India teeters on brink of food crisis: experts

April 1st, 2008 - 12:07 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
By Rajeev Ranjan Roy
New Delhi, April 1 (IANS) It is not the galloping prices of essential commodities alone that is worrying policy-makers. Availability of food grain is also becoming a major problem as a result of falling productivity and lower buffer stocks, experts maintain. “The government needs to be serious to avoid any food crisis,” said P. Chengal Reddy, secretary general of the Consortium of Indian Farmers Association (CIFA) - a forum that seeks to protect the rights of farmers at the national level.

“The fact that the share of agriculture in the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) has sharply reduced to 18.5 percent in 2006-07 from 36.4 percent in 1982-83 paints the real picture,” Reddy told IANS.

The statistics available with the ministry of food and civil supplies also reflect the precarious situation, with the buffer stock of both wheat and rice below the minimum level set by the government.

The stocks of these two commodities available in government warehouses were 19.2 million tonnes in January against the minimum norm of 20 million tonnes. This is a sharp decline from the level of 24.4 million tonnes in January 2004.

This apart, the rate of growth of food grain production actually decelerated to 1.2 percent between 1990 and 2007, lower than the annual average population growth of 1.9 percent, official data showed.

Similarly, the per capita consumption of cereals declined from a peak of 468 grams per day in 1990-91 to 412 grams in 2005-06 - a decline of 13 percent - while for pulses it came down 27 percent from 42 grams to 33 grams.

“The chances of having a food crisis can’t be ruled out if the government does not take corrective measures by increasing the productivity of farmers,” said Devinder Sharma, a food and agriculture policy analyst.

“Since 1987 there has been a yearly increase of two million tonnes in domestic food grains productivity against the requirement of seven million tonnes. The gap will spiral out of control if timely interventions are not made,” Sharma said.

The situation in the global market is also adding to India’s problems with the Food and Agriculture Organisation successively estimating a lower production in the past couple of years.

This resulted in prices shooting up further as soon as India entered the market. In wheat, for example, the weighted import price was $204.7 per tonne in 2006-07 and shot up to over $400 per tonne the next year.

Even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had sought to raise alarm bells during his speeches in recent months and said the farm sector was not only becoming less productive but also dragging India’s overall economic growth.

“The next decade is going to be one in which our food security will be under stress,” the prime minister had told the National Development Council while finalising the Eleventh Five Year Plan (2007-2012).

For the moment, officials in-charge of managing India’s food stock - like Food Corporation of India (FCI) chairperson Alok Sinha - feel India may not have entered into a crisis situation and hope for a much higher procurement this season.

“There is no food grain shortage as of now,” said Sinha, whose agency is the official procurer of food grain for the government coffers. “We have 5.5 million tonnes of wheat in the buffer stock against the requirement of four million tonnes.”

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