I have the personal bitter experience of the scarcity of food grains in ‘50s and 60’s when in Calcutta we lived on imported poor quality wheat and coarse boiled rice from the ration shops. Nothing was available in open market. My grandfather used to tell us that those were meant for cattle feed in the countries of origin.
India has certainly changed over the years. All types of food grains are easily available in open market. Even the cheapest one is worth entering our kitchen when I have been very selective.
The India farmers are producing everything in surplus and exporting in huge quantum. If the government could arrange water though corruption free irrigation projects, India could feed all the hungry mouths of the world. However, because of poor policy, there are instances of huge wastage of huge amount of food grains. I wonder if the creation of suitable warehouses for food grains such as wheat and rice is rocket science. Why can’t the government make it a zero loss by wastage a target by the end of say any calendar year?
But I am writing this note to convince Mr. Chidambaram and Manmohan Singh that the right management of food grains with sufficient not excessive buffer can cut down some of their deficits that they bothered with. Here are some data to base my views:
1.Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices’ chief Ashok Gulati’s projects that agriculture export of India could touch $42 billion in FY13 has to come as a great relief—that’s a 13.5% increase over FY12’s mammoth $37 billion.
2.The agriculture export increased more than 10 times from $3.5 billion in FY91 to $37.1 billion in FY12, growing at an annual rate of 13.6 percent.
3.The agricultural imports have also grown faster, from $0.7 billion to $17.2 billion, but still surplus for the country is around 20 billion dollars.
4.India’s share of global agricultural exports rose from 0.8% in 1990 to 2.1% in 2011, a share which is higher than that of global merchandise exports—this rose from 0.6% to 1.7% in the same period.
5.India can export 10 million tonnes of wheat more that can fetch $3 billion to the exchequer. And, since FCI stores around 16-17 million tonnes of grain out in the open (covered by a tarpaulin of uneven quality), not exporting this would just mean the grain would rot.
6.According to Gulati’s calculations, the excess food grains stock held by FCI alone has cost the government R1 lakh crore or 1% of GDP.
7.Potential is huge if the yields are improved in some states that lag. Punjab’s wheat yields are 4,415 kg per hectare, Bihar’s are only 1,946. And that is doable.
8.The investments in the agriculture sector, after stagnating at 9.3% of agricultural GDP in FY82 and 9.1% in FY92, rose to 14.6% in FY02 and further to 20.3% in FY10.
9.The farmers have started emulating advanced nation. When Bt promised better cotton output, farmers switched to it in droves. From nearly zero in FY02, 81% of all cotton cropped was Bt by just FY08, as a result of which yields—that rose from 220 kg per hectare in the 1980s to 298 in the 1990s—suddenly jumped to an average of 443 in the 2000s; those in Gujarat, where Bt cotton first took root, averaged 582 kg per hectare in the 2000s. By the end of the 2000s, India is the world’s second-largest cotton exporter.
10.Farmers did the same feat with hybrid maize as a result of which yields rose around 30% in the 2000s.
11.This is when The Indian Council of Agriculture Research has an R&D budget of R2, 700 crore a year while a single company in US, Monsanto alone spends R7,500 crore ($1.5 billion) a year and Pioneer R4,000 crore ($800 million).
12.India has even emerged as the world’s No.1 exporter of rice (ahead of Thailand), while turning from an importer to the largest cotton shipper after the US. And the contents of export are also interesting. Till about 10 years back, this was dominated by marine products, cashew, tea, coffee and spices. But today, there are cotton, rice, wheat, maize, meat, oil-meals and guar-gum.Last year India exported 1.085 lakh tonnes of fresh grapes valued at Rs 602.86 crore. Onion exports have shown a declining trend since November 2012. Shipments fell by over 40 per cent to 83,044 tonnes in January, as against 1,47,255 tonnes in the year-ago period.
13.As on February 1, the government had over 65 million tonnes of food grains in its stock, more than double the required quantity. Of this, almost half was wheat. The floor price for private traders for the export was fixed at Rs 1,480 a quintal ex-Punjab.
14.To clear bulging grain stocks, a group of ministers (GoM), headed by Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar decided to allow export of an additional five million tonnes (mt) of wheat from the Central pool.
15.And when I come across the farmers experimenting new means to improve the yield, I realize India can’t remain behind China. A recent story of the Chinese not believing that Nalanda farmer produced rice paddy more than the Chinese, was really interesting.
And visit a good vegetable shop, you can find all new produce such as baby corn, broccoli, mushroom, and coloured capsicum. It has just started, the future is bright.