New Delhi: Some of the country’s top vegetable oil firms plan to lease or buy land in Paraguay, Uruguay and Myanmar to grow oilseeds and lentils as farmland shrinks in the South Asian nation, a top trade official said on Tuesday.
Despite being the world’s second biggest grower of rice and wheat and the leading importer of vegetable oils after China, India has recently been pinched by rising global food prices.
Policymakers fear climate change could squeeze the amount of land available to farmers even further.
“We have formed a consortium of 14 vegetable oil companies, which is in talks with the governments of Paraguay, Uruguay, and Myanmar for buying large tracts of land for cultivating soya bean, sunflower and pulses,” Ashok Sethia, president of the Solvent Extractors’ Association of India, said.
India banned exports and cut import taxes on a clutch of farm products to ensure supplies for its more than 1 billion people when food prices soared globally last year and early in 2008.
Analysts say factories and property developers are buying up farmland, while farm output is also restricted by the poor development of irrigation facilities across much of the country.
“There is too much pressure on our farmland and the government knows it has a difficult task ahead in maintaining food supplies,” Sethia said.
Conservationists and scientists have expressed concern that the diversion of vegetable oils for biofuel is speeding up deforestation in Southeast Asia and South America, as farmers cut down trees to expand oil palm plantations and soya fields.
India consumes 18 million tonnes (mt) of lentils and imports from Myanmar, Tanzania, Australia, Canada and Ukraine to bridge a shortfall of about 4mt of the food.
It also imports almost half of the 11mt or so of edible oil it consumes, and buys palm oil from Malaysia and Indonesia and soya oil from Brazil and Argentina.
Sethia said some importers were buying oil palm plantations in Indonesia, the world’s top palm oil producer.
“Growing rice and wheat overseas does not seem feasible. Growing oilseeds and lentils is. Do not be surprised to see more of this in the days to come,” he said.