Rising pulses imports: Trends and Implications

India’s pulses imports have almost doubled during 2023-24 to reach US$ 3.74 billion. Decreasing production of pulses in the country and the government’s decision to remove import duties in a bid to bring down prices are key reasons for the surge in imports. IBT looks at major factors driving this persistent supply-demand gap, its impact on government’s recent policy decisions and possible action points that may be considered.


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In the intricate fabric of India’s culinary landscape, pulses are a pivotal component, serving as the cornerstone of countless dishes cherished across the nation. However, as domestic demand surges, the necessity to import pulses has escalated to unprecedented heights. Picture this: in the fiscal year 2023-24, the pulse imports to India soared to a staggering six-year pinnacle, catapulting by an impressive 84% year-on-year.

Provisional data paints a vivid picture of this surge, revealing that over 45 lakh tonnes of pulses crossed borders into the nation, a stark contrast to the preceding year’s 24.5 lakh tonnes. But it’s not just the sheer volume that commands attention; the value of these imports skyrocketed as well, boasting a remarkable 93% year-on-year increase, tallying up to a substantial US$ 3.74 billion. In the ever-evolving realm of global trade, these figures not only reflect a statistical surge but also beckon us to delve deeper into the economic dynamics at play.

In Jan 2023, India imported pulses worth US$ 219.44 million. Since then, exports have been on a steady rise to reach a peak of US$ 437.8 million in October 2023, followed by two months of decline to record US$ 378 million in December. Imports declined further to US$ 188.5 million in January this year, but bounced back once more in February to US$ 397 million. In March 2024, imports have touched a new high of US$ 572.7 million. The graph below shows the monthly value of pulses imported by India since January 2023

India's pulses import trend_TPCI

Source: Department of Commerce

Top imported pulses were lentils (masur, dried & shelled, US$ 1.25 billion, up by 138.1% YoY); pigeon peas (US$ 833 million, up by 32.7%  YoY); black gram (US$ 597.1 million, up by 27% YoY) and kidney beans (US$ 141.8 million, up by 14.3% YoY). India sources pulses mainly from Canada, Myanmar, Australia, Mozambique and Tanzania. During 2023-24, the country’s imports of red lentils (Masoor) from Canada have more than doubled to about 1.2 million tons, despite strained diplomatic relations. 

In addition, the government has allowed duty-free imports of yellow peas till June of this year and of arhar and urad till March 31, 2025. Since then, imports of yellow peas from Russia and Turkey have been going up. India is also importing chickpeas and pigeon peas to make up for a production deficit. Imports of black-gram have also soared during the year.

Pulses imports are rising, but why?

India is a major consumer and producer of protein-rich pulses. As per nutrition data, pulses are 20-25% protein by weight, which is twice the protein content of wheat and thrice that of rice. Chickpeas (gram), pigeon pea (tur or arhar), moong beans, urad (black matpe), masur (lentil), peas and various other kinds of beans are grown in the country. Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, West Bengal delta region, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Maharashtra are among the major pulse producing states. 

Top countries exporting pulses to India, 2023_TPCI

Source: DGCIS, figures for CY 2023

Pulses that are widely consumed in India include chana, masur, urad, kabuli chana, and tur. The India pulses market size was about 34.4 million tons in 2023. According to ‘India Pulses Market Report 2024-32’ by International Market Analysis Research and Consulting Group (IMARC Group), the market is expected to reach 57.3 million tons by 2032, growing at a CAGR of 5.7%.

The recent spike in pulse imports is primarily seen as a consequence of low production and the government’s decision to remove import duties in a bid to drive down prices. Pulses inflation has remained elevated in February (202.6) and March (201.4). According to the Reserve Bank of India, food price pressures are making it difficult to lower inflation to the targeted level of 4%.

During an interaction with India Business & Trade, Suresh Agarwal, Chairman, All India Daal Mill Association, informed, “Among pulses the import has largely surged for yellow peas (being sourced from Canada and Russia) and Masur (imported from Canada and Australia). Primarily, these 2 pulses is driving the overall pulse imports.”

