Farmers in Rajasthan are looking towards pulses to reap, what seems for now, a double dividend from good southwest monsoon rains as well as remunerative prices.
Sowing of kharif pulses — mainly moong, moth and urad — has already been completed in 22.75 lakh hectares (lh) and is likely to cross 30 lh this time. Much of it is at the expense of guar or cluster bean that scripted the desert state’s farm miracle story not too long ago.
Last year, farmers in Rajasthan planted a record 47.87 lh area under guar, the seeds from whose harvested pods yield a gum used by the fracking industry as a thickening agent to extract oil and gas from shale rocks. During the shale boom, guar-seed prices scaled Rs 30,000 per quintal levels in March 2012. That, however, is an old story: Spot prices in Jodhpur are currently ruling at Rs 3,650/quintal.
This time, a mere 14.26 lh has been covered under guar so far and the final figure may not even reach 30 lh, say state agriculture department official. Total kharif sowing in Rajasthan has already touched 105 lh. Another 50 lh is still to be sown, much of it in western Rajasthan that has recorded deficient precipitation. But even in this region, which has just started getting rains, farmers are more inclined towards pulses than guar.
Surendra Kumar, a farmer from 21 ML village in Ganganagar tehsil of Sri Ganganagar district, grew moong in three bighas last year, entirely for personal consumption. This year, he has brought 25 bighas under the crop, while slashing his guar area from 50 to 12 bighas (one bigha equals 0.16 hectares).
“I chose moong, as it is a 60-day crop and fetched Rs 7,000 per quintal last year. Guar has a 90-day cycle and there are no signs of prices picking up,” says Kumar. Last year, post-harvest prices of guar-seed ranged between Rs 3,000 and Rs 4,000 a quintal. Many farmers stocked up, believing that a production shortfall due to drought would help them realise a windfall similar to that in 2012. Instead, prices crashed to Rs 2,800 this June, before recovering a tad to current levels. Clearly, demand factors from the collapse of the shale boom far outweighed any supply-side concerns.
“Over the last two years, farmers have been waiting for guar prices to go up. Last year’s experience, of prices falling despite a poor crop, may have sealed the bean’s fate,” notes Ram Gopal Sharma, joint director of Rajasthan’s agriculture department. With moth and moong selling for Rs 75 and Rs 80 per kg, respectively, and urad going for over Rs 100, pulses appear a far more lucrative option. The fact that moong and moth require only 60-75 days to grow, which means less water consumption as well, would also spurred farmers to switch from guar, adds Sharma.
For the current kharif season, the Centre has hiked the minimum support price (MSP) for pulses. The Rajasthan government, too, is providing a subsidy of Rs 2500 per quintal for certified seeds, besides a 50 per cent subsidy on micronutrient and bio-pesticides.
Balvinder Singh Kang, a farmer from 2 JRK village of Hanumangarh teshsil/district, reckons that in much of northern Rajasthan, the 80:20 acreage ratio for guar and moong last year has almost reversed to 40:60 this time. However, he believes that this has little to do with government policy or incentives: “The MSPs may have gone up. But farmers have shifted because market prices for pulses are ruling even higher and guar has really disappointed. We wouldn’t have seen such an acreage shift had guar prices even been Rs 4,500 per quintal”.
Last year, Kang grew moong on 10 bighas of his own land. This time, he has leased a 150-bigha plot from the Swami Keshwanand agricultural university in Bikaner to cultivate pulses. According to Kang, there is lot of untapped potential for pulses production in Rajasthan. Also, unlike in other crops, increased production may not bring down prices too much, since demand for pulses, which is a major vegetarian source of protein, would remain high. “The government wants to now promote cultivation of pulses on lakhs of hectares in African countries. If they increase the support prices for our farmers, we could grow all that here in India,” he points out.
The Agriculture department fears that a jump in production this year could result in traders manipulating a price slump. “What else can explain moong prices falling to Rs 5,000/quintal levels in the Jaipur mandi now (below the MSP of Rs 5,225)? This, when sowing is still on and we don’t know what the crop would be like till it is close to harvesting,” quips an official.