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India will import food, if required: Pranab
Published on 21 Aug. 2009 10:50 PM IST
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India will not hesitate to import food as and when the need arises to deal with this year’s drought, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said here Friday, adding that stocks of grain with state-run agencies were healthy now. “We will go for imports. But we do not make announcements of import in a very big way because that has another cascading effect,” the minister told a meeting with state agriculture ministers here. “The moment news spreads India is going for heavy dosage of imports, then it will automatically have an impact on market prices being jacked up,” Mukherjee told the meeting called to deliberate on the current drought declared in 246 out of India’s 626 administrative districts. “The decision is already there. Whichever commodity is in short supply, to meet the demand and supply mechanism, we shall go for imports,” he said, adding that for commodities like edible oils and pulses, imports were on for a long time. As news of a drought in India spread, sugar prices reached a 28-year high in the international market. India is the world’s second largest sugarcane producer after Brazil. Mukherjee said that thanks to the record production of food grain in India’s last agriculture year (July 2008 - June 2009), estimated at 233.87 million tonnes, the country was approaching the drought with adequate buffer stocks. According to him, as opposed to the normal buffer stock norm of four million tonnes of wheat and 5.2 million tonnes of rice, the country had created additional reserves of three million tonnes of wheat and two million tonnes of rice. “We need not lose confidence in ourselves,” Mukherjee said, adding that the country had both the expertise and capacity to deal with drought and would certainly overcome the situation. He said all this was because of steps taken by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh since it first assumed office in May 2004 to significantly raise the support prices for grains. “Take any period or any span of five years and you will never find such -- almost 150 percent -- increase in support price for wheat and paddy. And the country benefited from it.” Meanwhile, agriculture minister Sharad Pawar today asked the states to take immediate steps to provide relief to the drought affected, especially small and marginal farmers. Pawar described the situation in 246 districts in 10 states as “grim”, and said agriculture departments in the states must gear up their machinery to ensure that farmers are fully supported at this critical times. Pawar also said rabi crops can be planted early and over a large area to make for the kharif losses due to a poor and erratic monsoon. “This is good opportunity to ensure that wheat is sown in time particularly in eastern Uttar Pradesh Bihar and West Bengal,” Pawar said addressing state agriculture ministers here. Pointing out that there is likely to be a 15 per cent shortfall in paddy sowing, Pawar said is an urgent need to promote alternate crops like pulses, sunflower, bajra, fodder and vegetables. “We need to mitigate the effect of the drought by taking immediate steps to protect the standing crop and plan meticulously for the ensuing rabi season to compensate for the loss of production in this season,” Pawar said. He said the situation is grim not just for crop sowing and crop health but also for sustaining the animal health, livelihood, particularly for small and marginal farmers and landless labourers. Pawar asked states to set up control rooms at the state capital and district level to deal with drought situation. “For the drought-affected population we should ensure availability of food, drinking water, fodder and employment. I am sure with your cooperation we would be able to tide over this crisis and regain the momentum of food grain production in the country.” Ten states have declared 246 districts as drought affected. Some states have reported more than 60 per cent less rains in this monsoon season. Pawar also said the rise in prices of sugar, which is a result of falling production, need to be checked.

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