Participants at a panel discussion on ‘Edible oil - the elusive self-sufficiency’ at the businessline Agri-Business and Commodities Summit in New Delhi on Friday stressed the need to bring down dependency on edible oil imports by taking advantage of various factors, including diversification crops and technology interventions.

They, however, said there should be a transparent duty mechanism to ensure a stable and predictable environment for the industry players.

The summit was powered by Bayer with NCDEX as exchange partner and Tata Chemicals, Rallis India Ltd, APEDA, Olam Agri, NSE and SSVM Institutions and Department of Agriculture, Government of Karnataka as associate partners. State Bank of India is the banking partner of the event, Casagrand the realty partner and Tamil Nadu Agricultural University the knowledge partner.

BV Mehta, Executive Director of the Solvent Extractors Association (SEA) of India, said high oil-bearing oilseeds such as mustard and groundnut can be the game-changer in the country’s attempt to increase domestic production.

He said mustard cultivation should be promoted in Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and the eastern States; and groundnut in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan.

Stressing the need for crop diversification in Punjab and Haryana, he said farmers there should be weaned away from the wheat-rice cycle and should be encouraged to move to the mustard-cotton cycle.

The thrust should be to ensure farmers get better returns from mustard compared to wheat and rice crops, he said.

Sudhakar Rao Desai, President, Indian Vegetable Oil Producer’s Association. 

Sudhakar Rao Desai, President, Indian Vegetable Oil Producer’s Association.  | Photo Credit: Bijoy ghosh

Rise in domestic output

Sudhakar Rao Desai, President of the Indian Vegetable Oil Producers’ Association (IVPA), said India’s vegetable oil import dependency can be reduced to 38-40 per cent in the next few years from the existing by adopting a mission on oilseeds.

Stating that the domestic cultivation of oilseed crops has seen a huge jump in India in the past few years, he said the area under mustard crop has gone up by 60 per cent in the last 3-4 years itself. It is going to go up by another 10 per cent next year.

On the ways to work towards self-sufficiency in the edible oil sector, he said a farmer who wants to diversify from wheat to mustard should be given incentives through direct benefit transfers.

Some State governments have shown interest to increase the area under oil palm cultivation, he said.

Self-sufficiency in edible oils requires focus, planning, and cooperation between different stakeholders. He said the profitability in oilseed sector today is far ahead of even wheat and rice. “I think there is a full of opportunities in the next few years,” he said.

Palm oil capability

Stressing the need for government support to take forward technology in agriculture research, Bhagirath Choudhary, Founder and Director of South Asia Biotechnology Centre, said India had put serious efforts about 60 years ago to achieve self-sufficiency in foodgrains. However, it is still not self-sufficient in edible oil production. Because of this, India’s edible oil import bill is quite huge, he said. India, which has 30 million hectares under wheat, produces 100 million tonnes (mt) of wheat. However, it produces around 30 mt of oilseeds from a similar area under oilseed crops.

“In such a situation, farmers need access to new technology and new seeds for increasing edible oil production,” he said. Whether you call it GMO or gene editing, the use and adaption of technology are extremely important, he said, adding, some of the countries have gained an advantage in trade through the adoption of tech for farmers.

Anupam Barik, Head (Technical) of Patanjali Foods Ltd, said the Government is very keen on reducing edible oil import dependency, and it has already launched a National Mission on Edible Oil – Oil Palm (NMEO-OP). Launched in August 2021, it is under implementation in 22 States. He said oil palm has the capability to produce 4-5 tonnes of oils per hectare compared with any other oil crop. Stating that the NMEO-Oil Seeds is also coming up, he said the proposal is with the Union Cabinet and is expected to take this up shortly. KV Kurmanath, Senior Deputy Editor of businessline, moderated the session.