"I am pleased to participate in the inaugural session of All India Coordinated Research Group’s Annual Group Meet on MULLaRP & Arid Legumes workshop.
As you all are aware, legumes harvested for dry grains are classified as pulses which are critical and inexpensive source of plant based proteins, vitamins and minerals for people around the globe in general and particularly in India where majority people are vegetarians.
Pulses historically have been one of the most important constituent of the Indian cropping and consumption patterns. Pulse crops form a unique feature of our farming system, particularly in dry land agriculture. They provide food for human consumption, green nutritious fodder for animal and enrich soil through biological nitrogen fixation.
Legumes are not only a rich source of protein but also cheaper when compared to animal proteins. In addition, pulses are an important source for some of the essential amino acids and have been reported to reduce the levels of cholesterol and blood glucose.
Some legumes are known to have medicinal and therapeutic properties also. Hence, they were rightly termed as “Unique Jewels” of Indian crop husbandry. Globally, different pulses are cultivated in 83.3 million hectares in 171 countries with the production of 81.8 million tonnes. India is the world’s largest producer, accounting for 34% of area and 24% of production. Myanmar is the second largest producer, followed by Canada, China, Nigeria, Brazil, and Australia.
India is the largest producer, consumer, processor and also the importer. About 90% of the global pigeon pea, 75% of chickpea and 37% of lentil area falls in India. The major pulses producing states are Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh.
The global production of pulses doubled from 40.8 million tonnes in 1961, to 81.8 million tonnes in 2016. The increase in yield was about 55.8% compared to cereals where the yield tripled during the same period. The low increase in yield of pulses compared to cereals shows that there is significant potential to improve the productivity in pulses.
The total consumption of various pulses and pulse products in India is about 21-22 million tonnes. India’s annual pulse production is about 18.45 million covering an area of about 23.47 million hectares-- majority of which falls under rainfed, resource poor and harsh environments frequently prone to drought and other abiotic stress conditions.
To meet the demand of pulses, India is at present importing about 4.02 million tons from different countries, including the USA and Russia. In order to ensure self-sufficiency, the pulse requirement in the country is projected to be 32 million tonnes by 2030. However, import of pulses declined from 100 lakh tonnes in 2016-17 to 56.5 lakh tonnes in 2017-18, resulting in saving of foreign exchange amounting to Rs 9,775 crores.
Dear sisters and brothers, I had recently visited Vietnam to further strengthen bilateral ties between India and Vietnam and to participate in the 16th UN Day of Vesak Celebrations. However, what is relevant to be mentioned here is the crop productivity differentials between India and Vietnam.
The average productivity of rice cultivation in India is around 3 tonnes per hectare, which is below the average productivity in Vietnam of around 5 tonnes per hectare and far below peak farm productivity in select farms in Vietnam at around 7-8 tonnes per hectare. Productivity in countries such as Egypt is at 7.7 tonnes per hectare.
Similarly, the productivity of soya bean cultivation in India is around one tonne per hectare as against around 1.5 tonnes per hectare in Vietnam. I have mentioned these figures to underscore the need for agricultural universities to step up research on improving productivity of various crops and also to produce new, climate resilient high-yielding varieties.
Why is it important to grow pulses?
According to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), pulses are essential crops for a number of reasons. They are packed with nutrients and have high protein content, making them an ideal source of protein particularly in regions where meat and dairy are not physically or economically accessible.
With the problems of malnutrition and micro-nutrient deficiencies affecting sections of our population, pulses can play a significant role in promoting healthy diet. They are low in fat and rich in complex carbohydrates, micro-nutrients, proteins and B vitamins.
As such, pulses are recommended because they lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. Pulses have also been shown to help combat obesity.
Apart from improving soil fertility due to their nitrogen-fixing property, they also contribute towards climate change mitigation by reducing dependence on synthetic fertilizers. Greenhouse gases are released during the manufacturing and application of these fertilizers.
While pulses production has increased in the past few years, there is a need to increase the acreage as well as productivity to achieve self-sufficiency in the coming years. Although, the average productivity has increased to 841 kg/ ha, it is well below the global average. In some States, the yield is much higher as compared to others. There is a need to learn from the best practices from around the world and within the country and adopt them for improving productivity.
With pulses playing a pivotal role in promoting national food security, we need to introduce better seed varieties that are high-yielding, disease and pest-resilient, improve crop production techniques and bring additional fallow lands under pulses production. There is also a need to ensure adequate MSP to the farmers.
This is where agricultural universities, research institutions and Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) can play a big role in improving the lot of the farmers and empowering them. Agriculture Universities need to focus more on improving the yields of pulses, while KVKs should act as a bridge between scientists, governments, and farmers.
A study published by the National Institute of Labour Economics Research and Development in 2015 said that “With the intervention by KVKs, about 80 percent of the farmers have modified their agricultural patterns which were related to the diversification of crops and changes in cropping pattern, seed planting technique, use of fertilizers and pesticides, changes in machinery used and in water use pattern. More than 50 percent of the farmers have mechanized their farm operations; however, ownership of farm machinery and technology adoption increased with the size of holdings and education level of the farmers,”
The KVKs are important grass root level institutions to empower the farming community and also for transforming the lives of the rural population.
As you all are aware, India’s major food crops-- rice and wheat--have been heavily incentivized with MSP and given preferential PDS treatment to benefit the Indian poor. Hence, Indian farmers are motivated to grow either these crops or cash crops like cotton and sugarcane. Pulses have been a second choice for the farmers for cultivation.
I am told that pulses cultivation is also receiving attention of the Indian farmers due awareness about newer soil management techniques such as crop rotation and inter cropping.
In an effort to make pulses more remunerative and accessible to the consumers, Minimum Support Price (MSP) for all major pulses was introduced which allows imports at zero duty and bans exports. Yet the per capita availability and the consumer prices remain low and high respectively.
Dear sisters and brothers, greater attention has to be paid to harvest the huge potential of summer pulses in Indo-Gangetic plains and rice fallows. Summer pulses are being grown as a bonus crop in the states like Andhra Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana.
I am told that progress has been made in the last few years to develop short duration varieties of pulses in different Agricultural universities. More intense efforts are needed to develop suitable pulse technology for rice fallow to expand the base of pulses production in eastern states like Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal and Assam.
As you all are aware, water scarcity is increasing day-by-day and the problem is getting compounded due to population growth, climate change and variability. Crops that use less water should become part of the strategy to increase food production. There is a need to promote arid legumes which have the inherent capacity to be resilient and withstand climate change. Also, the legume basket has to be expanded by adding minor grain legumes. This will also act as a buffer when major grain legumes are not successful due to drought.
In order to increase adoption of arid legumes, improved varieties that are drought and heat-stress tolerant, nutrient dense and high yielding should be made available. About 80% - 90% of arid legume seed systems are farmer-driven-- either from other farmers or from informal local market. Hence, aspects of their breeding, seed systems, production, marketing and utilization should be addressed immediately for crop and nutritional security in arid and semi-arid tracts of our country.
There is a need for new knowledge, alternative policies and institutional changes to improve productivity from agricultural crops. The marginalized people in dry areas are likely to be more seriously hit by the shifts in moisture and temperature regimes as a result of climate change. Hence, there is a need for a new paradigm in agricultural research that makes full use of science and technology in conjunction with traditional knowledge to cope with the challenges of climate change and achieve food and nutritional security.