 tonne/acre. Such differences spread across the vast spectrum of agro commodities.

The Dhal dhamaka

The recent crisis in pulses has resulted in the price of urad dhal (ulundu) shooting up to Rs. 200+ per kg and that of tur dhal crossing at the height of the festive season, Rs. 200 per kg. This is a shame as the population, largely

vegetarian, depends on pulses for meeting its protein requirements. The sambar, rasam and the full range of subzis require tur dhal (tuvaram paruppu). Idly, dosa, vada and a vast variety of snacks need urad dhal. Thus, the doubling of the prices of these in a short time has contributed to deep holes into the purses of the masses.

    For several years now the country has been spending on the import of pulses, lentils, peas and edible oils amounts that exceeded the foreign exchange the country had spent even on crude and petroleum products some three

decades ago! With the supply of these essential commodities limited to a handful of countries, a spurt in demand from India contributes to a huge increase in international prices.

 

When CS triggered the green revolution...

There are rapidly implementable solutions that are within the capabilities of Indian policymakers, scientists and farmers. Only, continued neglect of finding a lasting solution comes in the way. Contrast this with the country achieving spectacular success in triggering the green and white revolutions. In the aftermath of two successive droughts during 1965-67

C Subramaniam elevated the capabilities of the administrators, scientists, agri universities and technologists to achieve quantum growth in food production. In less than a decade foodgrains production doubled. From the stage of importing 10 million tonnes of food grains each year in 1965 and 1966 there was dramatic change; India not just became self-sufficient in these but soon emerged  a sizable net exporter of rice and wheat. With an annual production of 260 million tonnes of foodgrains today, the country is brimming with buffer stocks that are a cause of concern to manage.

 

When India became a mighty milk producer...

Thanks to Verghese Kurien an equally spectacular change was brought in the production of milk. From the stage of chronic deficiency, Kurien brought about a spectacular change. He brought together millions of small sized cattle owners (who owned on an average ‘one and a half buffaloes’) and built a strong milk cooperative. These were based on science, technology and management that ranged from organising the farmers into cooperatives, in collecting milk from these twice a day at fair prices, ensuring quality, transporting these to chilling centres and establishing a highly scientific processing, distribution and marketing system. In quick time, Kurien eliminated the need for import of milk powder, made India the world’s largest producer of milk and paved the way for export of milk, milk products and also management skills for dairies and dairy products. Today India is the largest producer of milk at 140 million tonnes.

 

Why no such success in pulses, oilseeds?

Such changes have not been brought about in regard to two other essential commodities–  pulses and oil seeds. Their production stagnated for decades even while population grew substantially and was relentless. The first corrections were attempted by Rajiv Gandhi when he included these under the technology mission led by Sam Pitroda. These did bring about spectacular results in quick time, with the production of these registering an increase by a third. Disappointingly such efforts were not continued. With the liberalisation of the economy in 1991 and agreements with WTO that paved the way for much easier imports, there has been complacence. The much higher growth rate recorded by the economy since 2004 with comfortable foreign exchange reserves, there had been a neglect of agriculture production, most notably that of pulses and oil seeds.

 

Demand - production gap...

In recent years, production of pulses has been stagnating at the level of 17 million tonnes to 18 million tonnes. Against this, demand has been increasing; for the current year 2015-16, production is estimated around 17 million tonnes and demand at 27 million tonnes.

Most developed countries with their staple food contributed by fish, poultry, chicken, lamb, pork and beef, have not been familiar with pulses. Canada and Australia, large producers of agri-products, took to the cultivation of lentils in a big way consequent upon the huge demand from India! Unaware of raising tur dhal, a few years ago Canada raised a variety of lentil, named it yellow dhal and exported in large quantities to India! There is hardly a handful of countries that raised such lentils and pulses: Canada, USA, Australia, Russia, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, Myanmar, Tanzania, Mozambique, Kenya, Malawi and Sudan. These thrive on exports to India.

 

Why India cannot do like Canada?

With production limited to these countries a huge demand for import of 10 million tonnes, resulted in a huge spurt in international prices. Add to this the propensity of traders to hoard and make a killing in times of shortage.

You can now understand the more than doubling of the prices of urad and tur dhal.

With the country’s success in achieving spectacular increases in the production of foodgrains, cotton, sugarcane, milk and other products, it should not be difficult to achieve a quantum jump in the production of pulses (and oil seeds).

 

It’s still a marginal crop...

Look at the present pattern of cultivation of pulses:

•    Pulses are largely raised in the states of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. These account for over 70 per cent of the country’s kharif pulse production.

•     In states like Tamil Nadu pulses like ulundu (urud dhal), payaru (moong dhal) are raised between January and April as marginal, rain-fed crops mostly after the rabi harvest of paddy.

•    These are short term crops raised over four to five months. There has been little attention by most farmers on the selection of seeds or on  adopting scientific practices. The result: low yield of 150 kg to 200 kg /acre.


