IF INDIA does not produce 100 million tonnes of wheat by 2020 it could not only jeopardise the country’s food security, but also force the government to shell out Rs 40,000 crore to import the food grain to fill the gap, an international wheat expert warned on Wednesday.
This year, India has produced around 74 million tonnes of wheat. But in the next 13 years, this figure would become inadequate. “Between 2004 and 2007, the average production of wheat was around 72 million tonnes in India. By 2020, India would need 100 million tonnes. Between 2002 and 2007, the productivity was around 2.8 tonnes per hectare. By 2020, it should be 3.8 tonnes per hectare,” said Sanjaya Rajaram, a director with the Syria-based International Centre for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA).
Rajaram said that if India fails to enhance production, leading to a huge gap between supply and demand, there could be social upheavals and rampant hunger and malnutrition. “India’s situation could become like Africa, which do not produce but eat wheat,” said Rajaram.
He was speaking at a seminar on ‘Where Hunger Rules, Peace Cannot Prevail – A Road Map for a Hunger Free, Nutrition Secure India’ organised by the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences. Import costs for India even at current prices would be high, he said. “The cost could be between 7.5 billion to 10 billion dollars to import 20-25 million tonnes of wheat,” Rajaram said. Politically too, it would not augur well for India’s neighbourhood diplomacy. In the region, China is the biggest producer of wheat followed by India. Countries like Bangladesh and Nepal, however, produce little wheat. He added that in future, Bangladesh and Nepal might become dependent on imported wheat and India might want to help its neighbours. Rajaram said that Indian wheat could be also be smuggled out to these countries through the porous borders, leading to shortages.
He said that in India temperature has risen by 1.3 degrees in the last century. “Wheat is sensitive to temperature. We have to factor in climate changes,” the scientist said.
Renuka Chowdhury, Minister of State for Women and Child Development, inaugurated the seminar. Among the other speakers were, CPM leader Brinda Karat, vice-chairperson and editorial director of the Hindustan Times, Shobhana Bhartia and economist Arjun Sengupta.