India is facing yet another year of poor harvest despite the bountiful rainfall.
The Congress Chief Ministers? conclave on September 23 and 24 saw some sort of a clash between the Chief Ministers and the Union Finance Minister, Shri P. Chidambaram. The Finance Minister drew repeated attention of the Chief Ministers that agriculture was a State subject under the Constitution. So were the co-operative banks when the Chief Ministers pressed for lower rates of interest for crop loans. While the Finance Minister did not budge on the demand that banks should lower the rate of interest, he told the Chief Ministers to control the co-operative banks ?because they are your banks?.
The Union Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operation'sfirst advance estimate of foodgrains production during crop year 2006-07 (July to June) has unambiguously declared that the foodgrains output during the year is likely to be short of target.
The Ministry has pegged the production of foodgrains during the kharif season (which ends around Sept. 30 in most areas of the country) would be only 105.22 million tonnes against a target of 115.25 million tonnes. Rice production estimate during this season according to this estimate is 75.74 million tonnes against the target of 80.78 million tonnes. Production of pulses has been estimated at 4.97 million tonnes against a target of 5.78 million tonnes.
If the final figure (which is to come sometime next year only) of production for the whole year including the rabi crop production comes to something like a little less than the kharif estimate of 105.22 million tonnes then the total production of foodgrains will come to less than 210 million tonnes, way behind the target of 230 million tonnes fixed by the tenth five year plan. (2006-07 is the last year of the 10th plan).
In such a situation, the foodgrains situation will become almost catastrophic because since the year 2004-05, there is a continuous slide down in the production of foodgrains?particularly rice and wheat, while the population of the country is rising inexorably every year. Where does one get foodgrains for feeding these mouths?
Since our foreign exchange reserves have been rising steadily, one may suggest that shortfalls can always be imported just as we have done this year, by importing so far 5.5 million tonnes of wheat. More may come because private parties have been allowed to import wheat with zero per cent import duty. However, the question our policy-makers have to face is whether sufficient surplus foodgrains are available in the world market for importing millions of tonnes!
Both the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations and the U.S Department of Agriculture, which produce the two main forecasts of the global crop production, estimate that this year'sgrain harvest will fall for the second successive year.
There is a warning to India to raise her foodgrains production to the level of at least that of 2003-2004 when it was 213.19 million tonnes. The next year'sproduction figures revealed a disastrous fall of about 15 million tonnes?from 213.19 million tonnes to 198.65 million tonnes. It is this fall in production that had a cascading effect in 2006, because the production of wheat in 2005-06 according to the fourth advance estimate has been about 68.54 million tonnes, a far cry from the 76.37 million tonnes produced in 2001-02.
It is not at all a happy situation in the foodgrains front and a well coordinated action by all the states?ruled by the Congress and other political parties?must be evolved at a very early date. The kharif season is coming to an end and the rabi season is to commence within a couple of weeks. Time is short and it is necessary to forget political differences and face the impending crisis unitedly.