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Simply put: Problem is chana, not arhar

Unlike arhar, chana dal prices have gone up from Rs 70 since the beginning of 2016 and could further harden in the coming days.

Written by Harish Damodaran |
Updated: August 1, 2016 12:51:17 am
pulses prices, high pulses prices, high dal prices, arhar dal, chana dal, chana dal import, india chana dal consumption, arhar modi, rahul gandhi, narendra modi, india pulses import, india pulses export, india news, latest news Even if India imported practically all the chana that was available in the world market last year — the supply position here will remain tight until next March-April.

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s jibe of “Arhar Modi” last week in Parliament, aimed at the BJP-led government’s apparent inability to control soaring dal prices, revived a slogan that was first heard during the Bihar elections late last year. But the real problem in the coming days may be not  “Arhar Modi”, but rather “Chana nahin khaana”.

Are arhar prices still on the boil?

According to the Department of Consumer Affairs, the average all-India modal retail price — the rate at which most purchases are happening — of arhar/tur (pigeon-pea) dal was Rs 140 per kg on Friday. This was roughly 27% more than the Rs 110 rate on the same day last year, but lower than the Rs 160 levels at the start of this year. In other words, prices are softening — albeit slowly — in contrast to the rising trend, especially during the Bihar Assembly elections last October-November. One could expect them to soften further in the months ahead, for reasons explained below.

The real concern today is not arhar, but chana or chickpea (below), which is currently retailing at Rs 100 per kg, two-thirds higher than the Rs 60 at this time last year. Unlike arhar, chana dal prices have gone up from Rs 70 since the beginning of 2016 and could further harden in the coming days.

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So what explains this divergence? Are we suggesting that “Arhar Modi” is a trifle outdated and the more relevant slogan for now may be “Chana Nahi Khaana” (don’t eat chana)?

Arhar, urad (black gram) and moong (green gram) are basically kharif pulses. They are mostly sown in June-July with the onset of the southwest monsoon rains. Arhar is a 160-180 day crop that is harvested from early December. Urad and moong are of shorter duration of 60-70 days and 80-90 days, respectively; they will, thus, start arriving in the mandis from end-September itself.


This year, farmers have hugely expanded acreages under kharif pulses, encouraged by the high prices prevailing in the markets. As per the Agriculture Ministry’s latest data for July 27, a total area of 110.35 lakh hectares (lh) has already been planted. As the accompanying table shows, this is not only higher than the corresponding coverage for this period during the last five years, but even the normal 108.69 lh area for the full season. With sowings still on, the final figure for the current kharif season may well top 120 lh, which would be a record. And with the monsoon also turning out to be very good so far, we can expect a bumper kharif crop that should take care of arhar prices at least.

Things are somewhat different with chana, which is a rabi season crop planted in October-November and harvested in March-April. The last two years’ crops have been poor, with the Agriculture Ministry pegging these at 7.48 million tonnes (mt) in 2015-16 and 7.33 mt in 2014-15, as against the all-time-high of 9.53 mt in 2013-14. The private trade reckons the 2015-16 crop based on actual mandi arrivals to have been up to a fifth lower than Krishi Bhawan’s estimate —which, perhaps, also explains the extent of price increase seen in recent months. But more important is the next (2016-17) crop: the very fact it is due only in March-April means that the respite on the chana prices front may still be some months away.

But can’t imports address the shortages in chana?


In 2015-16, India produced 17.06 mt of pulses and imported 5.80 mt. The latter included 2.25 mt of white/yellow peas, 1.26 mt of lentils (masur), 1.03 mt of chana, 0.58 mt of moong and urad, and 0.46 mt of arhar. The scope for imports of chana — about three-fourths of which is from Australia and another fifth or so from Russia — is, thus, quite limited. The Australian crop is harvested during November-December and there are reports that production there may be around 30% higher than last year’s level of 1 mt. But even if all that produce comes to India —the country imported practically all the chana that was available in the world market last year — the supply position here will remain tight until next March-April.

A more likely possibility this year is higher white/yellow pea imports — in this case, spurred by rising chana prices. A significant part of chana beans, we know, is ground into flour or besan that goes into making a host of delicacies from pakodas, bondas and dhoklas to laddus and Mysore pak. In the past, whenever chana has turned too dear, there has been the inevitable temptation for besan manufacturers to add some white/yellow peas to their product. The chances of it are all the more in the present scenario, where Canadian white peas are wholesaling at Rs 3,200 a quintal and chana at Rs 8,000-plus. So, watch that besan you are buying!

Coming back to the kharif pulses, what is the current status of the crop that’s been planted? Some of the areas have reportedly received too much rain. Is that cause for concern?


Rain is a problem only at the reproductive flowering and pod-setting stages. Right now, the crops that have been planted are at the vegetative and early-leaf stages. According to Narendra Pratap Singh, director of the Indian Institute of Pulses Research at Kanpur, excessive rain will not cause too much damage at this time, provided there is no flooding that leads to waterlogged conditions for 24-36 hours. Farmers need to ensure that their fields are well-drained.

As things stand, it looks like “Arhar Modi” will be soon be passé. Farmers, we have seen, have aggressively sown pulses this kharif, even diverting large areas from soyabean to arhar and urad in Madhya Pradesh and from guarbean to moong in Rajasthan. They will, in all likelihood, plant chana and masur just as aggressively in the coming rabi season.


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First published on: 01-08-2016 at 12:48:58 am
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