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India’s flagship food policy comes a cropper

The government’s estimates of demand for foodgrains in the country are outdated and faulty, reports J Gandhi. Food for thought
Hindustan Times | By Jatin Gandhi, New Delhi
UPDATED ON APR 20, 2008 03:44 AM IST

The Centre’s Rs 5,000 crore flagship programme to ensure food security for all by 2012 — the National Food Security Mission (NFSM) — will be inadequate to meet the demand for food grains in the country.

While the government itself admits that by 2012, the total production of food grains at 230 million tonnes (MT) will fall short of the demand by 4.15 MT, experts say the shortages will soar further because the government’s estimates of the expected demand are faulty. The demand estimates do not take into account the changing consumption patterns in the country, they say.

Prof MS Swaminathan, Rajya Sabha MP and Chairman of the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation said: “With the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme giving more buying power to the rural poor, they will buy more food. The poor spend as much as 60 per cent of their income on food alone.” This year alone, with Rs 16,000 crore pumped into the NREGP, about Rs 8,000 crore more will be spent on food, pushing the demand further up.

“The reason why we have been food sufficient in the past is not that we have produced enough but because a large part of population is undernourished,” he said.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN (FAO) estimates that one fifth of the Indian population is undernourished due to poverty. “There is no doubt the consumption is going to go up among the poor while higher income groups are going to generate indirect demand. We have not accounted for these factors,” a senior official of the Ministry of Agriculture said.

Also, the NFSM is designed only to produce more rice, wheat and pulses and does not take into account the growing demand for coarse grains. The top official said: “NFSM does not focus on coarse grains. Within the ministry, we are now thinking of looking at the demand for coarse grains as well.”

The NFSM was launched last year to boost food grain productivity and aims at adding 20 million tonnes (MT) to our existing food grain production, which has reached near-stagnation levels. By the end of the 11th Plan (2011-12), it aims at taking the country’s food grain production to 230 MT, by producing 10 MT more rice, 8 MT more wheat and 2 MT pulses.

Experts said with the economy growing at the current rate, consumption of milk, milk products and meat is rising and will continue to rise. Animal feed comprises entirely of agricultural produce and food grains and the rise in demand for animal produce will further raise the demand for food grains. Estimates suggest that it takes 7,000 calories of food grains (as animal feed) to produce a piece of meat that yields 1,000 calories. While 1 kg of cereal-based cattle feed yields 120 ml of milk.

“You need to incorporate this kind of indirect demand into the government’s estimates,” said Dr Jayati Ghosh of the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning at JNU.

“I think we need to revise the estimates for requirement of food in the future,” she added. Ghosh said with the change in consumption patterns, the government will also have to ensure that the food being produced reaches the poor. “Production of food alone is not enough, it needs to be distributed,” she said.

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