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Global warming to hit India’s wheat bowl: Pawar

Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar yesterday said global warming would have an adverse impact on India’s wheat
bowl -primarily the states of Punjab, Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. In reply to a special discussion on the
nation’s drought and flood situation, Pawar in the Lok Sabha accused the Prime Minister’s Office of overseeing the adverse
effects of global warming to our wheat bowl. Except the paddy crop, whose area of cultivation had fallen drastically, the
figures for rest of the major crops in the country were high as compared to the corresponding period last year. He said
wheat cultivation of 252 lakh tonnes this year had crossed all-time records ever since the Independence, Pawar said.
Similarly, Pawar said, the rice harvest of 319 lakh tonnes was also unprecedented. However, he conceded that a reduction
of over 6 million hectares of land under paddy cultivation was a matter of concern, adding that measures would be taken to
tackle the problem. The minister said there was no need to be panicky the Indian Meteorological Department has predicted
101 per cent rain in August as against 82 per cent in July. Pawar said further course of action would be decided after
August only. The minister said the country was well stocked up with wheat and rice to last 13 months. There was also a
back up of 15 lakh tonnes seeds for alternative cropping and all states had funds earmarked for them under the National
Agricultural Development Scheme. Rajiv Ranjan Singh Lalan of the JD(U), during the discussion, sought an economic
package for drought-hit farmers and setting up of task force on irrigation. He demanded joint action by the Agriculture
Ministry and Power and Water Resources Ministries. While praising food-for-work schemes in villages, he stressed upon the
need for co-ordination between the Centre and states.

Rains in North to improve crop situation: IARI


A day after the government said in Parliament that deficient rainfall in northern India would pull down kharif rice
production, the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) on Wednesday said those farmers who have planted basmati
rice would benefit by rains during last few days. As reported earlier, following deficient rainfall in June and major portion of
July in the northern India, many farmers have taken up basmati rice cultivation through dry seeding method. HS Gupta,
director, IARI said basmati rice can be grown within 110 days instead of 150 days for paddy. "Rain during last few days in
northern India has helped the basmati rice crop," Gupta told FE. He further said, "With India Metrological Department
predicting 'more than normal' rainfall during August, the situation would improve to a great extent.” On benefits of growing
high value basmati rice, Gupta said. "On an average a farmer can earn a net profit of Rs 60,000-Rs 70,000 per hectare
against an average Rs 30,000 per hectare in case of paddy." Besides, basmati crop can be harvest by mid-November
against usual December of paddy, he added. Gupta further said the areas which have not received adequate rainfall, could
now utilised for growing short duration crop like, green grams, black grams, pigeon peas and maize. He also stressed that
as rainfall pattern is changing drastically since last few years, agricultural scientists need to provide a solutions to farmers
for dealing with the situation. Gupta said this following the release of data by the government on Tuesday which stated that
the deficit in paddy (de-husked rice) sowing this year as compared to last had widened to around 6 million hectare from
almost 3.1 million hectare for the week ending July 17. The paddy has been planted in around 15.56 million hectare, down
from around 21.64 million hectare sown during the same period last year, Sharad Pawar, agriculture minister said in Lok
Sabha. In India's largest foodgrain growing state of Uttar Pradesh, which has declared drought in 47 out of the 71 districts,
kharif sowing has been completed in around 4.9 million hectare till July 27, around 3 million hectare less than last year.
IARI in the recent years has developed 76 high yielding varieties of crops including wheat, rice, maize, pearl millet, forage
sorghum, pigeon pea, chickpea, mustard, cotton and soyabean. Due to IARI's wheat varieties, the country's wheat
production went up manifold duing 1967 - 2004.

