By Alan Bjerga/ Bloomberg
St. Louis: India, the world’s second-most- populous nation, will import wheat for the next several years while striving to boost production, the agricultural minister of the country’s fifth-largest state said.
“Due to the growing population,” wheat imports will continue, Raghuveera Reddy, minister for Andhra Pradesh, said on 10 May. The state in eastern India is home to about 75 million of the nation’s 1.1 billion people. India also is “trying to improve capabilities and production,” he said.
India may purchase as much as 5 million tonne of wheat this year to boost stockpiles, according to Alok Sinha, chairman and managing director of Food Corp. of India. The nation bought 6.5 million tonne last year, the first time it imported wheat in seven years.
At the same time, government purchases from Indian farmers are declining. The government’s domestic purchases may total 10 million tonne this year, less than its target of 15 million tonne, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in a report on 30 April. The government bought 9.2 million tonne last year from local farmers.
Reddy spoke in an interview before making a presentation at the World Agricultural Forum in St. Louis, which brings together corporate executives and global non-governmental organizations and NGOs such as Oxfam International every two years to discuss how business can help the world’s poor.
This year, the forum received support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for the first time.
Reddy said his state, India’s top rice producer, will expand biofuels production as it doubles irrigable acres and tries to make marginal lands more productive.
Biodiesel demand is surging as Brazil and countries in Europe mandate that more fuel contain it. Brazil will require 2% biodiesel in all diesel fuel starting in 2008, and the European Union has a target of 5.75% biodiesel for 2010.
The Andhra Pradesh government plans to expand acreage devoted to biodiesel to 5 million acres in five years, from close to nothing on 10 May, using “wastelands and the marginal lands where farmers don’t get good returns,” he said.
India is becoming more open to foreign agricultural investment, with the understanding that the government’s first priority is to raise farmers’ living standards, he said.
“Because 80 to 90% of our farms are small and modular, we have to protect their interest,” Reddy said. “We cannot allow anyone outside India or maybe inside India to exploit.”