Mumbai / New Delhi: A worldwide food crisis that sent wheat, corn and rice prices to records and sparked riots earlier this year may be over after farmers increased plantings, a top official at the ministry of consumer affairs, food and public distribution said.
“I don’t think there’s a crisis now,” said T. Nanda Kumar, food secretary, who is responsible for formulating food security policy in the world’s second most populous nation. “Food will be available.”
Farmers from Australia to China have increased plantings of wheat, corn, rice and soya bean, helping stockpiles gain from 30-year lows. An end to the crisis may help countries including India and Egypt ease trade barriers and cool inflation.
Price issues: A file photo of rice being harvested in Agartala. The global outlook for wheat and soya bean is very good, while rice is still expensive, food secretary T. Nanda Kumar has said. Photograph: Jayanta Dey / Reuters
The global production outlook for wheat and soya bean is “very good,” while rice is still expensive, Kumar said on 18 August. “Rice is softening, but I don’t think it has softened adequately.”
Still, grain prices will remain higher than the average of the past five years even as production improves, he said.
Soaring food and energy prices increased the number of hungry people by about 50 million last year, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. The food shortage spurred strikes in Argentina, riots in Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Morocco and Ivory Coast, and a crackdown on illicit exports in Pakistan and the Philippines.
The UBS Bloomberg Constant Maturity Commodity Index of 26 raw materials more than trebled in the past six years as global demand led by China outpaced supplies of crops and metals.
Rice has tumbled 29% from its record, while wheat and corn have dropped 35% and 26% from their peaks.
India, the second biggest producer of rice and wheat, may need a second “green revolution” to meet food demand driven by rising incomes among its 1.1 billion people, Kumar said.
M.S. Swaminathan, the 83-year-old agriculture scientist who spearheaded the country’s Green Revolution in the 1960s, has said the solution to higher farm output lies in providing better remuneration to growers.
“You may call it by any name, what we need is more food,” said Kumar. India needs to increase its wheat and rice production by 3.5 million tonnes (mt) every year to meet its growing demand and cover emergencies, he said.
Supplies of farm products haven’t kept pace with demand from consumers who have become richer in the past five years as India’s economy registered the fastest economic expansion since independence.
The economy averaged 8.7% growth since 2003, the fastest pace after China among the world’s biggest economies.
Production of grains such as rice, wheat and lentils has increased just 10% since 2000. Foodgrain harvests rose to a record 230.7mt in the year ended 30 June from 209.8mt in 2000, according to the agriculture ministry.