Agriculture faces major risk due to Climate Change


Addressing the Members of Parliament at the Parliament Library yesterday, noted agriculture scientist and MP Rajya Sabha,
Prof. MS Swaminathan said that with the increase in temperature, risk rise rapidly for agriculture. He cautioned that an
increase of 2 degree Celsius in temperature may seriously affect 4 billion population on the planet, and turn agriculture
unviable. He said that the signs of global climate change if not understood and the corrective steps taken, then Antarctic ice
sheet may melt, causing serious damage to our ecology and environment. Water scarcity and frequency of droughts may
increase. It may shorten the crops life and reduce yields due to physiological changes in plants. An increase of 2 degree
temp, may decrease rice yields by 0.75 MT per hac. and wheat by 0.45 MT per hac. He added that climate change effects
between 2010 - 2039 may reduce the agriculture production by 4.5 - 9.0%. Dr. Swaminathan emphasised that any crop
production planning should not only keep the increase in population and changes in dietary habits into account, but also the
effects of climate change on our agriculture production. Later, responding to the queries of worried Parliamentarians, Dr.
Swaminathan said that the crisis in agriculture is related to the dynamics of environment, economics, equity, employment
and energy. The issues of land, water, bio-diversity, climate, cost-risk returns, free and fair trade, rural employment, fuel &
food and land use policies need to be understood and addressed with the collective efforts of Government, research,
industry, local communities and farmers.
Govt to ban wheat, non-basmati rice exports
Concerned over the impact of deficient rainfall on agricultural productivity, the government today said it would stop all
exports of non-basmati rice and wheat. This was announced by Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar in the Rajya
Sabha. Elaborating the measures to tide over the situation, Pawar said exports of non-Basmati rice and wheat, which was
allowed through diplomatic channel, would be completely banned. “We are going to stop it,” he said, replying to a Calling
Attention Notice. While the private exports of non-Basmati rice and wheat had remained under ban for long, the
government had allowed limited exports through diplomatic channels. A decision to allow export of 2 million tonnes of
wheat and another 2 million tonnes of rice was taken by a group of ministers earlier this year. Pawar, however, allayed
fears of a grain shortage. “Stock position is quite comfortable. We have sufficient stock position for 13 months in our kitty,”
he said. While Pawar was worried over the runaway rise in prices of Arhar dal to Rs 95100 a kg, he said: “This will be
atemporary phenomenon”. As on July 1, the Food Corporation of India (FCI), government’s grain procurement and
distribution agency, had stocks of 52.63 million tonnes (32.92 million tonnes wheat and 19.61 million tonnes of rice). On
the progress of rains, Pawar said: “Monsoon this year has been weak and erratic in its progress and distribution, resulting
in late sowing of crops.” He said states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Punjab, Haryana, Assam and Manipur are likely to be
affected by the deficient rainfall. Stating that the deficiency in rainfall has come down to 19 per cent as on July 23 from 62
per cent in June, he said: “This week, the situation will further improve.” On the impact of monsoon on crops, Pawar said
he was concerned over paddy. “Rice area and productivity may be adversely impacted which could be compensated to
some extent by cultivating oilseeds, pulses and some coarse cereals in additional areas,” he said.

Japan’s new biofuel from rice


Japan has started selling of a new biofuel made from rice, which is expected to help the resource poor country reduce its
dependence on imported gasolie and make better use of deserted farmland. Niigata prefecture has begun the selling of the
new biofuel, produced from domestically-grown brown rice and blended with gasolien at a ratio of up to three percent, the
Mainichi Daily News newspaper reported Saturday. According to Japan’s National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative
Associations Zennoh (JA Zennoh), the bioethanol “is equivalent to regular gasoline both in quality and mileage, and will be
available in a similar price range”.

