Saturday, May 18, 2013


The food glut scare is giving no sleep to the babus in Delhi who are running helter skelter to find a way to manage the grain stocks, old as well as new, now being procured without inviting Supreme Court wrath or consumer backlash. As there are no long term policies in place governing agricultural production and export, the dynamics of grain flow change from day to day. If exports are allowed to day, it could be banned tomorrow when there are some protests from the people. The crop pattern in the country also is highly skewed with water guzzling crops like Sugarcane, Banana and wineyard grapes getting preference in water utilization policies pursued during the last few years. Immediate concern is whether surplus food grains over and above that is required for domestic consumption between the harvests as well as for food security, reported to be sufficient to feed half the population for an year, can be safely exported without causing any price distortion in the market place. Some experts feel that it is safe to export a predetermined quantity of grains as a part of a long term export policy with flexibility to increase whenever there is too much of a surplus. However a timid government with the 2014 election uncertainties staring at it, does not seem to have the courage to open up grain export for earning valuable foreign exchange. Here is a take on this issue which is a "hot potato" for Delhi to handle comfortably! 

"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."

Is it not remarkable that Indian farmer has not failed the country in spite of enormous odds faced by him with severe water scarcity and limited support from the governments at the Center as well in the states and this year also a bumper harvest is predicted? Scores of farmers are starving and committing suicide with a sickening regularity because of many socio-economic reasons and the farm operations are increasingly becoming economically unviable with too many uncertainties. The small land holdings in the hands of small and marginal farmers cannot be expected to generate adequate cash for meeting the daily necessities of life for them. Cooperative model for integrated development of land does not seem to be working except in the case industrial crops like Sugarcane and Banana, that too monopolized by big land holders with powerful political connections. Under these circumstances Government must encourage exports in a big way and utilize the earnings for improving the lots of the poor farmers of India.


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