The Solvent Extractors’ Association of India (SEA) has urged the Government to focus on measures such as a targeted approach, crop diversification, recalibration of minimum support price (MSP) and providing a technological push to increase edible oil production in the country.

Speaking at a webinar on ‘Smart Agriculture’ attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday, Atul Chaturvedi, SEA President, said India needs to target production of domestic edible oils at 18 million tonnes (mt) by 2025-26 from current level of 10 mt.

Terming this as an achievable target, he said the increase in production would help bring import down to around 8.5-9 mt.

He said the edible oil import bill of the country, which hovered around ₹65,000 crore in 2019 for 15 mt of import, is now close to ₹1.5 lakh crore for only 13 mt. Exporting countries are able to take advantage of India’s fragile edible oil situation and jack up prices.

Crop diversification

On crop diversification, he said there is no point continuing to produce wheat and rice much in excess of consumption, as this strains the storage system as well as inflates the food subsidy bill.

He said the time has come to give full throttle encouragement to crops such as mustard in these frontline states. “If we ensure higher returns to farmers compared to wheat/rice, there is no reason why they would not shift,” he said, adding a few districts in these states may be encouraged to divert land to such crops and procurement at assured price may be guaranteed.

Mustard should be promoted in rabi as a replacement for wheat, and corn during kharif. Mustard will increase oil availability and corn can get diverted to ethanol. It’s a win-win situation and in line with the Prime Minister’s dream of ‘Aatmanirbharta’ and reducing carbon footprints.

With this, the depletion of water table can be arrested and animal feed industry would also get raw materials.

Mustard should be promoted in Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and eastern states, and groundnut should be promoted in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. He said mustard and groundnut are native major crops of the country with high oil content, and their oils have wide acceptability across the nation.

MSP

Urging the Government to recalibrate MSP, he said MSP has been a time tested and successful tool in increasing production over the years.

“However, we feel time has come to look at this MSP tool not only as an incentive but also as a disincentive. We also need to evaluate whether 23 crops need MSP announcement or it should be limited to what the nation wants,” he said, adding the need of the hour is to incentivise oilseed production in the country.

Tech push

Stressing the need for technological push, he said productivity in oilseed sector is woefully low and needs serious attention and intervention. The country should not shy away from GM technology to improve productivity.

Giving the example of BT cotton, he said it changed the face of rural Gujarat during the stewardship of Narendra Modi, and it needs to be replicated in oilseeds as well.

Import duty

He said edible oil import duties should be kept relatively high to ensure farmers are sufficiently enthused and the Government need not defend MSP by buying the produce and market forces can take care of procurement. The diversion of land by farmers to mustard during this season as a response to high prices reflects the fact that farmers understand market dynamics better.

He said the revenue by way of customs duty can be ploughed back for oilseed development by creating an Oilseed Development Fund.

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