Agriculture to be the most important area of India


U. S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Sunday said agriculture would be the strongest and most important pillar of
cooperation between the United States and India. During a visit to the Indian Agricultural Research Institute here (IARI),
Ms. Clinton said: “We collaborated for more than 50 years and today we are called to collaborate once again. We have to
work together because it is imperative that we invest in science, that we do more to link farms and markets so that farmers
can sell their products, that we extend export of technology and training to bring more assistance to the farmers as a
vulnerable community worldwide, and we strengthen our response to climate change which threatens the waterways in the
agricultural part of the world.” Ms. Clinton said that with just 3 per cent of world’s crop land, India fed 17 per cent of the
world’s population. “As we look to strengthen agriculture and fight hunger, particularly in South Asia, Africa and elsewhere,
India’s leadership is absolutely crucial. I think the bio- energy, bio- security and bio- diversity challenge that we confront is
one that we can meet,” she said. Stating that the problem of hunger and malnutrition affected nearly a billion people in the
world, the U. S. Secretary of State expressed the belief that the world had the resources to face the challenge. She said it
was the signature issue of the Obama administration to do what could be done to fight hunger and extend food security.
“And India is well positioned to help us lead this fight. Work has already begun. I just saw that the scientists are developing
seeds that produce higher yield, crops that require less water, farm equipment that conserve energy. All of this is part of
meeting the challenge that we face from global hunger,” she said, adding that research was a critical component of the
comprehensive approach to improving agriculture. She said there was a need to connect the laboratories —where new
technologies were being developed and research was being done — to the fields, where the farmers laboured, to the
markets, where the crops were sold, and finally to the homes that relied on the labour of the farmers. Role of private
sector. However, Ms. Clinton said the job at hand was not for the governments alone and that private sector had an
essential role to play and so did universities, research laboratories, institutions and non- governmental organisations. Ms.
Clinton, who was received by Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, visited the IARI to oversee the research and
education programmes of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research and the work of many of the Consultative Group on
International Agricultural Research centres that had been key U. S. partners since the Green Revolution. .

Monsoon blues may hit rice output by 15%


RENOWNED agri-scientist M S Swaminathan said that a delayed monsoon has put India in a serious situation and scanty
rains are likely to lower rice production by 15 per cent this season. "Poor monsoon has put us in a serious situation. Sowing
has not improved so far. Rice production may fall by 15 per cent in the Kharif season," he said. According to the third
advance estimate, Kharif rice production in 2008-09 was 86 million tonnes. If there is 15 per cent decline in production this
year, rice output may be about 73 million tonnes. Latest government data show the sowing of paddy across the country has
fallen by 21 per cent to 114.63 lakh hectares as on July 17, compared with 145.21 lakh hectares in the year-ago period.
Jharkhand, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh are the worst affected states. Swaminathan, a Rajya Sabha member, said that
basmati farmers are now falling back on irrigation to save their crops as basmati rice fetches good price in the market.
Paddy sowing is around 43 per cent less in Jharkhand, while in West Bengal, the country's largest paddy growing state, it
has dipped by 35 per cent till July 17. In Uttar Pradesh, sowing has come down by 33.14 per cent, the data showed. Among
other paddy-growing states, sowing is almost 36 per cent less in Maharashtra, 30 per cent down in Bihar, 27 per cent less
in Andhra Pradesh and almost 35 per cent down in Rajasthan. In Punjab and Haryana, sowing is just around 8 per cent and
5 per cent less respectively till July 16 as compared to last year.

