No need to import wheat now, says government

April 23rd, 2008 - 7:49 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, April 23 (IANS) With India battling to bring down prices, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar Wednesday said government agencies will procure 17 million tonnes of wheat this year, as against the target of 15 million, while ruling out the need for imports. “I’m confident of procuring 16-17 million tonnes of wheat this year,” Pawar told a meeting with agriculture ministers of state governments here, that was mainly convened to deliberate how best prices of essential commodities can be eased.

“As of now, I don’t see the need for import of wheat. In fact, we might be able to keep some reserves for next year.”

The minister’s remarks came a day after it was officially estimated that India’s food grain production had touched an all-time record of 227.32 million tonnes in 2007-08, up from 217.28 million in the previous year, to log a 4.6 percent growth.

Among food grains, wheat production is estimated at 76.78 million tonnes, against 75.81 million, while the output of rice is estimated at 95.68 million tonnes, as against 93.35 million tonnes, the data showed.

“Farmers are selling one million tonnes a day. We hope this trend will continue for at least 10 days,” the agriculture minister said. “My expectation is that my kitty will rise substantially. Whatever wheat comes to the market, we will buy.”

In fact, reports from Khanna in Punjab, one of the largest markets of wheat in Asia, also appear to corroborate the minister’s viewpoint. The market there is facing a problem of plenty because of a near bumper crop.

According to officials of state and central procurement agencies, 6.9 million tonnes of wheat have already been procured this season, and the actual figure may top 8 million as the season comes to an end.

“Wheat procurement in Punjab is all set to exceed the figure achieved last year. Despite delayed start in procurement due to bad weather and rains, the target is expected to be surpassed,” Punjab government spokesman Harcharan Bains said.

According to the agriculture minister, India was also getting requests from some African countries to buy food grain but the government was yet to take a decision on this.

“There is tremendous pressure from some African countries to supply food grains to them. But we are taking a little conservative approach,” Pawar said, indicating the government’s focus on bringing down inflationary pressures in the country.

The annual rate of inflation in India is hovering at 40-month peaks of over 7 percent, which is over two percentage points above the threshold level set by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government is also facing political heat on account of soaring prices - not just from the opposition but also the Left parties that prop the ruling coalition.

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