Sharad Pawar, Union minister for agriculture and food processing industries, said in Ludhiana on Tuesday that his ministry was in favour of increasing the minimum support price (MSP) of wheat and would convene a meeting with the Commission for Agriculture Costs and Prices (CACP), the body authorised to make the final decision on the issue.
Pawar was here to inaugurate the 7th national conference on 'Krishi Vigyan Kendras-2012' at Punjab Agricultural University (PAU).
When asked about the Rs 5,112-crore package demanded by the Punjab government from the Centre to tackle the drought-like situation created by deficit monsoon in 2012, Pawar said his ministry had plans to help farmers of the state.
"The union agriculture ministry has decided to extend help to the state government for crop diversification. We have asked Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal to reduce the area under cultivation of wheat/rice and replace it with oilseeds and pulses as this would help farmers in Punjab and the country as a whole," added Pawar.
He said the state government has demanded MSP for pulses and oilseeds, in addition to planned procurement by the Food Corporation of India (FCI).
About the storage problem, Pawar said the food ministry had finalised locations where godowns were needed and had come up with a scheme wherein godowns were rented for nine years, but "unfortunately Punjab and Maharashtra were not benefiting due to high land prices."
In reply to a query on foreign direct investment (FDI) in the retail sector and its benefits, as projected by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, Pawar said it would be beneficial for farmers, adding that traders' fears in this regard were baseless.
"Cold chains are the need of the hour so as to save the produce. Direct retails outlets will give quality products to consumers at competitive prices," he said.
On the state government's proposal to commence the export of agriculture equipment, meat, milk, vegetables and fruits to Pakistan, Pawar said the issue had already been taken up with the external affairs ministry.
During his address at the conference, the union minister credited the farming community and scientists with making India a foodgrain-surplus nation. "In 2011, India produced 257 million tonnes of foodgrains, the highest since 1947. This year, despite famine-like conditions in Gujarat, Punjab, Karnataka and Rajasthan, we will cross 250 million tonnes. But we have to accomplish the mission for becoming self-sufficient in the production of oilseeds and pulses so as to do away with the Rs 30,000-crore import expenditure," Pawar said.
He called upon scientists to chalk out effective plans for increasing milk production so as to reduce the demand-supply gap.
Meanwhile, Pawar refused to comment on the no-confidence motion proposed by the Trinamool Congress during the upcoming winter session of Parliament.