IFFCO Foundation organizes symposium on Union Budg


IFFCO and Bharat Krishak Samaj jointly conducted a symposium on the “Implications of the Union Budget in Agriculture,
Co-operation and Rural Development” on 7th July, 2009 at NCUI Complex, New Delhi. The event witnessed good
participants representing different sectors and companies from both public and private units. Welcoming the gathering Shri
JNL Srivastava, Managing Trustee, IFFCO Foundation said that there should be proper justifiable allocation in agriculture
and rural sectors for their equitable growth along with other sectors. Addressing the gathering, Mr. Satish Chandra, Director
General, FAI said that the budget has addressed the need of farmers and soil. He welcomed the decision for nutrient based
subsidy and not product based subsidy and said that it would go a long way in ensuring that farmers get balance fertilizer in
adequate quantity. However, he was skeptical about the policy of routing the fertilizer subsidy directly to the farmers. YC
Nanda, Ex- Chairman, NABARD said that the growth of 11% in credit is much lower than the decadal growth rate of 16-
17%. He said that the Government is interested in expansion and rate of interest but costs of credit to farmers from banks
are comparable to what he/she pays to private money lenders. He also pointed out that the total credit that goes to the
North East and Eastern India in 7%, which is much lower. Bhagawati Prasad, Chief Executive, NCUI felt that the basic
problem of cooperatives in capital formation which has come down. Credit flow has increased, because private banks
provides loan to large farmers but small and marginal farmers are not benefited. Unless cooperatives are provided capital
formation, there will not be inclusive growth. Dr. RB Singh said that there was no mention of agriculture insurance and
rainfed areas in the budget and the National Rainfed Area Authority was simply dumped. He also said that National
Commission on Farmers under the chairmanship of Prof. Swaminathan already recommended for alleviation of risk in
agriculture by covering the fringe zones. The number of poor and food insecure person has increased and these people
have to be covered for inclusive growth. Mr. Pattanayak, Chairman, APEDA felt that the budget is rural oriented as 95% of
the budget proposals are for RD. He hailed the decision on impetus on cold chain and warehousing. He said that money
spent on NREGA and rural infrastructure will ultimately go to the rural hands and will positively impact the rural economy.
“I feel the budget is in the right direction. There are no sectoral schemes but the macro picture is rural oriented. It will have
a positive impact in a year”, he quipped.Ajay Vir Jakhar, newly elected Chairman of Bharat Krishak Samaj opines that
farmers, who paid the loan amounts alongwith the interest feels cheated by the Govt. with the loan waiver scheme. He
added that defaulters will never pay and waive off may turn monstrous like, PDS and subsidy and, at least the interests
charged by the banks should be returned to those farmers, who paid the loan amount.

DuPont acquires cotton seed biz of two companies


In a significant move, DuPont has entered the cotton business in India, by announcing the acquisition of the seed business
of two companies. The global science company has through Pioneer Hi-Bred purchased the cotton seed business of Nandi
Seeds, based in Mehboob Nagar, and acquired cotton germplasm from Nagarjuna Seeds, based in Secunderabad. Pioneer
Hi-Bred, headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa, US and owned by DuPont is a leading source of customised solutions for
farmers, livestock producers and grain and oilseed processors. It provides access to advanced plant genetics in nearly 70
countries, an announcement from DuPont said here today. “These acquisitions will help us enter the cotton seed market
here and meet the needs of Indian farmers who grow more than 9 million hectares of cotton each year – more than
anywhere else in the world,” said Mr K.V. Subbarao, country manager - Pioneer India. “Cotton is a natural fit for Pioneer in
India. It completes our high-value product and service offering to farmers and enables us to further strengthen our growing
seed business here,” he told Business Line. At present, Pioneer offers corn, rice, pearl millet, sunflower and mustard in the
Indian market and has grown revenue 40 percent annually for the last five years to reach about $70 million in 2008.
“Agriculture, food and nutrition is a key growth segment for DuPont in India, and these acquisitions are part of the
company’s strategy to expand its presence here,” said Mr Balvinder S. Kalsi, President - DuPont India. Nandi Seeds has a
turnover of around Rs 35-40 crores and has a license of Monsanto’s genetically modified cotton variety. On the other hand
Nagarjuna’s strenght is in germplasm. The acquired companies will operate as independent, wholly owned subsidiaries of
Pioneer. Mr Kalsi said for DuPont, it is a first acquisition in over a decade, but acquisition will be a key part of the
company’s strategy to grow business in India. This is also the latest in a series of investments by DuPont in India. Pioneer
recently announced the opening of a new corn research centre in Bangalore to speed delivery of new, improved products to
market and meet the growing demand for food and feed.
Agriculture ministry wants hike in loan interest s
In order to increase lending to the primary sector and to boost rural sector demand against the background of uncertain
monsoons and consequent apprehensions over flagging economic growth, the Centre is under pressure to increase interest
subvention on short-term crop loans to farmers in the coming Budget from the current 3% to 5-6%. The increased
subvention of interest, the agriculture ministry has argued, could be linked directly to timely repayment of loans. Also being
considered is a proposal from cooperative banks to exempt them from paying income-tax, as was the case till 2006. In
keeping with the recommendation of the Planning Commission, the agriculture ministry has proposed to bring the modified
national agricultural insurance scheme under the non-Plan category, to remove the shortcomings noticed in the
implementation of original scheme. The drawbacks included very low coverage of farmers inspite of low premium rate and
delay in disbursement of claims. These are among the slew of measures proposed by the agriculture ministry to be included
in the budgetary proposals for the ongoing financial year. Hiking the interest subvention for short term farm loans would
mean that farmers will continue to take short term crop loans of up to Rs 3 lakh at an interest rate of 7%. However, the
banks that lend to them, including public sector banks, co-operative banks and regional rural banks, will be reimbursed the
interest up to 5-6%. The government has projected the total additional liability at Rs 6,000 crore per year but estimates of
the nodal agriculture ministry suggest that the actual liability may turn out to be lower since the cost of funds in the market
has been going down. “This would incentivise banks to provide loans promptly besides ensuring prompt repayment by
farmers,” a senior government official told ET. On an estimated flow of crop loan of Rs 2 lakh crore during 2009-10, the
farm ministry has pegged additional liability to the exchequer per annum at Rs 1,200 crore for every one per cent
subvention. The amount of subvention is normally calculated on the amount of the crop loan disbursed from the date of
disbursement up to the date of repayment or up to the date beyond which the outstanding loan becomes overdue,
whichever is earlier. In December last year, the reserve bank of India increased the short-term farm loan interest
subvention from 2% to 3% for 2008-09 after the finance ministry approved increased interest funding. The subvention was
made available to banks only after they made available short-term credit at 7% annually to loanees. The ministry, it is
learnt, has also made out a case for setting up a commission to examine the possibility of providing relief to distressed
farmers on the lines of the benefits given to sick industries. This was necessary, it was felt, to prevent the adoption of
massive loan waiver schemes in the future, as was done earlier this year by the Manmohan Singh government.