Over six years ago, at the initiative of Tata Sons director, R Gopalakrishnan, a More Pulses (MoPu) programme was launched by Tata Chemicals and Rallis India. In Tamil Nadu, it was launched as part of IAMWARM project in Pudukkottai district. This was soon extended to several other districts with coordinated efforts by the Tatas, the government agencies and farmers focusing on ulundu (urad).It helped bring larger acerage; combined with the supply of quality seeds and support through better agronomic practices, it helped increase productivity to around 700/800 kg/acre.

 

An attempt at productivity increase...

In 2006, IE promoted the Agriculture Consultancy Management Foundation (ACMF) as a not-for-profit trust to focus on productivity improvements in agriculture. ACMF brought together a number of business leaders and scientists including  S Balasubramanian (Gemini Farms),

F C Kohli (TCS), P Kumaraswamy (Pioneer Group), Dr C Lakshmanan (California Agriculture Consultancy Service), B Muthuraman (Tata Steel), R Thyagarajan (Shriram Group), B Santhanam (Saint-Gobain), A Suryanarayana Rao (Stree Seva Mandir) and S Viswanathan (Industrial Economist) as trustees.

In close cooperation with Tata Rallis, ACMF raised a urad crop at its farm leased at Somangalam. The support extended by the expert team from Rallis helped ACMF raise a rich crop. Such efforts can be made in a significant number of farms that presently remain unutilised/under-utilised, supported by the Department of Agriculture, TNAU and the Tatas. Assured procurement by Tatas under its MoPu programme at remunerative prices should be of special value.

Presently the state government has received a special funding from the Department of Agriculture Research (DARE) of the Government of India. The state agriculture department, along with the Tamil Nadu Agriculture University, is planning an ambitious programme to expand the production of pulses in quick time.

Look at the possibility: in 2014, 126 million hectares were under foodgrains and produced 264 million tonnes. The area under pulses was 25.4 million hectare, and produced around 19.25 million tonnes of pulses with an average yield of 770/kg/ha. With comfortable, surplus production of foodgrains, cotton and sugarcane, why not think of a policy to bring larger acerage, say an additional 10 lakh hectares under pulses? Do assure needed irrigation and take a second crop where a single crop was raised. Like C Subramaniam did, put the entire action on a mission mode monitoring progress at every stage. I notice a welcome increase under the area of pulses in the current rabi season.

 

Lack of coordination between Centre and states

There are a few major constraints: at the time of C Subramaniam, the whole country could follow unified policies – decided by the Centre and implemented by the states. Most states worked in unison with the Centre’s policies. Today this luxury is not available. With different parties in power in various states, it has become tough for the Centre to implement even benign and essential policies across the country. It was the practice in those years for Central ministers to visit frequently different states and interact with policymakers in these to ensure quick implementation as also to understand the difficulties these faced. Today, Union ministers and senior bureaucrats rarely find time to do this and powerful politicians at the state level like J Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu are not accessible to Union ministers and senior civil servants. With power concentrated with chief ministers, it is not easy to deal with ministers and officials of different departments and get quick solutions.

 

Reforming the agriculture sector

The agriculture sector is in urgent need of reforms. Archaic laws relating to land ownership is a major hurdle. Highly fragmented land holdings deny the application of science, technology and management to agriculture that had worked wonders in other sectors. Punjab and Rajasthan amended the APMC Acts providing for leasing of land for 15 years. Several other states have followed suit. This will help agglomerate small land holdings to viable sizes.

Look at the present drawback. The TNAU produces hundreds of BTech and BSc agri graduates; not one of them could be remuneratively employed in the small sized farms that generate poor revenues. They opt for government/bank/corporate/lab/other jobs in urban areas. Farm mechanisation and recourse to tools and implements to reduce drudgery and increase productivity is not possible. There is little scope to benefit from the invaluable research findings at universities and also from high productivity global practices.

With ever-increasing land prices in states like Tamil Nadu, the returns from farming are poor. This can be tackled only by achieving quantum jumps in productivity. Otherwise, there will be the constant demand for increase in minimum support prices with the consequent impact on inflation. Every popular government has to yield to such demands from the organised group of farmers. Look at the increase in MSP of tur dhal:  from Rs. 2300/quintal in 2009-10 to 4300/quintal in 2013-14; of ground nut in the shell from Rs. 2100 to Rs. 4000/quintal. One should be familiar with such regular and steep increase in MSP on sugarcane that has rendered the industry bleeding.

A mission mode will help achieve the agri dream

Not just for pulses, such a mission approach is also needed for oil seeds; the country is spending vast amounts of foreign exchange in imports of edible oil. IE firmly believes in the potential for doubling agri production in a decade with sound policies. While the focus on getting more FDI and on manufacture is understandable and necessary, the potential of the country to emerge a food bowl of the world needs to be tapped. And the world needs food in large quantities. China with which India has adverse trade balance, imports vast amounts of soybean from distant South American countries. With her extensive arable land and favourable agro-climatic conditions, India can meet this by sharp focus. And this can be done in a  short  time!

    A second green revolution is within reach. Only this requires bold and decisive leadership.

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