India’s trade\narrangement with Mozambique on pulses, with an assurance of guaranteed purchases\nover five years, is necessary to deal with domestic supply shocks caused by\nerratic weather. However, anxieties about food price inflation and nutritional\nsecurity can be addressed by holding out such an assurance to Indian farmers as\nwell. Cabinet has given\napproval for import of 1 lakh tonnes of pulses from the East African nation\nthis year, going up to 2 lakh tonnes by 2020-21. The imports will be done on a\ngovernment-to-government (G2G) basis and also by private traders. \n\nWhile this has diplomatic payoff in a region where China is aggressively cultivating friends, there is uncharitable talk of a large corporate group with trading interests based in Gujarat inspiring the move, and the ruling party’s desire to reward the Prime Minister’s non-resident supporters, mainly the Gujaratis.Ill-Advised MoveThe imports are\nill-advised and against the interests of farmers as a good harvest is expected\nthis year owing to copious rainfall, a scientist said. He did not want to be\nquoted and be seen as criticising his employer.Pulses output had\ndeclined in the last two years owing to deficient rainfall in production\ncentres. Marathwada had experienced back-to-back droughts for two years. Output\nwas 17.06 million tonnes last year and 17.15 million tonnes the previous year, down\nfrom 19 million tonnes in 2013-14. This year it is expected to be 20 million\ntonnes, food minister Ram Vilas Paswan told news agency PTI earlier this\nweek. Annual demand is about 23 million tonnes. In Madhya Pradesh,\nbecause of damage suffered by soybean in the past two years owing to deficient\nrainfall and whitefly attack, some of the acreage is returning to pigeon pea\n(tur) and urdbean, observers said. The Indian Institute\nof Pulses Research (IIPR), Kanpur, and its state centres are unable to cope\nwith the demand for seeds, especially of less-than-10-year-old varieties, which are\nsubsidised.Neglecting\nDomestic CropsIndia has jumped the gun in signing a deal on importing of pulses from Mozambique, as\nharvest of domestic crops is expected to be good this year.The overall output\nof pulses this year is expected to be 20 million tonnes while the annual demand\nis about 23 million tonnes.Practically, it may\nmake sense to keep foreign players on board as production of pulses in India is\nheavily dependent on weather.For farmers across\nIndia, govt should provide incentives that would encourage more land being\nallocated for growing of pulses.One such measure to increase productivity is introducing genetic modification in domestic\ncrops. Neglecting Home-Grown\nPulses From a food\nsecurity point of view, India needs to encourage pulses production abroad to\ncope with domestic supply shocks caused by erratic weather. Since very few\ncountries consume pulses like pigeonpea, farmers abroad will not grow them\nunless assured of a steady market. Long-term arrangements like the one with Mozambique\nare necessary.The same commitment to Indian farmers\nis missing. Minimum support prices are announced, but there is little\nprocurement by the government as pulses are not supplied by the central\ngovernment through ration shops. If the government procured pulses in large\nquantities like it does rice and wheat, or paid the difference between support\nprices and the rate at which farmers sold their produce in mandis directly into their bank accounts, as suggested by NITI\nAayog, much more acreage would come under pulses.Currently, pulses are neglected crops.\nBeing hardy, they are grown mostly in rain-fed areas. Pigeonpea, for instance,\nhas seven flushes. When there are long dry spells, the flowers wither and\noutput shrivels. One or two protective irrigations during the stress period\ncould more than double pigeonpea productivity from an average of one tonne per hectare,\nsays Venkat Mayande, a former vice-chancellor of an agricultural university in\nAkola.Increasing Domestic ProductionAssured buyback would also bring\nirrigated land under pulses. Land lying fallow in summer – about 10 million\nhectares in the Indo-Gangetic Plain and 11 million hectares in the seven\neastern states – could be planted with short-duration mung bean maturing in 55\ndays, says Narendra Pratap Singh, Director of IIPR. Pest infestation, especially by pod\nborers is a serious affliction in pigeonpea and chickpea (chana). About 30-40\npercent of the harvest is lost to them. If genes toxic to these pests are\ngrafted into these plants through genetic modification (GM), much of the losses\ncan be stemmed and productivity can rise. Such GM strains have been developed\nby Hyderabad-based Icrisat, Kanpur’ IIPR, Mahyco India, and Assam Agricultural\nUniversity with Australian assistance. But the government has not shown enough gumption to take on the opponents of this technology and approve these strains for\nplanting in farmers’ fields.A strategy and commitment to increase\ndomestic pulses production would see more storage capacity being created. Whole\ndals with seed coat intact do not\nkeep long as they attract bruchids. But split dals with less than 15 percent moisture can be stored for a year. Curbing Volatility in PricesTraders in India are also usually\nprocessors and procurers. Even the dal\nprocured by the government and released to stabilise prices is said to be\npicked up by them. They are performing a useful function, though the tendency in\nIndia is to vilify them as anti-social hoarders.Cooperatives like the National Dairy\nDevelopment Board have entered the business of procuring and selling pulses. We\nneed more such collectives to come in and share a larger portion of the retail\nvalue with farmers to even out the volatility in pulses production and prices. And\nit would help if the government reached out to our farmers like it has done with those in Mozambique. (Vivian\nFernandes is editor of www.smartindianagriculture.in)Also read:As Prices of Pulses Soar, Can Khesari Dal Be an Alternative?Ending Monsanto’s Monopoly: Should Desi Cotton be Given a Chance? We'll get through this! Meanwhile, here's all you need to know about the Coronavirus outbreak to keep yourself safe, informed, and updated. The Quint is now available on Telegram & WhatsApp too, Click here to join.