‘Inadequate rainfall not to dent farm output’


A day after India Meteorological Department (IMD)’s projection that the monsoon would be below normal this year,
agriculture ministry on Thursday stated that the shortfall in rain in the month of June would not adversely impact the
country’s food production. Union agriculture secretary T Nanda Kumar said the country did manage to produce a record 230
million tonne of foodgrains last year despite 17% less rainfall in the month of July. “Slight delay in the rainfall in central and
southern parts of the country should not be viewed in any way as an drought year and the food production would not be
lower than last year,” Kumar said. Kumar held a meeting with agriculture secretaries from states including Maharashtra,
Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh which have not received adequate rainfall till now on the
contingency plan in the case of a possible failure of monsoon. He said that ministry would again take stock of the situation
in the middle of July. On the IMD’s forecast of deficit rainfall in the north-western regions including key food producing
states including Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, Kumar said these states mostly have high percentage of
irrigation ranging from 80-90%. “This areas may still have a very good production with well distributed rainfall,” he said.
This optimism by the agriculture ministry was backed by the feed back it got from officials from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka
that due to good rains the sowing for Kharif crop is in full swing and there has been rains in large parts of Gujarat and some
drought prone districts of Andhra Pradesh. "There is no cause of worry if monsoon arrives by June-end. The States have
been assured that there is enough seed availability to meet the demand in case short-duration seed is required," a senior
official in the Agriculture Ministry said after the meeting. Scientists are hopeful that the situation would not deteriorate if
the rains come in a week, he added. Meanwhile, the central government also assured the states of of adequate availability
of short-duration seeds that may be required in the case of further delay in monsoon. Around hald of the country 140
million hectare of agricultural land is rainfed. The major kharif crops are paddy, jowar, bajra, maize, cotton, groundnut,
soyabean, arhar, urad, moong and sugarcane.

