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The potential to grow

In India, pulse crop yields are one-third the levels achieved by Canada, the US and other countries. Tata Strategic Management Group looks at some of the best practices prevalent in other pulse-producing countries

Why is it possible for Canadian and American farmers to harvest about 1900kg of pulses per hectare when Indian farmers can't get more than 600–700kg? The global average for yields of pulses is about 819kg / ha (the average of the years 2005, 2006 and 2007), yet France achieves a stupendous yield of about 4000kg / ha (on a smaller production base of less than 1 million tonnes). Indian yields have only increased from 500kg / ha and crossed the 600kg / ha level in the last few decades.

The reasons for the differences in yields are several: Subsistence farming in developing countries versus a market-driven approach in developed countries, climatic conditions, level of infrastructure development, etc have resulted in wide variation in yields across countries. Some of the major factors that affect yield are:

Climate / soil
Timely availability / usage of high-yield-variety (HYV) seeds
Investment in mechanisation, irrigation, pest management and other farm practices
Crop-specific effects
Changes in cropping pattern: double cropping, short-duration pulses
Level of development / infrastructure, including efficient supply-chain and market mechanisms

Some of these factors bear examining in detail.

Market development and ensuring profitability:
Pulse growers’ associations in the US and Canada focus on developing newer markets (eg animal feed, food-ingredient industry)
Governments ensure easy access to credit, including providing non-recourse market-assistance loans
There is also a proposal to provide a Pulse Energy Conservation Incentive Payment (PECIP) to farmers for every unit of nitrogen added to the soil in the US

Good agronomic practices through farmer education and awareness:
Pulse growers’ associations in Canada educate farmers on timely seeding, fertilisation and pest control for every crop cycle
Mechanised harvesting is the norm due to large land holdings and a market-driven approach to farming

Recommended seed replacement practices are followed and penetration of HYV seeds is high

Focus on research and development:
Investment in research is made by the government as well as through the growers’ levy collected from pulse producers
Tie-ups with international research institutes for improved breeding and genetic improvement programs leading to development of better seed varieties

High-yielding varieties and short-duration crops suitable for local conditions are developed and popularised, resulting in high adoption rates

Increasing area:
Fallow substitution in irrigated land in Pakistan and Turkey has resulted in increased production in these countries

Improving efficiencies through aggregation:
Pulse growers’ associations help realise economies of scale along the value chain, leading to better adoption of technology and infrastructure, thereby minimising post-harvest losses

By adopting some of the best practices across the world, India has the potential to increase its average yield to about 1200kg / ha.

Options to increase production
India can look at increasing production through a combination of increasing total acreage and improving yields for pulses. There is also the potential to increase the total availability by reducing post-harvest losses through an efficient supply-chain mechanism.

Increasing acreage
A substantial part of rice fallow land (an estimated 11.65 million ha) can be targeted for the cultivation of pulses during the Rabi season. In addition, there is the potential to grow short-duration varieties between Kharif and Rabi season by relay cropping, which ensures proper utilisation of available land.

Intercropping offers the potential to significantly increase acreage. The National Food Security Mission (NFSM) targets over 2 million ha to be brought under intercropping under the current plan.

Barren lands in hilly areas of northern India could be brought under pulse cultivation. Uttaranchal and N-E areas have good potential for pulse production. The replacement of upland paddy with pulses has the potential to give better net returns to farmers.

Increasing yield
Usage of high-yielding varieties has the potential to increase yields between 20 and 30 per cent. The inoculation of seeds with Rhizobium bacteria enhances nitrogen fixation and improves yields. Improving the seed-replacement ratio to recommended levels and ensuring the timely availability of quality seeds will help in further increasing production. Proper pest management, including IPM (integrated pest management) will reduce losses due to pest attacks before harvesting.

Pulses are receptive to inputs just like any other crop and require appropriate nutrients, such as sulphur, zinc and phosphorus, which help in improving plant biomass and therefore improving yields.

Providing scheduled and controlled irrigation has the potential to increase yields further. Irrigation requirements for pulses are much lower than those of other crops and could be provided through sprinklers etc.

Effective technology transfer to the farmers through Front-Line Demonstrations (FLD), block demonstrations and training on good agronomic practices will help institutionalise best practices and improve the yield. By extending crop insurance to pulses effectively, the farmer would stop perceiving pulses as a risky crop. Providing effective sourcing mechanisms for the crop further provides the farmer with security on assured off-take.

Reducing losses in the supply chain
Pulses need to be stored at optimum humidity conditions to prevent post-harvest losses due to attacks from pulse beetles. These insects mainly attack whole grains and not split pulses. By shortening the cycle time from harvesting to milling and storing pulses in split form thereafter, these losses can be reduced drastically.

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Potential production in India
Considering the measures listed above, the potential for domestic production of pulses in India is over 37 million tonnes. Additional production is possible if the replacement of upland paddy, intercropping, the cultivation of rice fallows and the increased adoption of short-duration varieties between kharif and rabi are considered. Easy availability of credit schemes, crop insurance and assured off-take would also encourage the farmer to further increase the focus on pulses.

If India desires to overcome barriers to production, we need an integrated and focused approach by the government as well as businesses to achieve its true potential in the production of pulses.

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