Persistent in folly

  • 14/05/2001

G lobal trade in coarse grains in 1995 was to the magnitude of about 132 metric tonnes (mt) and is projected to rise to 175 mt by 2005. About 80-85 per cent of this export originates from industrialised countries, where coarse grains are cultivated for animal feed. In Japan, an ngo is working on promoting millets as heath food (see box: Revival of millets in Japan ). Amazingly, Asian countries are likely to be the major importers by 2005, points out ‘Vision 2020’, a perspective plan prepared by the National Research Centre for Sorghum in Hyderabad. If present trends continue, India’s growth rate will be negative among the top 10 producers of coarse grains (see table: India: against the grain ). In their estimation of foodgrain requirement for the next ten years, India’s policymakers don’t see an important role for coarse cereals. In the ninth and tenth Five Year Plans, rice has been accorded 42 per cent of the total cropped area and wheat nearly 35 per cent, while coarse grains get only 14 per cent.

The trap
The government has hardly even looked beyond its system of remunerative minimum support price and the public distribution system. In 1976-77, rice and coarse cereals had same price, a situation that continued till 1981-82. Thereafter, rice has a higher minimum support price. The announcement of minimum support price for coarse cereals is more of a ritual than a market intervention to ensure remunerative price for farmers. This is evident from the foodgrain stocks held by Union and state governments. Earlier, a small stock of coarse grains was held. That has disappeared 1995 onwards.

India’s pds , possibly the largest programme in the world to provide subsidised food, concentrates only on rice and wheat. The Food Corporation of India ( fci ) procures foodgrain for the ‘central pool’ at prices fixed by the Union government. The foodrain procured are released by fci through pds at the issue price, again fixed by the Union government. The ‘central issue price is less than fci ’s economic cost and the difference between the two is reimbursed to fci by the Union government as consumer subsidy. This has created a food surplus of rice and wheat

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