Pulses stand as vital food crops, constituting a substantial portion of global protein intake. These annual leguminous crops, encompassing a diverse range of grains within pods, serve dual purposes of sustenance and livestock feed. The term “pulses” pertains to crops harvested solely for dry grain, excluding those harvested green for food and oil extraction crops.
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Significance of Pulses in Indian Agriculture
India, recognizing the pivotal role of pulses, transitioned from acute scarcity in 2015-16 to providing free pulses to a significant portion of its citizens. Beyond their nutritional value, pulses contribute to soil health and climate change mitigation due to their nitrogen-fixing properties. Major pulse varieties in India include Bengal Gram, Pigeon Peas, Green Beans, Chick Peas, Black Matpe, Red Kidney Beans, Black Eyed Peas, Lentils, and White Peas.
Historical Integration and Challenges
Pulses have long been integrated into India’s farming system, cultivated with family labor and indigenous seeds. However, the Green Revolution shifted the focus to rice and wheat, marginalizing pulses to unirrigated, marginal lands, leading to reduced productivity and land degradation. The commercialization of agriculture further complicated the status of pulses in the farming system.
In the past two decades, the Indian government has endeavored to promote pulse cultivation, addressing challenges such as faulty support schemes and subsidies. The pulses crisis of 2015-16 prompted a commitment to achieving self-sufficiency in pulses production. Key initiatives included:
- Minimum Support Price (MSP) and Direct Procurement: The government emphasized MSP and direct procurement from farmers to boost production.
- National Food Security Mission (NFSM): Pulses gained additional coverage under NFSM, launched in 2016-17.
- Seed Distribution and Creation of Seed Hubs: The government distributed seed mini-kits, provided subsidies for quality seed production, and established 150 seed hubs.
- Buffer Stock and Price Stabilization Fund (PSF): A 20-lakh-tonne buffer stock was created through PSF to stabilize prices.
- State Government Collaboration: State governments collaborated closely, particularly in pulse-producing regions, facilitating procurement.
- Lockdown Support: Even during lockdowns, the government sustained farmer support through MSP implementation and pulse procurement.
These measures led to a remarkable 42% increase in pulse production, defying norms for food article categories. The journey toward self-sufficiency in pulses production showcases a paradigm shift in Indian agriculture, emphasizing sustainability and nutritional security.
India’s Pulse Landscape
India stands as a global pulse powerhouse, contributing a remarkable 25% to global production, consuming 27% of the world’s pulses, and importing 14%. Pulses occupy approximately 20% of the total food grain area, contributing 7-10% to the country’s overall food grain production. While pulses are cultivated in both Kharif and Rabi seasons, Rabi pulses account for over 60% of the total production.
Dominant Pulses and Top Producing States
Among the diverse pulse varieties, Gram claims dominance with a 40% share in total production, followed by Tur/Arhar at 15-20%, and Urad/Black Matpe and Mung each contributing 8-10%. The top five pulse-producing states are Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Karnataka. Notably, the overall productivity of pulses in India stands at 764 kg/ha.
Price Support Mechanisms
To ensure fair prices for farmers, the government focuses on procuring pulses through Minimum Support Prices (MSP). The National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India (NAFED) and the Small Farmers Agri Consortium (SFAC) play pivotal roles in implementing these procurement strategies.
Nutritional Concerns and Sustainability
Despite being a major producer and consumer, per capita net availability of pulses in India has decreased from 51.1 gm/day in 1971 to 41.9 gm/day in 2013, falling short of the WHO recommendation of 80 gm/day. This raises concerns, especially considering that pulses are renowned as the ‘poor man’s protein,’ containing 20-25% protein by weight—double that of wheat and triple that of rice.
In addition to their nutritional prowess, pulses contribute significantly to sustainable farming systems. Pulses boast low carbon and water footprints, with estimates indicating that producing one kilogram of meat requires five times more water than pulses. Furthermore, the carbon emissions of one kilogram of legumes are significantly lower compared to the production of one kilogram of meat.
Pulse Significance Beyond Nutrition
Pulses play a crucial role in enhancing soil fertility, promoting agro-biodiversity, and offering a balanced and healthy diet, as recognized by initiatives like the World Food Programme. The crop residues left after harvest also serve as valuable livestock feed, contributing to dietary diversity. Importantly, a robust pulses production strategy can help reduce the country’s import bill, redirecting resources for broader socio-economic development initiatives.
This comprehensive analysis sheds light on the multifaceted significance of pulses in India, ranging from economic and nutritional aspects to their pivotal role in sustainable agriculture.
Challenges in Pulse Agriculture
- Uneven Distribution of Benefits: Similar to the wheat and rice revolutions, the rewards of increased pulse production are concentrated in irrigated areas, leaving marginal farmers in rainfed regions, who contribute 90 to 92% of the country’s pulse production, with limited improvement.
- Persistent Demand-Production Gap: Despite increasing yields of some pulses, the demand consistently outstrips production, resulting in a shortfall, particularly in rural areas where people receive less than the recommended levels by FAO/WHO.
- Vulnerability to Environmental Factors: Pulses are more susceptible to weather fluctuations, pests, and diseases compared to cereals, making it challenging to develop high-yielding varieties that are stress and pest-tolerant.
- Storage and Infestation Concerns: Unlike oilseeds, pulses are prone to infestation during prolonged storage, emphasizing the need for timely stock disposal.
Processing and Value Addition
- Limited Value Addition: Pulses undergo minimal processing, primarily consumed whole or split. Although there’s a growing demand for desi chickpea flour, value addition remains minimal, primarily due to traditional processing methods.
- Growing Demand for Modern Technology: Health consciousness, a preference for quality packaged products, and a shortage of labor are driving processors towards modern technology despite most processing units being located in production regions.
Indigenous Pulse Cultivation
- Unique Indigenous Crops: Indigenous communities in Odisha cultivate a variety of pulse crops, including kandulo, black gram, green gram, cowpea, and others, contributing to local dietary diversity.
- Nutritional Deficiency: Indigenous communities, despite cultivating pulse crops, face nutritional challenges, with pulses being consumed infrequently, often limited to community and social functions.
The Way Forward
- Integrated Crop Patterns: A paradigm shift is necessary, integrating pulse crops into cropping patterns with a focus on crop rotation to enhance soil fertility.
- Expanded Cultivation: Additional 3.0 million hectares can be brought under pulse cultivation, with a strategic emphasis on newer areas like rice fallows, tal (lake) areas, hill agriculture, and intercropping.
- Varietal Development: Developing shorter-duration, widely adaptable, and stress-resistant pulse varieties is crucial to boosting production.
- Value Addition Opportunities: Exploring processing and value addition can serve as a revenue source, generating employment opportunities and enhancing the market appeal of pulses.
- Research Initiatives: Initiating new research efforts to discover and promote unknown pulse varieties can contribute to increased productivity.
Motivating indigenous farmers to cultivate pulses in their small plots is essential for addressing food and nutritional security issues. Leveraging these efforts for supplying pulses through Public Distribution Systems (PDS) can provide nutritional security to the masses.
Recognizing the pivotal role of women in the conservation and propagation of pulses is crucial for ensuring household-level food security and nutritional well-being. The collective efforts of farmers, researchers, and policymakers are indispensable for realizing the full potential of pulses in India’s agricultural landscape.