He highlighted that the government has introduced some changes in import policy, due to which Tur import was transcended to open general licence (OGL), which facilitated many importers of pulses. However, the change so introduced started getting misused by some large importing companies of India. Several companies set up their branch offices in exporting countries and bought large quantities of pulses, and thereafter resorted to pulse-hoarding. Therefore from abroad there was a short supply of about 50% for Tur, leading to an increase in its prices in the domestic market. 

Top pulses imported by India_TPCI

Additionally, the production of Tur in the country has been witnessing a downfall in recent years, falling by nearly 35-40%. This decrease has further contributed to rising prices of Tur. Unstable erratic weather conditions in the major pulse producing states are the root cause behind the decreasing pulse production in the country.

Domestic pulse production stood at 220.76 lakh tonnes in 2018–19, increased to 273.02 lakh tonnes in 2021-22. However, it declined to 260.58 lakh tonnes in 2022-23. 

The fall in pulse production is expected to continue. According to projections by the agriculture ministry for the year 2023-24, the pulses production in the country is expected to be at 234 lakh tonnes.  It is to be noted that this year (FY24), the Kharif production is projected to decline from 76.21 lakh tonnes (in 2022-23) to 71.18 lakh tonnes. The Rabi crop is also expected to drop to 163.24 lakh tonnes from 163.58 lakh tonnes in the previous year.

Pulses production in India^ 

Season 2018-19 2019-20 2020-21 2021-22 2022-23 2023-24*
Kharif 80.91 79.21 86.18 82.35 76.21 71.18
Rabi 139.85 151.04 168.45 190.67 163.58 163.24
Total 220.76 230.25 254.63 273.02 260.58 234.42

Source: Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare, ^In lakh tonnes

Another cause of concern is that the pulses sowing area has also reduced in the last 3-4 years. From about 307.31 lakh hectares in 2021-22, the sowing area has come down to 257.85 lakh hectares in 2023-24. In two years, the sowing area has reduced by 16% and production has declined by around 14%.

The government has also set stock limits on pulses from April 15 and urged states to keep a check against hoarding. According to the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, the importers and traders of pulses have been directed to accurately declare their stocks of pulses.

Experts have observed that farmers are showing more interest in crops like banana, cotton, sugarcane and soybean, which are more profitable than the cultivation of Tur. An inclination towards more profitable crops has caused distancing away from Tur cultivation. Mr Agarwal suggests that the government should raise the minimum support prices being offered to our farmers. He said that if pulses are being imported at a rate of Rs 112/115 while farmers are being offered a price of Rs 70, then the government should offer a price of about Rs 100 to farmers. He further highlights that the growing of Tur involves a period of about eight months. Cultivation of crops like Masur, Urad, Wheat, Bajra, Corn, Mustard and cotton, involves about 50% less duration, further diverting the farmer’s attention to these crops. 

Finally, Mr Agarwal feels that the government should consider facilitating large numbers of daal traders for imports of pulses. This can lessen the instances of hoarding. 

A persistent demand-supply gap in pulses

In order to meet this demand and maintain price control, the government is negotiating with pulse supplying nations. It has entered into agreements with Tanzania, Myanmar, and Mozambique, for importing pulses. Furthermore, it is also discussing long-term contracts for pulse imports with new markets including Brazil and Argentina. Brazil will be supplying more than 20,000 tons of urad. Negotiations to import arhar from Argentina, are in progress. 

Despite sizeable domestic production of pulses, supply still falls short of the escalating demand. One major reason is the increasing population. It is expected that by 2030, India’s population will surpass 1.5 billion. This is likely to cause a further spike in pulse consumption. Also, there is an increasing consumer awareness regarding the various health benefits of pulses which include- improving digestion, reducing blood glucose, minimizing inflammation, lowering blood cholesterol, etc. 

Moreover, pulses are being used in the food processing industry as well. As pulse-flour is believed to be healthier than wheat flour, it is being used as a substitute for the latter. Pulse flour is being used in making snacks and confectionary items offering healthier food options. Likewise, the ready-to-eat food and snacks industries are also using pulses increasingly. Other major factors like growing purchasing power and dietary habits of Indians, are expected to put further pressure on supply in coming years.

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