Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar on Thursday admitted that the rice production would fall due to less sowing as a result of deficient rains in many parts of the country.
“A shortfall of six million (60 lakh) hectares in sowing of paddy is bound to have its adverse impact on production and consequently on availability of rice in the coming year,” Pawar said while addressing a conference.
Asked whether the government may have to import rice this year, following a drought in nearly half of the country, the minister said: “Fortunately last year’s production was good. So, the position of our stock is okay. We have sufficient stock, but we will have to work towards increasing the production here.”
“Late revival of monsoon has improved the groundwater and the reservoir level to a great extent. We need to make best use of the situation,” the minister said.
He said the government would allow the import of refined sugar at zero duty beyond November this year to cool prices, since slump in the output in the world’s largest consuming nation (India) has doubled the rates to Rs 36 a kg in just a year.
“We will extend it (the import of refined sugar at zero duty from its deadline of November-end 2009),” Pawar said. “I am not sure (about the period of extension). But probably till May or June next year,” he added.
Pawar indicated sugar prices might fall towards the end of the festival season (September-December) once the imported raw sweetener gets processed and reaches the market.
“Mills have entered into agreement to import over 40 lakh tonnes (four million) of raw sugar. Processing has started and when it goes to the market after getting ready, it will have its impact,” he said.
The government had earlier this year allowed duty-free import of raw and refined sugar after production fell sharply.
India, stung by a 43 per cent fall in sugar output to 15 million (150 lakh) tonnes in the season that ends this month, extended tax-free imports of whites in July to shore up supplies and rein in domestic prices which have surged about 55 per cent in 2009.
(With inputs from Reuters)