Wednesday, May 15, 2013


Many international experts believe that India has reached a tipping point as far decision making is concerned and if GOI does not face the daunting task of addressing the grain surplus on its hands, future governments and the nation will have to pay a heavy price for shirking the responsibility. Shockingly the very fear GOI is having regarding food inflation if massive export is allowed right now is going to haunt it later because locking up the grains under unsafe conditions and starving the market can lead to only sharp increase in prices which is already being experienced by the middle class population most of whom will have to depend on free market grains for their day to day sustenance. With the general election due any times now, sooner this policy jam is removed better it will be for the country at large. Here is some critical commentary on this vexatious issue now being faced by the country.   

"India should adopt an 'open' policy for food grains exports so that small farmers are benefited from prevailing higher global food prices, Shenggen Fan, Director General, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) on Friday said. India must also reduce rising food subsidy by 'better' targeting of Public Distribution System, Fan observed. "At present the PDS is not well targeted which is leading to pilferage of food grains. By reducing food subsidy, more financial resources could be allocated for research and development in agriculture," Fan told FE. "India being the biggest the rice exporter must have an open export policy for increasing farm income realistion ," Fan commented. India has emerged as the world's biggest rice exporter in 2012 surpassing Thailand with shipment of around 10 million tonnes after a four year old ban on rice exports were lifted in 2011. He said China may increase the volume of rice import from India in coming years because of rise in cost of farm production. China's total rice import was 2-3 million tonnes from Vietnam and India last year. "It is just a beginning and China's rice import from India could enhance in the coming years with cost of labour, water and land increasing. Also, it is cheaper to import food grains from India instead of providing subsidies to farmers," Fan, the head of the key global think tank observed India has a huge food grain stocks – mostly rice and wheat, due to bumper production last year. The rice and wheat output was reported at record 104.32 million tonnes and 93.90 million tonnes, respectively. Due to US drought, the global food prices are expected to higher and volatile during the year, He said due to uncertainty in supplies of wheat, corn and other crop because of drought in many parts of the world is expected to keep supplies situation 'volatile'. "We need stability in higher food prices as because of lack market access small farmers have not been able to take advantage of the prices," Fan said while predicting that global food prices during the year will be 'high and volatile'.On level of poverty in Asian countries like India and China, Fan observed, "The region as a whole is not on track in meeting the millennium development goal (MDG) of cutting the rate of undernourishment by half between 1990 and 2015." "India accounts for some 217 million or a quarter of all undernourished people globally. As a result, India is likely to miss the MDG target," he said. Calling for hiking investment in the agricultural research, Fan observed that agricultural spending in research and development generally has the largest positive effects on growth and poverty reduction. "For each unit of local currency spent on the agricultural R&D, on average 11 local currency units are returned. For every rupee invested in agri-research in India,Rs 13.5 is returned," a IFPRI study has stated. "Indian government should increase investment in agriculture, rural infrastructure and education as these have high payoffs in terms of raising smallholder farmers' productivity and incomes," Fan noted. 

The argument that India must invest more on agricultural research is well reasoned one and to add to this it may be appropriate that more focus is made on pulses and oil seeds, both in tremendous short supply currently. According to dispassionate observers GOI's obsession with crops like cereals, sugarcane and other crops, ignoring the precarious situation vis-a-vis pules and oil seeds can further exacerbate the food security problem in the coming years. A population fed on a predominantly carbohydrate diet cannot be expected to be healthy as per present nutritional norms. It is time GOI addresses these issues without losing further time and take a long term agricultural policy decision based on domestic food needs and export potential for commodities in which the country has excelled itself.  


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