Ajay S. Shriram is the new President of Internati


In a befitting recognition of India’s emerging importance as one of the world’s largest producers and consumer of fertilizers,
Mr Ajay S. Shriram took over as President of International Fertilizer Association (IFA) in IFA’s Annual Conference in
Shanghai, China. Mr Ajay Shriram is the Chairman and Sr. Managing Director of DCM Shriram Consolidated Limited (DSCL).
IFA is a not-for-profit organisation representing global fertilizer industries. It has some 525 members in about 82 countries,
of which half of memberships is based in developing countries. IFA member companies represent any and every activity
related to fertilizer production, trade and transport across the world. Mr Ajay Shriram became the second Indian and, in
fact, the second in South Asia to reach this position. He has earlier been the Chairman of Fertilizer Association of India
(FAI). The IFA member fertilizer industry world over produces some 170 million fertilizer nutrients which are used in every
corner of the world to support the agriculture production. It plays a major role in contributing to increased agriculture
productivity in a more sustainable and efficient way. IFA members serve farmers everywhere to meet the world’s growing,
feed, food, fibre and bioenergy needs. In his current role it would be possible for Mr Ajay Shriram to facilitate closer
interaction between IFA and FAI to promote improved fertilizer application methodologies in order to increase the
productivity and profitability of the farmers in India particularly the small and marginal farmers. This would include
promotion of fertilizer best management practises, safety, health and environmental standards and promotion of
micronutrients to address the deficiencies in the Indian soils. His elevation to the office of President was widely hailed and
welcomed by the large Indian delegation present at the Shanghai conference on May 27th, 2009 which included Chief
Executives of co-operative, public and private sector companies besides presence of senior officials of Department of
Fertilizer, Government of India. His tenure for the next 2 years as President, IFA would provide plenty of opportunities for
Indian fertilizer companies to share the knowledge and experience from across the world for a concerted effort to improve
the agriculture productivity at the ground level in our country. As Chairman of DSCL, Mr Ajay Shriram has been a strong
proponent of the need to improve the last mile delivery of knowledge and products to small and marginal Indian farmer to
enable him improve his productivity and thereby profitability. DSCL is a major contributor through its agri-input business
and Hariyali rural retail venture through which it reaches out to a very large number of farmers across the co

CII mooted 100 days agricultural action plan for G


The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) today made recommendations to the new Government on the 100 days action
plan. Titled “Economic Agenda for Action: CII Suggestions”, the paper aims at addressing resilience and competitiveness of
the Indian economy. Releasing the paper, Mr. Venu Srinivasan, President, CII said, “During the last year, the economy has
had to face significant challenges due to the onset of the global financial and economic crisis”. The paper urges the
government to promote public-private partnership in infrastructure by easing norms and financing mechanisms. It also
moots the establishment of Land Bank Corporations to acquire non-cultivable land to ease land acquisition. In agriculture
the paper calls for effective redesign of The Model APMC Act for particular sectors such mandis and horticultures for uniform
implementation. It also recommends moving towards a common market for farm produce. CII calls for the incentivisation of
private investment in agriculture, agri infrastructure and extension services and create policies geared for building linkages
between farms and markets. Food safety and quality regulations should also be implemented, added CII. He further added
that “It is imperative that the Government takes concrete steps in strengthening policies that will promote employment and
growth across the key sectors of agriculture, industry and services along with driving investment in infrastructure and
manufacturing. We would volunteer for an opportunity to work with the Government in a spirit of collaboration.”

