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Pulses output down, imports up

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The import of pulses is soaring due to a decline in domestic output for lack of serious efforts for sustainable growth in production. Pulses are unable to compete with the preferred cultivation of major crops that offer relatively better returns.

Imports shot up by 43pc to 308,000 tonnes during July-December 2014, from 215,000 tonnes in July-December 2013.

While the domestic output fluctuated from year to year, the overall pulses’ imports fell from 672,000 tonnes in FY12 to 473,000 tonnes in FY13 owing to large domestic production of major pulses crop — black gram and chickpeas. But in FY14, imports rose again to 506,000 tonnes because of a slump in production of all kinds of pulses.

Officials of the Ministry of National Food Security and Research say that black gram and chickpeas claim the biggest share in overall output of pulses, followed by Moong, Mash and Masoor. Pakistan produces below one million tonnes of all pulses that are cultivated on less than 5pc of the country’s cropped area.

The production of black gram and chickpeas fell by 37pc from 751,000 tonnes in FY13 to 475,000 tonnes in FY14, while the output of Moong, Mash and Masoor remained almost unchanged at 110,000 tonnes. That is why FY15 began with higher imports of pulses, officials explain.

But they expect that pulses’ production in FY15 to be higher than in FY14 and the imports in FY16 should decline.

The Federal Committee on Agriculture had set FY15’s production target of 720,000 tonnes for black gram and chickpeas. Officials say reports from fields suggest that the actual output would show no big slippage.


In the absence of a realistic price discovery system, big growers don’t take the risk of cultivating pulses as their main source of earnings. They routinely go for major crops


If the target is met, the aggregate output of all pulses should range between 850,000-870,000 tonnes because combined production of three other main pulses would be around 130,000-150,000 tonnes. But even in that case, a little quantity of Masoor and Mash will have to be imported because, according to field reports, production of these two pulses will fall short of domestic requirements.

Pulses’ production remain erratic primarily because crops of leguminous vegetables (or pulses) are grown over marginal lands attached to main farmland and around key crops’ farms.

Besides, in the absence of a realistic price discovery system, big growers don’t take risk of cultivating pulses as their main source of earnings. They routinely go for major crops.

But the biggest obstacle in raising output is research on how per-hectare yield can be increased and how high-yielding varieties can be strengthened and protected against diseases and pest attacks.

Between 2003 and 2009, Pakistan Agriculture Research Council had released for commercial cultivation, 22 new varieties of chickpeas, Moong Mash and Masoor. That has helped in boosting pulses’ output to some extent. But the problem is that introduction of new or better varieties is not enough. Farmers also need government support in sticking to PARC-recommended standards for quality variety cultivation..

This gap is being filled by the Punjab government under a Rs150m plan to boost output of Masoor, Gram and Mash launched in July 2014. Selected growers in all districts of the province have been encouraged to cultivate pulses. Officials of agricultural extension department say most of those farmers have harvested their crops with higher per-hectare yields. But the crops of some farmers were fully or partially damaged by last year’s heavy rains and floods or due to pest attack. “Once analysis of the data on crop size, per-hectare yield and maturity period is completed, we’ll guide farmers on what methods, used in harvesting, has to be replicated”, an official involved in the project told Dawn over telephone.

One perennial impediment to promoting production of pulses is unavailability of certified seeds. Officials say that less than 5pc of the required seeds for pulses comes from formal sector and the remaining 95pc comes from informal sources. That is why, ensuring continuous cultivation of high-quality pulses’ varieties becomes difficult and, even those varieties evolved through long and arduous research lose strength after some years.

Traditionally, farmers keep a part of their harvested grains of pulses for using as seeds for the next crop. The seed stocks sometimes lose their hygienic strength and there is no scientifically tested storage facility, the PARC officials say.

This practice is more damaging in case of newly-developed high-yield varieties that give promised yield only if the seeds’ productivity strength doesn’t get compromised and only if the seeds are cultivated under the soil conditions similar to those wherein they were initially evolved.

Published in Dawn, Economic & Business, February 2nd, 2015

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