No wheat exports: Sharad Pawar

Union Agriculture and Food Minister Sharad Pawar on Thursday said that despite comfortable wheat stocks and lack of adequate storage space, the government did not propose to allow export of wheat. Instead, the government will extend duty-free imports of wheat till March 31 and step up efforts to enhance storage capacity.

With the National Food Security Bill that assures 25 kg wheat or rice per month to Below Poverty Line populations on the anvil, the government would rather hold on to stocks than risk depletion of stocks and pay compensation to entitled families, as is being envisaged in the Bill. The Bill would be put on the government website in 10 days, the Minister said.

At the same time to make space for the new rabi crop that will be harvested from next month, the government is toying with the idea of enhancing allocation for Above Poverty Line population under the Targeted Public Distribution System. Wheat stock in the central pool is around 184 lakh tonnes against the buffer norm of 40 lakh tonnes.

Speaking to journalists here on Thursday after inaugurating a conference on Kharif Campaign, 2010, Mr. Pawar said, “There is no question of allowing wheat exports. My Ministry has proposed allocating more wheat for the APL families. The issue was to have been discussed in the meeting of the Empowered Group of Ministers today, but the meeting has been postponed.’’

According to the Minister, the expected improvement in the production of wheat, sugar and some vegetables this season will have a “cooling effect’’ on inflation.

“The situation on rising prices of sugar, potato and other essential commodities has improved. It is definitely changing and that is a good sign,’’ Mr. Pawar said.

Expressed the hope that the sugar production would cross 17 million tonnes for last year, he said “as a farmer’’ his personal assessment was that sugar output would be around 16 million tonnes although his office did not agree and felt it would be lower.

Even so, the government has no plans to withdraw the zero-duty on import of white sugar. The country’s domestic annual requirement of sugar is assessed at 22 to 23 million tonnes.

Earlier, addressing the conference attended by state agriculture secretaries, Mr. Pawar urged states to implement the Centre’s four-pronged strategy to spur growth in agriculture. This includes enhancing agriculture production, reduction in wastage of produce, credit support to farmers and thrust to the food processing sector.

He appealed to states to be responsive in ensuring timely delivery of input to farmers not only for increasing production, productivity and farm incomes but also to enhance supply of food commodities to meet food security and nutritional demands at “affordable prices’’.

Referring to the drought in the Kharif of 2009, he said this season impacts the overall performance of the agriculture sector, particularly of rice and tur dal, which are staple food crops.

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