Till recently, there were two agri-commodities in which India was seen as being perpetually and increasingly import-dependent: edible oils and pulses. Between 2010-11 and 2016-17, the import value of the former soared from $4.72 billion to $10.89 billion, while from $2.25 billion to $4.24 billion in the case of the latter. During the fiscal ended March 2018, imports of edible oil rose further to $11.64 billion.
But now, there are signs of change at least with regard to pulses. The reason isn’t because of the value of imports falling to $2.91 billion in 2017-18, but domestic production finally coming into its own.
The last two years, as the accompanying table shows, have registered a substantial jump in the country’s pulses output to 23-24 million tonnes (mt). True, that looks huge compared to the 16-17 mt levels of the preceding two years, which, however, saw drought conditions in major pulses-growing areas. But even relative to the normal average of 18 mt in recent times, we are talking of a roughly one-third production increase, which isn’t small at all.
If 23-24 mt is, indeed, the “new normal” for domestic pulses output, it has significant implications.
In a just-published paper (‘Changing Consumption Patterns and Roles of Pulses in Nutrition, and Future Demand Projections’) for the International Food Policy Research Institute at Washington, three economists — Praduman Kumar, P K Joshi and Shinoj Parappurathu — have estimated the likely demand for pulses in India till 2030. They have projected the total domestic pulses demand under three different income growth scenarios: at current GDP growth rates, the demand is expected to go up from 18.02 mt in 2010 to 21.87 mt in 2020 and 26.58 mt by 2030. If GDP growth is “low” (25% below existing rates), the demand would rise to only 21.40 mt in 2020 and 25.22 mt in 2030. The corresponding numbers in a “high” growth scenario (25% above current rates) are 22.36 mt and 28.07 mt, respectively.
There are two important things to note here. The first is that the 23-24 mt pulses production achieved by India in the last two years already exceeds the 22.36 mt demand projected in the Washington-based institute’s study. Secondly, even if output were not to rise further over the next decade, the country will not have to import more than four mt annually in 2030.
If production increases the way it has in the last two years, India, far from being an importer, may even end up being a net exporter of pulses. This is a scenario no one imagined — till quite recently.