On the occasion of World Pulses Day, the Union Minister for Agriculture has reportedly stated that the Centre aspires to boost pulses production to 32 million tonnes (mt) by 2030 from the current level of around 24 mt.
On the face of it, the target is commendable and somewhat ambitious; but a closer scrutiny tells another story. Currently, 24 mt production of pulses yields dal (milled pulse) fit for human consumption of 18 mt after accounting for seeding and milling losses.
For the current population of 1.35 billion people, the annual per capita availability is around 13.5 kg. Indeed, there is a well recognised skew in consumption of pulses wherein the poor get to consume much less than what the per capita availability number (13.5 kg) would suggest. It is this section of the population (approximately 350 million) living below the poverty line who deserve to consume more pulses that are an economical source of vegetable protein.
We cannot remain smug simply because our pulses import numbers have declined from the peak of 6.6 mt in 2016-17. The pattern of pulses consumption leaves much to be desired. India’s nutrition status is rather poor with wide inter-State variations. This has to be addressed with a sense of urgency. Nutritionists recommend pulses consumption of at least 20 kg per person a year for a country with a large vegetarian population. To reach per capita availability of 20 kg, India should actually be producing 30 mt pulses right now; but output is at least a fifth lower at 24 mt.
By 2030 India’s population would be 1.5 billion as per United Nations’ projections. Going by the pulses production target of 32 mt envisaged by the government, availability of consumable dal (after accounting for seeding and milling loss) would be approximately 24.5 mt which gives per capita availability of 16.3 kg.
So, in ten years there would be a small increase in per capita availability from 13.5 kg to 16.3 kg. Such a modest increase is unlikely to address the country’s nutrition needs, and would fall short of the recommended 20 kg per capita.
It is not merely the supply side that deserves attention, the demand side cries out for greater attention. It devolves on the policymakers to boost pulses consumption. Pulses ought to become an integral part of the Centre’s welfare programs including public distribution system and national food security act. Unfortunately, all the policy attention is on higher production (which is welcome) but the imperative need to boost pulses consumption cannot be overlooked.
In the process of boosting pulses consumption, if India is required to import pulses, it should be welcome from a health and nutrition perspective. The 32 mt output target the minister talked about cannot be achieved without a specific action plan. Weather risks have to be taken into account.
The writer is a policy commentator and global agribusiness specialist. Views are personal
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