By G. Chandrashekhar
India’s kharif season pulse crops for 2023-24 are ready for harvest. Major pulse crops of this season include tur/arhar (pigeon pea), urad (black matpe), moong (green gram), and small quantities of some minor pulse varieties.
While the production target for this season is set at 9.1 million tonnes, actual harvest size is forecast to fall below the target. My own forecast of India’s kharif 2023-24 pulse production announced recently is between 7.6 million and 8.0 million tonnes.
The table below gives data relating to planted area, production target, and my forecast.
India Kharif 2023-24 Pulse Crops
|Crop||Area in Million Hectares||Production in Million Tonnes|
|5 Year Average||2022 Final||2023 Final||Target 2023-24||Forecast*||2022-23 Government of India 3rd Estimate|
*Forecast by G. Chandrashekhar (proprietary research)
The Indian government usually publishes the first advance estimate of kharif crops production by the last week of September every year but strangely, at the time of writing this article, there is no sign of it.
This season, the planted area for kharif pulses has declined by 1 million hectares. The Southwest monsoon also ended the season with 6% deficit. The temporal and spatial distribution of rainfall between June and September this year was far less than satisfactory with August turning out to be the driest in several decades.
The adverse effects of El Niño (a weather phenomenon that brings dry conditions to South and Southeast Asia) are clearly visible. Moisture stress has affected not just pulses but also rice, oilseeds, and cotton harvests.
For the third year in a row, India’s kharif season pulse production is set to trail the target set by the government. To be sure, in 2022, unseasonal rains in October and November caused by La Niña phenomenon (the opposite of El Niño) inflicted large scale damage on pulse crops, especially pigeon pea.
The already tight pulse supply-demand fundamentals are likely to get tighter in the coming months. Prices of most pulses is now ruling above the specified minimum support price (MSP) with pigeon pea rates turning unaffordable for ordinary consumers.
The Indian government is seriously concerned over food inflation as elections are around the corner. Stringent stock limits have been imposed. Traders are threatened with penal action for building inventory. Derivatives trade for price risk management stands suspended.
To augment availability, import of pigeon pea, black matpe, and masur (lentil) is allowed free until March 2024. Despite liberalized import, the domestic market prices are likely to stay at elevated levels.
Analysis of acreage, production, and yield data of last 3-4 years suggests some disconcerting pattern. One, climate change is beginning to take its toll. As a tropical nation, India is a lot more vulnerable to the adverse consequences of climate change. It would be risky to assume that weather in the coming years will be normal.
Two, at about 14 million hectares, the planted area for kharif pulses is stagnating. I suspect the cultivable area available for pulses is nearing a saturation point and we should not expect any marked expansion in area for kharif pulses.
Next, yields are stagnating and have not improved. A breakthrough in seed technology is the logical step forward. The announcement of MSP has had no effect on acreage or production. Procurement efforts are weak.
Low price realization means growers will have no incentive and may compromise on input and agronomy. Moreover, the marketability of the crop is affected and growers are hurt as value chain participants (processors and traders) are not allowed to build inventory.
At this rate, India’s dependence on imported pulses will continue to grow. Despite being the world’s largest producer, India will continue to be in the global market as an importer in the foreseeable future.
A larger worry is the upcoming rabi season planting that would take place in November. As it is, soil moisture is inadequate. El Niño conditions are likely to last until early 2024 which can affect the much-needed winter rains.
Chana (chickpea) is India’s largest pulse crop and the looming weather risk to the crop cannot be wished away. Last year (2022-23) the government estimated the chana harvest size at an unrealistically high 13.5 million tonnes. I am on record that the crop size was not over 11 million tonnes. The trade and industry representatives also believe the government estimate is grossly overstated.
Now, reality has come to bite. In the open market, chana rates are ruling above MSP. When the market perceives signals of threat to the upcoming crop (2023-24), prices are sure to escalate higher. To contain any such eventuality, the government may be forced to liberalize chana import by reducing the rate of customs duty. It is a plausible scenario. The Indian pulse situation is still evolving and needs constant monitoring.
G. Chandrashekhar is a Mumbai-based Economist, Senior Editor, and Policy Commentator specializing in agribusiness and commodity markets. He provides policy inputs for the Indian government. Views are personal. He can be reached at email@example.com.