Strategic Importance of Pulses and Oil Seed

(Dr. krishan Bir Chaudhary)

Among non-cereal food crops, the strategic importance of pulses and oil seed in augmentation of rural economy cant be underestimated or minimized.  We must ponder over the fact that despite efforts, the stipulated 4% annual growth rate of agriculture is still a distant dream. 

Of the various factors responsible for missing the target, one of the major contributory factor is the decline in the estimated production level of pulses and oil seeds, pushing India to opt for the only alternative i.e., import substitution to meet the growing domestic needs. 

This pathetic situation has been building up for a longtime and there are sufficient reason to attribute the decline in the productivity of pulses and oil seeds to bad policy planning and undermining their strategic importance in rural economy as also in the larger national perspective.

Reversing the situation is a serious business and needs serious efforts. Considering the resources available i.e., high yielding varieties suitable for both rainfed and irrigated conditions, having the property to adopt to wide ranging soil type, the task to achieve a high level production is not an impossible one.

But at the same time, we shall have to gradually do away with import substitution and create the right incentive for the farmers for increasing the rate of productivity per hectare. Development of drought resistant varieties that can also overcome abiotic stress in rainfed areas should be the priority to arrest shortfall in productivity of pulses per hectare.

Pulses are grown both as intensive and subsistence crop and are the affordable source of dietary protein to the people.  They work wonder as natural nitrogen fixation plant having immense ameliorative effect on the soil.

Factually, India being the largest producer of pulse varieties in the world, there is steady decrease in supply for the domestic needs. During 2004-2005, the production of pulses in the country was 13.38 million tonnes from an area of 22.47 million hectare.

This fell short of the domestic requirement necessitating import of 1.47 million tonnes of pulses. There is too much talk these days on crop diversification. Top most priority should be given to massive thrust on diversification of cropping pattern involving pulses.

Breakthrough in production technologies and their applied application can augment production of pulses by 30 to 35%. Development of high yielding varieties resistant to abiotic stress, expansion of area under chicpea, urdbean in Andhra Pradesh and pigeonpea in Maharashtra, adoption of large seeded fusarium wilt resistant varieties in central and south India, development of short duration varieties suitable for available growing period in rainfed areas of south and central India, promotion of intensive cultivation of short duration mungbean varieties after the harvest of wheat in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh having the potential to substantially increase the productivity, greater emphasis on cultivation of pigeonpea hybrid in the state of Gujarat.

integrated nutrient management, increasing grain yield through inoculation with rhizobium which helps in fixation of atmospheric nitrogen in the root nodule, application of sulpher as the vital secondary nutrient, integrated pest management and adoption of post harvest management technologies are some vital factors which should be made integral to our total efforts if the country has to achieve self sufficiency in pulses..

Sadly enough, though India ranks fourth as the largest oil economy after the U.S., China and Brazil, there is still endless dependence on imports of edible oils for meeting domestic needs. Success of Technology Mission on oil seeds pushed up production of oil seeds from 1986-2004, the production of oil seeds grew at the rate of 2.84% per annum along with productivity growth of 1.95% and the area growth of 0.84%.

Concerted efforts made during 1986-98 led to increased production of oil seeds at the rate of 6.19% per annum with annual growth in area by 2.99% and productivity by 3.13%. By mid 1990s, heavily subsidized cheaper edible oil available in International market changed the whole situation.

This led to a drastic shortfall in production of oil seeds to 0.68% per annum, far below the domestic growth in demand of edible oil per annum. Liberalization of the policy of edible oil imports initiated in 1994 led to decline of oil seed prices causing heavy disincentives to oil seed growers in the country.

Non remunerative Minimum Support Price (MSP) for oil seeds further added to the problem. During 1999-2004, the production of oil seeds declined annually by 1.2% with decline in the area under oil seeds by 2.56%. But with a renewed thrust and the policy backup to do away with mounting imports, the goal to achieve self-sufficiency in oil seeds and edible oil would not be an impossible task.

Extension of oil seeds production in areas not fully utilized agronomically, raising oil seeds as intercrop, application of Technology for doubling productivity, efficient crop management and improvement in the oil content of seeds must be fully explored to maximize production and productivity of oil seeds.




(Editorial : Farmers' Forum Magazine)