Pricey Indian pulses make open-export policy unfruitful in global market

Exports of Indian pulses are not growing despite a decade-old ban that was revoked in two steps last year. The reason, industry observers say, is the uncompetitive price of Indian pulses in the global market.

The unit price of exported pulses—mostly chickpeas better known as chole—has consistently risen from $0.84 per kg in 2013-14 to $1.43 per kg in 2017-18, the highest in the last five years. 

The quantity exported has dwindled from 346,000 million tonnes (mt) in 2013-14 to 109,000 mt in 2017-18 (till January). In value terms, exports show a declining trend from worth more than $200 million from 2012-13 till 2016-17 to worth $150 million shipped till January in 2017-18, despite the relaxation. 

Exports of tur dal (split pigeon pea), moong dal (split green gram) and urad dal (split black gram) were opened in September 2017, earlier than the complete relaxation in December. Even exports of these have not materialised, which does not augur well for the realisation of the recently released draft of the agricultural exports policy, which intends to double India’s farm exports by 2022. 

At the other end, pulses farmers who are demanding remunerative prices—through government procurement or in the market—would face losses if Indian pulses have to become competitive in the global market, since that would require lowering of prices realised by farmers. 

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But the trade requirements are exactly the opposite. 

“The minimum support price for pulses in India is very high. Though the actual realised prices are sometimes lower than the MSP, they are still uncompetitive when we compare them to prices in the global market,” Bimal Kothari, vice-chairman at the Indian Pulses and Grains Association (IPGA), told Business Standard. 

In the case of raw (un-split) tur (a stage prior to being processed as tur dal), the MSP is Rs 5,450 per quintal, while the actual price realised by farmers at mandis is ranging between Rs 4,000 and Rs 4,500 per quintal, and in some rare cases, at the MSP, in Maharashtra. The price of processed tur dal is built up to Rs 65-70 a kg, say traders. 

Compared to this, tur dal from Myanmar is available in the international market at Rs 35 a kg, according to traders and industry association sources. 

Same is the case with chickpeas from Australia and yellow and green peas from Canada. From these countries, the respective pulses are way cheaper than those from India. 

“We are clearly out-priced in the global market. Some African and Burmese tur dal varieties are trading at as low as Rs 25 a kg, a price so low that is impossible for Indian tur dal to match,” said Mayur Soni, a pulses trader from Mumbai. 

The last two years saw record sowing and production of all kinds of pulses in India. In the last two years, domestic pulses production clocked 23 mt and 24 mt, while imports touched 6.6 mt and 5.6 mt. With annual consumption of about 23 mt, annual availability of about 30 mt for two years has resulted in an unsold stock of about 12 mt.

 

With fears of a price crash after such oversupply, the government responded by opening up exports of all kinds of pulses. 

However, this has neither helped farmers, nor exporters, traders say. “There should be a re-think of the policy which increases the MSP every year, for two reasons. One, there is no effective implementation of the MSP mechanism to ensure that farmers’ incomes improve, and two, that elevates Indian pulses prices in the global market, which hurts exports as well,” a trader said.

Pulses are vitally important for the protein intake of the average Indian consumer, including farmers themselves, while pulses cultivators form a large proportion of Indian farmers who need government support in ensuring remunerative incomes. 

Only trade inside India is the way forward, say industry association sources. 

“It is mostly the Indian diaspora in the Gulf, Europe and the USA that need pulses for regular consumption. But if they are getting them cheap from other countries, how will costly Indian pulses reach them?” an agriculture department official said on condition of anonymity. 

The IPGA vice-chairman also said Myanmar, Australia and Canada were exporters to India over the last two decades. 

“These countries, along with the UAE, have fully operational processing facilities and long running exports and processing contracts, which Indian traders do not have,” he said.


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