Tuesday, October 14, 2014


Edible oils and pulses play a significant role in the diets in India where the population by nature or due economic compulsions are predominantly herbivores. Especially critical is the place of pulses in the diet as they provide a major part of the proteins needed for balanced nutrition. In contrast oils constitute the energy source, supposed to contribute about 30% of biological energy in the diet. On an average humans need about 50-60 gm each of oils and pulses to meet the body needs and this requirement can be met from a variety of sources including pulses, oil seeds and extracted oils from seeds like groundnut, oil palm, soybean, cotton seed, mustard, sesame and others like maize germ, rice bran etc. While India produces about 20 million tons(mt) of pulses annually, its edible oil production is stagnating at around 8 mt since 2003-2004.

In spite of the critical shortage of the above two food crops ever since independence, not much could be done in raising their production due to many reasons. Historically India always placed higher priority to production of cereals like rice and wheat through attractive minimum support price policies till the year 2000 and farmers were always attracted by such incentives to cultivate more cereals than pulses and oil seeds. Though the MSP levels were raised 92% in the case of mustard to 212% for sunflower between 2001 to 2013, the production of these two crops still languished and the country is at a loss as to what has to be done to raise their production. The history of repeated imports of edible oils and pulses continue causing a hemorrhagic out flow of foreign exchange year after year to prevent price escalation in the domestic market.

While in 200-2001, the proportion of imports of oils was less than 50% ( 5 mt out of 11 mt) of the country's need, to day the corresponding figure stands at a whopping 60%( 10.5 mt out of 18 mt)! Domestic production increased by just 40% during these 13 years while imports more than doubled. . While annual per capita use of oil is about 92 kg in Argentina, 60 kg in the EU countries, 55 kg in America, in India it is a paltry 15 kg. The world average is more than 25 kg, almost double that in India. Of course nutritionists may argue that low consumption of fat is a win-win situation as high fat consumption is implicated in many disease like CVD, Hypertension, Diabetes and Obesity!  Probably if the present spurt in oil prices with most oils being priced between Rs 100-200 per liter, how far demand for this culinary ingredient will be sustained is a million dollar question. However market optimists expect that by 2020 the demand may reach about 23 mt from the current availability of 18 mt. How the government is going to react to this situation remains to be seen.

Current pulse production of 20 mt is supplemented by import of about 4 mt and the daily per capita availability works out to about 70 gm though the National Sample Survey says that the consumption is only about less than 30 gm a day. Why this discrepancy is not clear but there is a trend which clearly shows that consumption of pulses is coming down significantly over the years and an Indian citizen was much better off in the first decade after independence compared to present day India as far as pulse consumption is concerned. In contrast per capita availability cereals is almost same to day compared to 60 years ago hovering around 450 gm a day. Whether this justifies successive government efforts in boosting cereal production at any cost is matter of debate. Interestingly in spite of imports of about 4 mt of pulses into India the market prices of pulses still rule very high, unaffordable to many low income citizens to buy the minimum need as per the nutritional guide.

The above convoluted picture raises another important question regarding the priority accorded to sugarcane in this country which is heavily steeped in politics, most powerful politicians being products of the sugar lobby which have tremendous influence on the thinking and working of the governments at the Center as well as in some states. As a nation it is time that the role of sugarcane in the agricultural landscape of the country is revisited. 25 mt of sugar produced from sugarcane cultivated in 53 million hectares of country's precious land can be considered laudable from agricultural achievement view but how relevant is this to the food needs of the country? Sugar is considered a white poison in the lives of people though it adds considerable pleasure to the human palate and its by product Alcohol inebriates the consumer! From nutrition angle sugar does not serve any purpose in the diet and its calories are no more superior to that contributed by starch contained in all cereals, pulses, root crops, fruits and many vegetables. Why not restrict the sugarcane cultivation through disincentives and punitive measures and divert the land for raising pulses and oil seeds in the national interest? If the sugarcane cultivation is reduced by 50% the resulting spared land can increase the present production of oil seeds and pulses very significantly.

To day the area under cultivation for oil seeds and pulses is 30 million hectares (mha) and 25 mha respectively. Imagine the impact of diverting 50% of the land currently under sugarcane (about 27 mha) to production of these vital crops on the economic health as well the human health of the population in the country. All it needs is to protect the income of farmers who are cultivating sugarcane at present which will be persuasive enough for them to switch over.to oil seeds and pulses.


1 comment:

Bio Pasta, cereals and pulses said...

Thanks for offering so much useful data on this interesting topic.