Sunday, June 9, 2013


Recent reports about the galloping imports of edible oils and pulses raise several questions regarding the priority of successive governments ruling the country during the last 3 decades in its development agenda. While the balance of trade on a global level is heavily skewed against India, there does not appear to be any concern that the country is spending billions of dollars in foreign exchange to import oils and pulses to meet the domestic needs of the citizens. From time to time tall claims are made by the politicians as well as the Babus at Delhi regarding various projects they "plan" to take up and their past "Herculean" efforts in the past to make the country self reliant on foods. In stead the food dynamics present a sad picture of utter confusion and disarray as manifested by over production of cereals while the production of pulses and oil seeds has been almost stagnant year after year. Is the country, with its much acclaimed achievements in rocketry, nuclear technology and capabilities in space science, running out of ideas when it comes to feeding the nation? It seems so if the latest statistics on imports of edible oils and pulses are to be taken seriously. Have a look at these figures below: 

"Imports of both, edible oils and pulses grew significantly (by 15.5 and 26.21 per cent, respectively) in 2012-13 year-on-year, as India struggled with flat production and rising demand in these two food items.
While imports of edible oils crossed $10 billion in 2012-13 from $9.7 billion, those of pulses were still comparatively less. India imported $2.33 billion of pulses last financial year compared with $1.85 in 2011-12. Analysts blamed the pricing policy of the government in favour of rice and wheat, which do not factor the changing consumption pattern. Oilseed production dropped almost 8.25 per cent to 29.79 million tonnes in 2011-12 (November-October) because of low kharif harvest on account of uneven rains. In 2012-13 too, oilseed production is expected to be only marginally better than last year also because of poor rains in the main growing regions of Maharashtra and Gujarat. It is estimated to be around 30.7 million tonnes".

Food security, according to Government of India, seems to be synonymous with distributing cereals like rice and wheat at throw away prices to the population incurring billions of dollars of subsidy coming out of tax players' money! Government does not lay much importance for nutrition security as reflected by high costs and scarcity of protective foods like protein rich pulses. Added to the woes other healthy foods like fruit and vegetables are priced in the market so high that millions of people find it impossible to access these foods at affordable price. With no sustained, practical, visionary and far-seeing agriculture policies evident, the country is trapped in a regime where more emphasis is placed on commercial crops like Sugarcane and others resulting in locking up of millions of acres of precious and fertile agricultural lands for them, not available for raising health promoting crops like pulses. When will common sense and ground realities guide the government in shaping its policies and action? A disturbing question that may not find any answer in the near future. 

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