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» » News18 Shorts

Relief in rising food price leaves farmers unhappy

Apr 22, 2008 03:19 AM IST India India

New Delhi: The government's crackdown on hoarding last week finally seems to have had the desired effect, bringing support prices of wheat crashing down across north and west India. But the price fall means farmers have been left with tonnes of unsold stock. And the men at the top are consistently hammering one message home. “Global prices will put pressure on domestic prices of food, and ensuring the supply side of food grains will be a challenge," Finance Minister P Chidambaram said while presenting this year’s presentation of the Budget. Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar said that programmes like the NREGA have put crores of rupees in the hands of the poor, who have prioritised the purchasing of food grains, thereby increasing the demand for food grains, and consequently their prices. The message is clear. Food will no longer be cheap. And they are not talking about fish or meat, but wheat, rice and pulses — the staple diet of the common man. This is in the shadow of world food prices, which have touched a historic high. “Nothing has ever been permanent in food price movements over the past 100 years. There are ups and downs. This is the hugest up I have seen in a very long time,” Planning Commission member Abhijeet Sen says. In the background of this grim news, here is a worrying statistic: India is home to half of the world's starving population. "India's food security is built over malnutrition, that's the cost," Left economist C P Chandrasekhar says. Just five-six years back, India had food stocks amounting to the tune 60 million tonnes of precious grain that the government exported at throwaway prices. The net result was the fast depletion of the stocks, which had been built up over years. Suddenly grain procurement by the government did not seem that important. Huge foreign exchange reserves gave it a sense of complacency. You could import when you wanted. Last year, for instance, despite a record production of food grains, the UPA government failed to meet its procurement target. In addition to this, there were new factors of uncertainty. As professor Abhijeet Sen explains: "The fact is that what is happening in the world does affect what is happening in India. For example, wheat production in India is determined, to a large extent, by what people think about what the global price of wheat is likely to be." With low investment in agriculture, leading to low agricultural growth, stagnant or declining productivity of land, diversion of food crop to cash crop, and diversion of roughly two per cent of fertile agricultural land to non-agricultural purposes every year, the crisis had been brewing for years. So if you though that there was no connection between the food crisis and say the Tata Singur project, or between the cultivation of cereals and the cultivation of jatropha, think again. Finally, the crisis faced by the Indian farmer for over a decade has entered the homes of middle class India. And as India bravely enters the new world of uncertainties, and gropes for answers, there seems to be no solution for self-sufficiency in food grain production. But the silver lining in this dark cloud is, as Sen assures, there is no crisis in terms of food grain production and in fact, India could be coming out of the crisis of the 90s when the rate of growth of food production had fallen below the rate of growth of population.

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