Food crises or rising prices?

By Mirza Anwarulhaq Baig

Why much outcry is over the rising food grains prises while Mr Sharad Pawar, Union Agriculture Minister has recently revealed pleasing news for those who were much haunted by the ghost of rising prises that India got the record-breaking wheat productions in the running year, now there is no need to import food-grain.

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Agriculture Minister forecasted that government would purchase 19 million tonnes wheat because markets have massive stocks of wheat. Agriculture Minister expressing pleasure while addressing at the session of states agriculture ministers held recently, assured Punjab and Haryana states that the government would purchase their 99% of wheat productions. Just a day before it, agricultural ministry had predicted about 227.3 million tonnes production of food grains for 2007-08, which is more than 10 million tonnes over the previous year; including 76.7 million tonnes record breaking production of wheat.

The latest estimates are for the crop year ending in May, which takes into consideration the winter crops of wheat, mustard and rice, which are yet to be harvested. Announcing the estimates, Mr P. K. Mishra, Agriculture and Co-operation Secretary to the Government, said that all major crops including wheat, rice and pulses were likely to have an ‘all-time record production’ this year. And this record production comes close on the heels of another record last year, when food grains production in the country touched 216.1 million tonnes. Would these record productions help in accelerating the mounting prices?

But what is more shocking is the fact for which UN drew the attention of global community that the global food crisis has reached its worst condition and it would be the second consecutive year when food production fell short of global population growth, if it is not handled then around 100 million persons would become victim of starvation. The global rice market is currently facing a particularly difficult situation with demand exceeding supply and substantial price increases. An UN official warned that 60 million Pakistanis would confront worst famine.

Calling world community for joining hands to get rid of this global menace, Josette Sheeran Executive Director of World Food Programme informed that present situation of rising prices of cereals is the most challengeable in the 45 years history of WFP, the food crisis affected the major part of world. If urgent monetary relief is not provided to the organisation, the programme of WFP to give meals to O.45 million schoolchildren of Cambodia would have to postpone. She has likened the price increases to a “silent tsunami,” and said requests for food aid are coming in from countries unable to cope with the rising prices. She noted that the price of rice has more than doubled since March. The World Bank estimates that food prices have increased by 83 percent in three years.

UN General Secretary Ban ki-moon has expressed concern on the issue in Austria where he was meeting with the nation’s top leaders. He said that the U.N and all members of the international community were very concerned and immediate action was needed.” This steeply rising price of food — it has developed into a real global crisis,” Ban said, adding that the World Food Program has made an urgent appeal for additional $755 million. Ban urged leaders of the international community to sit down together on an “urgent basis” to discuss how to improve economic distribution systems and promote the production of agricultural products. U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization chief Jacques Diouf asserted to take immediate efforts focus on helping farmers in developing countries grow more crops.

India seems far more shielded from the global crisis than other countries as Condoleezza Rice pointed out that the global food shortage was due to the improved diets of the people in India.

However, the situation is not as cheerful for Indians as it looks because only 4.6% growth could be made in agricultural products, which is not adequate to face with the current food grain crisis while we always stress on 10% of GDP growth. In the midst of global crises, can agriculture minister’s ‘good news’ of record breaking wheat production, satisfy Indians?

How far government can succeed in braking the rising prises of food-grains and inflation, when opposition parties along with left parties, the external allies of UPA government, have made it elections’ issue and they are showing that government cannot handle with this debacle.