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Finally, a short-duration red gram

The new arhar (red gram or pigeon pea) variety released by Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) – Pusa  Arhar 16 – brings to fruition a long awaited desire of early maturity variety of the crop. Pusa Arhar 16 comes to maturity in 120 days, possibly due to synchronous flowering, and is hence amenable to mechanical harvesting.

The new variety’s advantages are quite distinct. The most early maturing extant commercial variety of arhar takes about 5 months to come to harvest. Pusa Arhar 16 takes a month less. Thus it can tide over low rainfall, early withdrawal of rains, and can be taken up even when onset of rains is delayed. It may only face a problem in case of extended rainy season, but that is not a reason to worry about since such uncertainties are inherent in agriculture. Uniform maturity is another advantage because now harvesting can be done mechanically. This will help reduce labour costs for harvesting, which is already a cause of concern in the countryside. Assuming that all necessary tests including multi-location trials have been conducted, the variety seems suitable for diverse agro-climatic conditions. The government hopes to release the variety for commercial cultivation coinciding with the kharif 2017 sowing season.

So far so good. However, commercialization of the new variety should be strategised to maximize the intended benefits.

First, the target areas to commercialize. Since Pusa Arhar 16 is early-maturity variety, the crop would come to harvest in October-November (assuming June-July sowing), leaving the farmer with the option of taking up a rabi crop. The most important input for a rabi crop is irrigation. In rain-fed arhar-growing areas, the farmer has no option of taking a second crop and is hence not worried about early maturity, except to tide over early withdrawal of the south-west monsoon. But the farmer with irrigation has a clear advantage of growing the new variety. Therefore, irrigated areas would be best to start with. While this may appear counter-intuitive, it may be remembered that this is just the starting phase of commercialization. As the seed production is scaled up, the variety can and should be extended to rain-fed areas with fervour.

Second, which varieties and crops should Pusa Arhar 16 replace? Being a leguminous crop, which is also hardy and early maturing, the variety can replace its own longer duration counterparts. It can be promoted to replace soil-depleting crops and cropping systems such as sugarcane and paddy-wheat. Sugarcane cultivating water-stressed regions should be targeted to replace the crop with red gram based cropping systems that can raise two crops in a year more profitably. Breaking the paddy-wheat cycle in Punjab, Haryana and other parts of the country is possible with the new arhar variety. However, this is easier said than done because of the public procurement system.

That takes us to the third important aspect – market linkages. Incentivising arhar cultivation with remunerative prices is critical, particularly in irrigated areas. The government should earnestly take up public procurement of arhar to build a buffer stock and simultaneously time imports in such a way that the domestic prices are not adversely impacted around harvest time. Given the perennial shortage of pulses in the country, even a brief public intervention in procurement can prevent prices from falling for the farmer. Timely release of buffer stocks in the open market will stabilise prices for the consumer.

All said and done, it may be a tad too outlandish to expect the fortunes of the country to change in the pulses sector with the new variety on block. Pusa Arhar 16 definitely has advantages but that does not include significant yield advantages. Hence the production of arhar in the  country will not change drastically. However, a well-rounded strategy of commercialization will surely give benefits that can try to bridge the gap between demand and supply of arhar. To some extent at least.

aashish-argade Aashish Argade: Aashish is an FPM (Fellow Program in Management) student at IIM Ahmedabad. He has done his masters in agri-management and is currently pursuing fellowship in the Agri-Business Management.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of The Indian Iris and The Indian Iris does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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