New Delhi: India, which imported wheat in the past two years to feed its public distribution system, or PDS, on Monday ruled out any imports this year as it has already bought nearly 18.5 million tonnes (mt) of the grain against a target of 15mt.
“Though we have a target of 15mt, we will reach 20mt. If we reach 20mt, import will not be required. There is no question (of import),” agriculture and food minister Sharad Pawar said on the sidelines of a conference organized by industry body Confederation of Indian Industry, or CII, in the Capital.
The minister said his assessment of the situation was based on feedback from all state governments and the Food Corporation of India. The government has bought 18.5mt of wheat till Saturday, Pawar said.
When asked whether the government would stop purchases after buying 20mt, the minister said procurement would continue even after that. The government will buy wheat till 15 May in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, while the purchases will end by 15 June in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
India had to import 5.5mt of wheat in 2006 to add to its inventory and manage the PDS that sells food to the poor at subsidized prices, as procurement that year fell substantially to 9.2mt. The government needs to procure 15mt of wheat.
In 2007, the country imported 1.8mt at a very high price as the government could buy only 11mt of wheat against the targeted 15mt.
However, procurement during the current season has improved substantially, thanks to increased efforts of the Punjab and Haryana governments, coupled with a bumper harvest.
India is estimated to have produced a record 76.78mt of wheat in 2007-08 against 74.81mt in the previous year. The last high was in 1999-2000, when the country’s wheat output was 76.37mt.
Meanwhile, stressing on a greater role of horticulture in improving the economic condition of farmers, Pawar asked private players to tap the huge potential offered by the sector.
Inaugurating a fruit and vegetable summit organized by CII, Pawar said the horticulture sector plays a key role in improving the economic condition of farmers.
“There is need to stimulate private investment, particularly in the fields of infrastructure, marketing and research and development with particular emphasis on organizing production programmes to cater to the needs of the processing industry and exports,” the minister said.
He added that the stress on crop diversification in the last few years has led to a rapid rise in horticultural production, which has reached 185.2mt.
Earlier, speaking at the two-day conference, agriculture secretary P.K. Mishra said the country produces 12mt of fruits and 109mt of vegetables every year.
While Maharashtra tops the list of fruit-producing states, West Bengal produces the largest quantity of vegetables, he added.
However, Pawar said, the sector is constrained by widespread fragmentation in the supply chain, low productivity, huge post-harvest losses, lack of cold chain and transport infrastructure, and logistics and supply chain management.
Speaking on the occasion, chairman of CII’s national council on agriculture, Rakesh Bharti Mittal, listed seven key issues affecting the supply chain in horticulture, which include quality standards and cold chain infrastructure.
He said horticulture would help regain the depleting water table, which is a major concern now.