Chickpeas Lentils Peas Market Access
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By G. Chandrashekhar 
August 2023 

India’s kharif season runs from June (planting) to September (harvest). For the 2023/24 year, the country is now into the seventh week of a 16-week Southwest monsoon cycle for major crops including cereals, oilseeds, cotton, and pulses. Tur or arhar (pigeon pea), urad (black matpe), and green mung are the main kharif season pulse crops.  

The onset of monsoon in the Southern coast was delayed by about eight days and its smooth progress northwards was disturbed by a cyclonic formation on the West coast. The threat of El Niño—a weather phenomenon that usually inflicts dry conditions—has added to the uncertainty.  

The progress of kharif planting so far is far from satisfactory. As of July 14, the latest weekly data available (at the time of writing this report), pulses planted area this season at 6.7 million (M) hectares (ha) is 13% below last year’s 7.7 M ha.  

Specifically, 1.7 M ha pigeon pea area lags last year’s 2.7 M ha by a whopping 38% while black matpe area at 1.9 M ha lags last year by 5.5%. The total planted area for various kharif pulses is usually 14 M ha. In other words, we are at the halfway mark in terms of the planted area.  

Planting data usually comes with a time lag. More data will flow in the coming weeks but for the growers, the planting window is closing rapidly. It is anybody’s guess what the final acreage will be this year, but on current reckoning, it is unlikely to be near the 14 M ha mark.  

The production target set by the government of India for kharif season pulses is 9.1 M tonnes comprising of the main pigeon pea 4.3 M tonnes plus black matpe and green mung each 2.0 M tonnes. Some minor pulses are planted too.  

Data from the last five years show that kharif pulses production has been trapped in the 8.0 to 8.5 M tonnes range. In 2022/23, production dipped to a seven-year low of 7.8 M tonnes because of unseasonal rains.  

So, India faces the unenviable situation of low yields, stagnating acreage, and stagnating production in the kharif season. Weather aberrations caused by climate change are an additional threat.  

In my last report in April 2023, I stated the Indian pulse market was gradually tightening. Price trends of recent months and the government’s policies vindicate my statement.  

Open market rates of pulses, except chana (chickpea), are 10–20% above the minimum support price (MSP). At the retail store, prices are 100% more than at the wholesale level. Deeply concerned over the elevated prices of pigeon pea, black matpe, masur (red lentil), and mung, the government has imposed strict stock limits on value chain participants and a system of stock verification, allowing duty-free import of pigeon pea, black matpe, and masur until March 2024 and removed the retaliatory duty on United States (U.S.) origin lentils.  

Derivatives trading in the futures exchanges have continued to remain suspended for about 18 months now. From time to time, traders are warned not to build inventory with speculative intent. These steps have not had any notable impact on the domestic pulses market.  

It has been a matter of comfort that the pulses procurement agency National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India Ltd. (NAFED) has been holding an inventory of 2 M tonnes of chana. In a most recent move, the government has directed NAFED to gradually liquidate the stocks through the sale of packaged and branded chana dal (milled chana) in consumer packs at consumer-friendly rates.  

With the festival demand ready to kick in, prices will only move northwards. Fortunately for India, African-origin pulses are just about getting ready for harvest. Import from Africa would augment supplies to an extent. But looming El Niño which can potentially hurt the crop prospects is the major worry.  

So, where do we go from here? Temporal and spatial distribution of rainfall will be key to crop yields. If El Niño induced dry conditions occur in September, it is sure to inflict damage. The actual harvest size may fall well short of the season’s production target of 9.1 M tonnes and even below the recent average of 8.5 M tonnes.  

By the second half of August, we will get a reasonable idea of the planted area. At that time, we will have an informed view of the harvest size after taking into account weather conditions. Domestic consumers may face little relief from high prices.  

With elections around the corner and food inflation high, is there any chance the Indian government will reduce or remove import duty on chickpea and/or consider the import of yellow pea to contain elevated domestic prices? It is a tempting prospect, but so long as Desi chickpea stays below its MSP, there may not be a strong justification for opening import. The weather and market conditions need close monitoring.  

G. Chandrashekhar is a Mumbai-based policy commentator and global agribusiness specialist. He can be reached at

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