After falling to 2.5 million tonnes in FY19 from a peak of 6.6 million tonnes two years ago, imports of pulses are again expected to fall below 10 million tonnes in FY20. When the price of pulses skyrocketed a few years back, imports jumped to a record high of 6.6 million tonnes in FY17.
The opportunity to grow more pulses in India boomeranged as imports flooded the country along with the Indian crop and prices went below the minimum support prices. However, after several restrictions were placed, imports started falling.
Data compiled by the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (Apeda) showed India’s total pulses import at 2.23 million tonnes for the period between April ‘18 and February ’19. In FY19, the total import of pulses in India is estimated at around 2.5 million tonnes.
India’s import of pulses is likely to decline by 68 per cent in FY20 due to estimates of an increase in domestic output following the forecast of normal rainfall this monsoon season.
For the year 2019-20, the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) has issued notifications to issue licenses for importing 650,000 tonnes of pulses. Additionally, India is set to import 175,000 tonnes from Mozambique under bilateral trade. This works out to total pulses’ import of 825,000 tonnes for the 2019-20.
The decline in import of pulses is set to provide a major relief for Indian farmers who faced a subdued price trend throughout the year. A decline in imports is also expected to improve prices in domestic market which will be aided by the expected uneven distribution of the monsoon rainfall and the resulting lower output this year.
“Farmers might be reluctant to sow pulses this year due to lower prices realised last year. But much would depend upon options available with them which would emerge only after the actual occurrence of the monsoon rainfall. The decline in import quantity, however, can be attributed to the large quantity of stocks available with the government and private sector agencies including farmers’ co-operatives,” said Madan Sabnavis, chief economist, Care Ratings.
Most of pulses traded much below the minimum support price (MSP) throughout last year with farmers’ co-operatives refraining from aggressive procurement. According to trade sources, the government-owned Food Corporation of India (FCI) is also holding around 2 million tonnes of pulses for release in to the market.
For consumers, however, old stocks may not be preferred due to the fear of quality deterioration.
Experts believe that with the IMD forecast of a normal monsoon and an even distribution of rainfall, farmers may continue with the existing area and bring in additional acreage this year. The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) in its recent report forecast India’s pulses output to rise by 2.8 per cent to 23.5 million tonnes in FY 2019-20 with an increase in the production of tur and urad.
The Union Ministry of Agriculture in its Second Advanced Estimate released on February 28, 2019, estimated India’s total pulses output at 24 million tonnes as against the target of 25.95 million tonnes for 2018-19 and 25.23 million tonnes of output achieved in the previous year.
Pulses are grown largely in marginal and less-irrigated land. Hence, farmers’ shifting of crops from pulses to others crops is highly unlikely. Consequently, India’s pulses output has grown nearly 50 per cent from the level of 16.32 million tonnes in 2016-17 to 24 million tonnes in 2018-19. During this period, however, India’s imports declined from the level of over 6 million tonnes to a mere 0.83 million tonnes.
“With huge stocks lying with the government agencies, the import quantity may be just for market intervention in case pulses’ price starts moving up. With an estimated consumption of 25 million tonnes, India has already achieved self-sufficiency in pulses. We are, therefore, looking for alternative business sources for survival as not much room is left in pulses’ import business,” said Bimal Kothari, managing director, Pancham International, a city based pulses impoter.
The decline in India’s pulses import is set to lower its import bill and also preserve valuable currency for other uses.