“I have harvested Moong (green gram) from my farm, now I’m harvesting Udad (black gram). Their price is crashing each day…I may not get even the Minimum Support Price (MSP)…But I’m not supposed to care about the price… its solely the farmer’s responsibility to reduce inflation and make India a superpower.”
…says Ashok Bhau, a dry land farmer dependent on rainfall and groundwater in the heart of Marathwada: Osmanabad.
Last year his Moong failed completely, there was no seed development and although his Tur (Pegion Pea/Arhar) fetched a very good price, it did not mean anything for the family as the productivity was dismally low following three droughts and dry wells[i]. Like many farmers in Marathwada, he burned his sugarcane on 4 acres after watering it for many months… finally there was no water to sustain it. We had written about soaring pulses last year.
When I visited his field in January 2016, he said confidently, “No one will plant sugarcane if we get assured and better price for pulses. We cannot run after water anymore.”
This year Ashok Bhau as well as several other farmers in Marathwada that I talked to… Mahadev Sadhu Gaikwad, Sudhakar Patil, Sachin Gawali have indeed shunned or reduced sugarcane and have opted for pulses.. which was a traditional crop in Marathwada, but was sidelined for a number of reasons. Even in dismal drought of 2014-15 and 2015-16, Marathwada had water guzzling sugarcane on more than 200,000 hectares’ area. Sugarcane needs at least 187.5 lakh litres water per hectare[ii] while most Pulses are rainfed. (Although micro irrigation results in massive increase in productivity[iii].)
Soaring Pulses, Shrinking Sugarcane:
This year, area under sugarcane has seen a significant drop and it is estimated that Maharashtra will have only about 6 lakh hectares under cane[iv], 40% down from the average of about 10 lakh hectares. For now, the cane planted this year is 50% less than last year for the same time[v]. Marathwada and Solapur has seen significant decrease in area under cane. The State Government has been talking about banning new sugar mills in Marathwada to curb the growth of a water guzzler in a drought terrain… but it cannot happen if sugarcane fetches assured income and pulses don’t.
The main reason for farmers turning away from sugarcane this year, especially in Marathwada has been simple: there was just no water available when the cane was to be planted during November 2015-Januanry 2016.
But the soaring prices of pulses was also one of the reasons that farmers in Marathwada decided to have more area under pulses. Good monsoons helped in this, unlike the last three years. This year in Kharif season, the area under pulses: Udad, Moong, Tur and others in Marathwada is 15,24,700 hectares, as against the average of 13,72,300 hectares, 11% higher than the average and at least 30% higher than last year.[vi]
For the entire state of Maharashtra, last year the area under Kharif pulses (Tur, Moong and Udad) was 16.9 Lakh hectares, this year it is 25.2 lakh hectares, exceeding the average area of 21 lakh hectares. [vii] This is 149% as compared to last year and 120% as compared to the state average!
Not only in Marathwada, but even in Amravati Division of Vidarbha, pulses like Tur have increased in area from an average of 3.91 lakh hectares to current 4.91 Lakh hectares, displacing cotton, which has decreased from 9.5 lakh hectare last year to 8.7 lakh hectares this year. Experts opine that this is because with cotton, the profit is pocketed more by the seed and pesticide companies, rather than the farmer.
It is estimated that the pulse production in the country will be nearing 20 million tonnes this year, against 17 million tonnes last year.[viii] It will most possibly be highest in the last three years if it breaks the 20 million tonnes ceiling.
Increase in acreage under pulses in places like Marathwada should be a great news for almost all government departments as well as us, consumers. It means less water consumption, less fertilizers and pesticides, so lower farm subsidies and massively lower energy expenditure which is used up by agricultural pumps.
Just as an example, as per the White Paper on Finances brought out by Maharashtra Government (2015), in 2013-14 , Maharashtra’s sugarcane capital Solapur, received Rs 350 Crores in electricity subsidy for agricultural pumps.
But despite all this, despite 2016 being recognized as the International Year of Pulses[ix]and despite several initiatives by the Government to encourage pulse production, what is happening right now in Marathwada is cringe worthy.
No Government Procurement Centers have been opened so far in Marathwada or Maharashtra and Moong is being sold in open wholesale markets at Rs 4000-4500/Quintal, much below the Minimum Support Price of Rs 5225/Quintal.
It seems come drought, come bounty, farmers will be the losers. Even those farmers who are helping India achieve self-reliance in pulses, decreasing pressure on the urban customer and opting for a low water, low input and hence low subsidy crops.
The Procurement Debacle:
Sudhakar Bhau and Mahadev Bahu sold their Moong at Rs 4500/ quintal. Ashok Bhau says he can afford to wait and watch. But not many farmers can do this. Especially when about 80% farmers in Maharashtra are small land holding famers with no irrigation facilities. Also when festivals like Pola (typically farmer’s festival worshipping farm animals) and Gauri Ganpati are here and when farmers badly need cash.
