Impending Wheat Crisis

wheat1.jpgWhen Sharad Pawar was handed the Agricultural Ministry in the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government, a lot was expected from him considering his past work in the field of agriculture. He was considered a ‘messiah’ of the farmers. However, of late, he seems to be concerned more with cricket (he is the BCCI chief set to take the top post in the ICC) and is turning a blind eye to the impending food crisis in the country. He seems to have very little time to devote to the country’s food requirements and the plight of farmers.

Going by the latest reports, many farmers have set their fields and sugarcane crops on fire in Uttar Pradesh. In UP, farmers alternate their crops between wheat and sugarcane. But the delay in starting several sugar mills forced them to burn their crop because they can no longer delay the sowing of the wheat. Many farmers say that it was a deliberate ploy of the sugar mill owners to force the farmers to continue with sugarcane cultivation instead of wheat. Wheat has become more attractive a bargain as it fetches much more money than sugarcane.

UP, which produces over 33 per cent of the country’s wheat is bleeding because of the selfish greed of sugarcane mill owners. Little do they understand that this may lead India to food scarcity. Wheat production in India has stagnated to around 70 million tonnes (MT) for the past 10 years. The population of the country has grown at a rate of 1.7 per cent in this period. The experts feel that this year, there may be a huge shortfall and India may have to import wheat, which is a very expensive proposition considering the price of wheat is almost double in the international market than in the domestic market. The United State department of agriculture estimates that India will need around 76MT of wheat, and if the production falls around the 70 MT mark again, there will be shortage of 6 MT costing Rs 10,000 crores. The government has banned wheat export for the past two years despite very high international pricing and this year as well, we may not be able to export.

The farmers of Uttar Pradesh and experts are demanding that Pawar take action against the mill owners for endangering the country’s food security but till date, no action has been taken. The farmers are in a very sorry state all over the country and such cases of vested interests make the life of a farmer more miserable. A more farmer friendly policy is required. We need to take some urgent steps before Uttar Pradesh becomes another Vidarbha in the country. It will be suicidal if India’s farm policy is not ‘grain-centric’. The payout on wheat import could be put to better use in the interests of agriculture.

Rishabh Srivastava

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