`Serious cereal deficit unlikely in 2005-06'

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In fact, having erred on the side of caution at each stage, it is likely that we will begin the next year with a larger stock in hand.

Sudhanshu Ranade

Chennai, July 26

CITING NSS data, an International Food Policy Research Institute `Strategy Brief' has reported that over the period 1977-1999 cereal consumption in India per capita per annum declined from 192 to 152 kg in villages and from 147 to 125 kg in towns.

NSS (Report no. 490; available online) reports per capita per annum cereal consumption for the year 2003 at 150.1 kg in villages and 120.45 kg in towns. The trend decline, which seems to be yet under way, could perhaps be accounted for by the increasing proportion of children.

About half our population is currently below the age of 18; the proportion having risen steadily and sharply over the past three decades. However, the latest NSS report also notes that 0.3 per cent of rural households and 0.1 per cent of urban households see themselves as suffering from chronic hunger. Another 1.3 per cent and 0.3 per cent, respectively reported that they did not get enough to eat in `some but not all' months of the year.

Since this report also brings out the fact that there is a strong positive correlation between the number of under-15s in a household and its level of poverty it would be safer to assume that the percentage of chronically or seasonally hungry households translates into twice the percentage in terms of number of persons.

By the same play-safe logic, we may add the entire rations for these households, at a level equal to average consumption levels, to the aggregate figure for consumption that is derived for the total population, including the hungry.

This add-on figures in the accompanying table in the third row from the bottom, just above the figure for total requirement of cereals for the year 2005-06.

As will be seen, there is unlikely to be a serious shortage of cereals this year, even if we ignore stocks held today in the public sector and the prospect of imports at reduced or zero rates of tariff.

In fact, having erred on the side of caution at each stage, it is likely that we will begin the next year with a larger stock in hand; no matter how deficient or erratic the south-west and the north-east monsoons may be.

But, then, we have focused only on cereals, totally neglecting crops such as oil seeds, pulses, sugar cane and cotton.

Incidentally, cereal production `forecast' in this quick assessment for the current year has been kept `pegged' at the 2002-03 levels (163 million tonnes), rather than at the higher levels achieved in 2003-04 (197 million tonnes) and in 2004-05.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated July 27, 2005)
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