Santosh Chiloba from Murum, Osmanabad tells me that in Murum, which is one of the biggest markets for pulses in Marathwada, the traders are openly saying that they cannot buy at MSP and will stop buying from farmers if farmers stick for MSP. When the APMC (Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee) insisted on MSP “on paper” the traders achieved this by cheating while weighing the Moong!
As Agrowon (An Agricultural Daily) reported on Sept 1, 2016, in Akola Market, price of Tur has collapsed by Rs 2220, for Udad its come down by Rs 4000 for Moong its down by Rs 3500.
Traders are confident that as new Tur and imported Tur come in the market around December, the prices will drop sharply further. We can guess what this will mean for the farmer.[x]
While it’s true that the Centre has increased MSP of pulses to significantly this year, if timely procurement does not happen, all the MSP rise stays on paper. While the State Agriculture Minister has been making tall claims in this regards[xi], it is unclear why confidence inspiring procurement arrangements are still not happening.
Highly placed officials from Agricultural Department in Maharashtra told SANDRP that one of the reasons for this unfortunate delay in opening procurement centers was that the Marketing Department is yet to compile statistical data related to pulse production. The official also stated that this data should have been compiled much earlier. He also expressed displeasure that Agriculture Department is now being kept away from this exercise by the current government, although it is their expertise.
Agricultural experts in Maharashtra are certainly unhappy with the move, a retired Principal Secretary calls this, “Sheer criminal neglect of very grave nature.” Former Dean of Punjab Rao Agricultural University Dr. Sharad Nimbalkar stresses the implementation of Swaminathan Committee recommendation of at least 50% profit over costs and encourage domestic pulse production rather than import. He asks, “Is this not Make in India? Why should we import pulses? Why cannot we keep our farmers happy?”
Ashok Bhau tells me that simply opening a government procurement Centre plumps up market rates. But Maharashtra government does not seem to be keen in doing anything.
In this context, it is good to see that on 31st August 2016, Government has immediately ordered NAFED and FCI to “Submit state wise road map of procurement of new crop of pulses directly from farmers. They have been asked to start procurement of Moong in Karnataka immediately at MSP and bonus as new crop has started to arrive.”[xii]
Steps taken by the government to encourage pulse production and to increase the stock of pulses include:
- Increase in MSP of Pulses: (All values in Rs/Quintal[xiii])
|Pulse||MSP for 2015-16||Recommended MSP for 2016-17||Increase|
|Tur||4625 (including Rs. 200 Bonus)||5050 (Includes Rs 425 Bonus)||425||9.2%|
|Moong||4825 (including Rs. 200 Bonus)||5225 (includes Rs. 425 bonus)||400||8.3%|
|Udad||4625 (including Rs. 200 Bonus)||5000 (Includes Rs. 425 Bonus)||375||8.1%|
This year has seen a highest increase in MSP of pulses, between Rs.375 and 425/ Quintal. This is the highest increase for any food crop announced by the government for Kharif 2016-17. Even Paddy and cotton have seen a relatively paltry rise of Rs. 60 per quintal.
However, the MSP hike is not enough when it is compared with the input costs, labor and the risk factor that is borne by the farmer. Crops like Sugarcane are still more remunerative than pulses. As Former Head of CACP Ashok Gulati says: “The input subsidies on fertilisers, power, water, and agri-credit, consumed by wheat and rice in Punjab, for example, exceed Rs 10,000/ha. If pulses have to be given similar incentives through bonuses, that would amount to a minimum of Rs 1,000/quintal. Only then will there be a level-playing field for cultivators of all crops.”[xiv], [xv] .
Similar thought is echoed by Nitin Kalantry, CEO of one of the biggest Dal Mills in Latur, Maharashtra. He says that an MSP of Rs 9,000-10,000/ quintal for pulses will be a game changer, not anything below that.
Secondly, any MSP is only as good as the procurement. In the absence of procurement by state or NAFED, MSP does not mean much for the farmer.
- Import of pulses Import agreement with Mozambique to Import 3.75 lakh tonne pulses between 2016-19. MoU to the effect has been signed between the two countries. [xvi] India is also in talks with Brazil for a similar agreement.[xvii] According to Union Food Minister Ram Vilas Paswan, the agreement would also include making pulse seeds available to Brazil at a low price.
While this is a step to appease the consumer, what do imports mean for the farmer? Imports of Tur will arrive in the country just as the domestic Tur comes in market, crashing the prices for the farmer. Tur is a hardy dry land crop which can be grown in unirrigated conditions and is hence a boon for farmers in places like Marathwada, Vidarbha, North Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. As per the former dean of Dr. Punjabrao Desmukh Agriculture University, Indian Farmers can very well meet the domestic demand by increased productivity, increased micro irrigation and a governance sympathetic to its own farmers, rather than the urban consumer. This is echoed by several experts.[xviii] A more detailed SANDRP Report on this issue can be seen here.
