If 2015 was the year of arhar (pigeon-pea) – retail prices of the milled dal scaled Rs 180-200 per kg levels in October and contributed hugely to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s defeat in the Bihar Assembly polls – 2016 is set to close with the humble legume virtually disappearing from the public radar.
The new crop, which has just started arriving in the market, is currently selling at Rs 4,500-4,600 per quintal in Karnataka’s Gulbarga mandi. This is below not just the Rs 8,900-9,000 levels at this time last year, but also the Rs 5,050/quintal minimum support price (MSP) declared by the Narendra Modi government.
From the farmer’s standpoint, what is worse is that arrivals will peak only towards January-end in northern Karnataka (Bidar, Gulbarga, Yadgir, Bijapur and Raichur districts) and mid-February in Maharashtra’s Marathwada (mainly Latur, Osmanabad, Nanded, Parbhani and Beed) and Vidarbha (Amravati, Yavatmal, Buldhana, Washim, Akola, Wardha and Nagpur) regions.
In 2015, arhar prices in Gulbarga began at Rs 5,000/quintal in January, rose to Rs 7,000 by end-June and, then, doubled to Rs 14,000-15,000 in mid-October at the time of the Bihar elections. Even through January-February, they ruled firm at Rs 8,000-10,000 per quintal. This time, though, things seem going the other way, with prices starting at Rs 4,500-4,600 and signs of further bearishness ahead. Consumers, of course, won’t mind: Arhar dal is now retailing in Patna at Rs 90/kg, compared to Rs 150-plus a year ago.
For farmers, the main source of their woes is a bumper crop. The Agriculture Ministry has estimated production at 4.29 million tonnes (mt) – an all-time record and higher than the 2.46 mt for 2015-16 and 2.81 mt for 2014-15. The trade believes output may even top 4.5 mt, as a combination of last year’s high prices and a good monsoon – plus the Modi government’s decision to hike the MSP by Rs 425/quintal – led farmers to ramp up arhar sowing area by almost 40 per cent this time.
“If you add imports of 0.5 mt, the total domestic availability will exceed five mt, whereas demand in 2015-16 was four mt. The demand will actually be lower by one mt this time, because last year moong (green gram) production was also hit and the arhar crop in other countries wasn’t good either. All this created additional demand for arhar. Today, we are staring at an excess supply of around two mt,” said Ashok Kumar Kagi, a Gulbarga-based trader. According to him, if the government wants to help farmers, it should immediately lift restrictions on pulses export. India, since June 2006, has barred shipments of all pulses, except premium kabuli varieties of chana (chickpea) and up to 10,000 tonnes of organic legumes a year.
“By permitting exports, farmers will be assured of receiving at least the MSP and the government, too, will save money on procurement. I believe there is a potential market, especially among overseas Indians, for the arhar from Gulbarga and the adjoining regions, because the quality of it is far superior to the product from Myanmar, Tanzania or Mozambique. This is precisely the time to lift a ten-year-long ban,” added Kagi.
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