Minister warns of more wheat import to curb hoarding


Chandigarh : Minister of State for Agriculture, Food and Civil Supplies Akhilesh Prasad Singh Tuesday warned wheat farmers in Punjab and Haryana against hoarding and said, if necessary, the union government would increase import of wheat to offset artificial shortage in the market and hold the price line.

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"If the farmers do not bring their wheat produce to grain markets and want to hold it back to sell at higher rates later, we can increase the quantity of wheat import," Singh told reporters here before undertaking an on the spot study of grain markets in Punjab.

"We already have a wheat import order of one million tonnes in the pipeline through the state trading corporation (STC)," he added.

Singh also went to the Khanna grain market, 60 km from here, the largest of its kind in Asia.

The minister's remarks came in view of reports that farmers in Punjab and Haryana – the two states that contribute the maximum food grains to the central pool – were not bringing their produce for sale in grain markets.

Procurement agencies, like Food Corporation of India (FCI), have not been able to lift adequate stocks this year as enough wheat is not being made available by farmers despite a good crop.

Though Singh said there was no procurement target for this year, procurement is expected to be in the region of 15 million tonnes.

However, procurement agencies have so far been able to procure only 9 million metric tonnes. The procurement season is almost coming to an end.

The farmers are said to be holding back the produce with the hope that wheat prices will go up and they will be able to sell at a higher price than the Rs. 850 per quintal minimum support price (MSP) announced by the central government.

"We can raise the import to between 3 to 5 million metric tonnes if this hoarding continues. The prices will fall if we import more wheat. The farmers will stand to lose in that event," Singh said in no uncertain terms.

The central government had imported 5.5 million tonnes of wheat in 2006 to overcome shortfall of buffer stock as its procurement agencies could not obtain enough wheat from the grain markets.

Several private companies and traders had picked up wheat stocks from farmers last year at prices higher than the government rates.

The minister said that the government has a buffer stock of five million metric tonnes of wheat this year.

He said that certain farmer leaders – including Punjab Mandi Board chairman Ajmer Singh Lakhowal – were misleading farmers by asking them to hold back stocks for better returns.

Singh said that the MSP this time at Rs.850 per quintal was 25 percent higher than last year.

"We have to look at not only the interest of farmers but also that of millions of consumers. A higher MSP will mean more inflation. We cannot compromise with food security of this country," he pointed out.