- A committee under the chief economic advisor to frame a long-term policy on pulses, which will look into various options, including MSP and bonus.[xix]
- The government is also increasing its buffer stock of pulses from 1.5 lakh tonnes to 8 lakh tonnes; recently it has also proposed to raise the buffer to 20 lakh tonnes.
- An effort at increasing supply by keeping imports duty-free, while prohibiting exports[xx].
Experts like the former CACP Head Ashok Gulati state that prohibiting exports needs to be rethought of as more exports will provide a spurt in pulse production.
- State governments like Maharashtra are saying that seeds and fertilizers will be subsidized to incentivize pulse production.[xxi]
However, this has remained at the level of lip service in places like Marathwada.
The same is happening with Oilseeds like sunflower and Kardi too. These Oilseeds are predominantly rain fed. While India is importing Edible oil from abroad, these crops do not get even the MSP. In 2013-14, India spent Rs. 56,572 Crores in importing Edible Oils!
However, right now, as reported, Sunflower seeds are being sold at 3100/Quintal when MSP is 3950/Quintal and Kardi is being sold at 2600/Quintal when MSP stands at 3300/Quintal.[xxii] Maharashtra has planted oilseeds on 110% area as compared to last year and 117% State average.
The CACP Kharif Report 2015-16 squarely puts the blame on NAFED (National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India), stating: “NAFED has not been performing its main objective function of procurement of oilseeds and pulses over the years which deters farmers from diversifying to pulses and oilseeds. NAFED procured only 3.21 percent of Kharif oilseeds in the 2014-15. MSP is a huge irony in such a situation.
The challenge of pulses is not only about a cheap protein source which should be affordable for the urban middle class or controlling inflation, it is also about encouraging a low water consuming, hardy crop which enriches soil through nitrogen fixation and offers a truly sustainable and reliable livelihood source for the dryland farmer in places like Marathwada.
With pulse prices crashing and procurement not happening, in places like Marathwada, North Karnataka and Western Maharashtra, how can farmers be weaned away from sugarcane which offers an assured, high water consuming, albeit conflict ridden, source of income? A similar story is unfolding in Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka as well where farmers are not able to secure even MSP.[xxiii]
In many senses, time is opportune for the Maharashtra Government and for the Centre to encourage farmers who have increased the country’s acreage under pulses. A long term shift from sugarcane to pulses would be very welcome in terms of water sustainability in a region like Marathwada, Western Maharashtra, North Karnataka and Vidarbha which are upto 85% rainfed, where groundwater is depleting and where large Irrigation Schemes have failed again and again.
At least ten states of India, including most of Maharashtra has just experienced back to back droughts, where water intensive sugarcane was identified as a major problem. In a changing climate, such events are only going to increase in frequency. This is an important time window for the government to make pulses lucrative for farmers. If this time window is lost, then as Ashok Bhau says, Marathwada will see record sugarcane plantation in November December 2016 and Jan 2017. And the State and Centre governments will again be discussing further subsidies worth thousands of crores for sugarcane and tackling more man-made droughts.
We appeal the Government of Maharashtra and agencies like NAFED and FCI (Food Corporation of India) to urgently start Pulse Procurement Centers in Marathwada and Vidarbha (& elsewhere) and to provide immediate assured remuneration to the farmers for their Pulse produce.
Parineeta Dandekar, SANDRP, email@example.com
While examples of successful Farmer’s producer companies when it comes to Pulses are few, in Tamil Nadu not only are farmers marketing their pulses, but are recording nearly double the productivity through simple methods. Illupur Agriculture Producer Company Limited in Puddukottai District, one of the driest district in Tamilnadu stands testimony to this.
Similarly, Krishi Vigyan Kendra Erode has promoted Erode Pulses Farmers Producers Company Ltd., with the support of SFAC (Small Farmers Agri-business Consortium) covering 1000 pulse producers from 5 cluster village of Erode district.
Similar experiments are happening in Karnataka too.
[ii] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2015/02/25/thirsty-sugarcane-in-dry-marathwada-means-a-loss-of-2-million-farmer-livelihoods/, https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2015/09/10/sugarcane-crushing-and-marathwada-a-syrupy-debate-amidst-lowest-jja-rainfall-in-the-century/
[v] Data from Statistics Department, Government of Maharashtra, Aug 2016
[vi] Data from Statistics Department, Government of Maharashtra, Aug 2016
[vii] Data received from Statistics Section, Agriculture Department, Government of Maharashtra, Aug 2016