July , 2024
Challenges in achieving self-sufficiency in edible oils and pulses
22:36 pm

Kishore Kumar Biswas

India faces significant challenges in achieving self-sufficiency in edible oils and pulses. Recently, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the new Union Minister of Agriculture, emphasized the need for India to meet its own requirements in these essential agricultural commodities. Chouhan, renowned for his leadership in Madhya Pradesh’s agriculture sector over five terms as Chief Minister, expressed the government’s commitment to addressing this critical issue.

Unlike many agricultural products where India enjoys a trade surplus, edible oils present a persistent trade deficit, with nearly two-thirds of the country’s demand met through imports. Similarly, India leads globally in pulse production, accounting for 24%, yet remains the largest consumer, importing 14% of the world’s total pulses. This disparity underscores the urgent need to bolster domestic production in these areas.

A report published in November 2023 titled “Prospects of India’s Demand and Supply for Agricultural Commodities towards 2030,” prepared jointly by NABARD and ICRIER, highlighted looming supply-demand gaps expected for oilseeds, pulses, and fruits. Authors Ashok Gulati and Shyma Jose, both agricultural economists at ICRIER, stressed the necessity for increased production and productivity in these sectors to meet future demand trends.

Looking ahead, India’s rising per capita income, coupled with stable population growth and evolving consumer preferences towards more nutritious items like fruits and dairy, underscores the timeliness of addressing these agricultural weaknesses highlighted by the Minister.

Oilseed Production in India

Oilseeds are the second most cultivated crop after food grains in India. In the 2020-21 period, the country produced nine million tonnes of oilseeds against a consumption demand of 22.5 million tons, necessitating significant imports costing approximately $13.5 billion. Imports primarily include palm oil from Indonesia and Malaysia, soybean oil from Argentina and Brazil, and sunflower oil from Ukraine and Russia. Efforts to reduce import dependency have been gradually effective.

A recent policy paper titled “Self-Sufficiency in Edible Oilseeds in India: Strategies and Policies,” jointly published by ICAR and NAARM Hyderabad, identifies five main constraints in oilseed production: Environmental constraints: Approximately 72% of oilseed cultivation relies on rainfed farming, making crops vulnerable to biotic threats and climate variations, particularly on marginal lands.

Technical constraints: There is a pressing need for advancements in high-yield varieties or hybrids and improved production technologies.

Socio-economic constraints: Small and marginal oilseed farmers face financial constraints, limiting their ability to invest in essential resources.

Organizational and infrastructural constraints: Issues such as inadequate distribution of quality seeds, insufficient production inputs, and inefficient technology transfer from scientists to farmers hinder optimal yields.

Marketing constraints: High transportation costs, lack of price support, limited market awareness, and low farmer realization prices further challenge oilseed cultivation.

Pulses Sector

Pulses, which occupy about 20% of the food grain production area, are cultivated in both Kharif and Rabi seasons, with Rabi contributing 60% of total production. Major pulse-producing states include Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Karnataka. Future projections estimate a demand of 32 million tonnes of pulses for a growing population, necessitating an annual production growth rate of 2.2% to match a demand growth of 2.8%.

Challenges facing the pulse sector include:

Low seed replacement rates: Replacement rates for pulse seeds remain below 30%, significantly lower than those for cereals like wheat and rice.

Low productivity and soil health: Most pulses are grown on low-quality land by small farmers, further limiting productivity.

Climate change: Changing climatic conditions, decreasing land availability, and water scarcity pose additional challenges.

Enhancing productivity: To meet future demand, achieving an average productivity of over 1200 kg per hectare and expanding cultivation areas by 3.5 million hectares are imperative. This requires developing resilient seeds resistant to pests, diseases, and adverse climates.

Role of Minimum Support Prices (MSP)

While recent increases in MSP for Kharif crops, particularly for oilseeds and pulses, aim to incentivize production, simply raising MSP may not suffice. Effective policies addressing acreage expansion, productivity enhancement, and sustainable agricultural practices are essential.

In conclusion, addressing these challenges requires com-prehensive policy interventions to boost domestic production of edible oils, pulses, and fruits. The government’s strategic initiatives must align with the evolving agricultural landscape and consumer preferences to ensure long-term food security and economic stability.

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