Govt plans to revive import of edible oil


A meeting of the committee of secretaries on Wednesday discussed a comprehensive plan for import of 7 million tonne of
edible oil and 3 million tonne of pulses to meet demand from states after a possible revival of the subsidised edible oils and
pulses distribution programme after polls. However, sources told FE that no final decision on the imports and a probable
date for revival of the subsidised pulses and edible oils distribution programme could be taken because of the election code
of conduct. Of the 7 million tonne of edible oil imports, nearly 1 to 1.5 million tonne will be imported by public sector
undertakings and the balance by the private sector agencies for own use. Similarly, of the 3 million tonne of pulses, 1.5
million tonne will be imported by PSUs and the rest by the private agencies. In May last year, the central government
announced a scheme to sell around 1.0 million tonne of edible oils through the public distribution programme at subsidised
rates to check the spurt in local market prices. However, the scheme could not become fully successful because of sudden
and sharp drop in domestic and international prices of edible oils, leading to a cut in demand from states. State-run
agencies imported much less edible oil against a target of 1 million tonne because of poor demand from states and drop in
requirement. A similar scheme to distribute pulses at cheap rates through the public distribution system also couldn’t take
off in the right earnest because of differences among states on the variety of pulses to be sold. The scheme for distribution
of edible oils at subsidised rates through the PDS came to an end on March 31. "If the import has to be made now it will
have to be done by the private parties. The scheme for distribution of edible through PDS will now be revived only after the
formation of a new government at the centre," official sources noted. India’s pulses and oilseed production is far less than
demand making the country one of the biggest importers of these two commodities. As per the second advance estimates
for 2008-09, pulses production in the country is estimated to be around 14.25 million tonne as against 14.34 million tonne
for 2007-08. Oilseeds production in 2008-09 is estimated to be around 12.7% less than last year’s actual output of 25.96
million tonne. During November 2008- February 2009, the total import of edible oils is reported at 28.25 lakh tonne as
compared to 15.13 lakh tonne during the corresponding period of last year, an increase of about 86.75%.

ISMA revises sugar output by 5%


Indian Sugar Mills Association (ISMA), the apex body of the private sector mills in India, has revised sugar output estimate
for the current season (October-September) by 5 per cent to 14.7 million tonnes (MT), the association said in a release on
Wednesday. The country’s output as on April 15 has already surpassed 13.9 MT. 35 mills were operational on the said date.
The association however said that contracts to import 1.3 MT of raw sugar had been made. Government has also permitted
government trading agencies like MMTC and others to import refined sugar to control prices. The fall has been seen only in
futures whereas spot prices have not shown similar trend as imported refined sugar has not reached the market as yet.
“Taking into account the present situation, total sugar production for the season may exceed 14.7 MT. With the opening
stock of 8 MT, total availability would work out to 22.7 MT,” ISMA President Samir Somaiya said. The country’s annual
consumption is estimated to be 21-22 MT. However, this output would be a decline of over 44 per cent from last year’s
production. The dip can be attributed to lower acreage under sugarcane and over 10 per cent drop in the recovery. Raw
sugar imports to the tune of 1.3 MT have also been contracted. Of this, 900,000 tonnes have already arrived, the release
said. The government has allowed duty free import of raw sugar to augment domestic availability. It also sanctioned duty-
free import of 1MT refined sugar by government agencies. Stock limits have been imposed on traders to discourage
hoarding and higher quota has been allocated for open market sale.

Agriculture Today organises RTC on Agriculture & E


A round table conference on “Global economic slow down and Indian agriculture” was organized by Agriculture Today Group
at Public Library of IARI, New Delhi on 24th April, 2009. Professor M.S. Swaminathan chaired the event and many
dignitaries such as Dr. C.D. Mayee, Chairman, ASRB, Dr. Mohan Kanda, Member, National Disaster Management Authority,
Dr. H.S Gupta, Director, IARI, Dr. M.P Varshney, VC, GAU, Anand, Dr. D.P. Ray, VC, OUAT, Bhubaneshwar, Mr.Andrew
Lam, Agri Counselor, Canada High Commission, Mr. RC Gupta, DDG, FAI, Mr. R. G. Agrawal, Chairman, CCFI, Dr. T. Haq,
Former Chairman, CACP participated. More than 50 participants representing different companies and government
departments were present at the occasion who took this opportunity to share their inputs and thought provoking ideas and
views on the global meltdown and its impact on agriculture. Dr. Hari Shankar Gupta, Director, IARI while welcoming the
gathering believed that the unemployment situation created by lay-offs due to the recession may prove to be a blessing in
disguise for agriculture and development in rural areas due to reverse migration. While opening the session, Mr. M.J. Khan,
Chief Editor, Agriculture Today said “the economic meltdown has done much harm to the food, beverages, FMCG and
energy sector, as these meets our basic necessities, but the prices fluctuated wildly, without any economics. Bayer, CFL,
ITC, Monsanto, Rallis India and Advanta India, the major agri-business corporates shares have not been affected much
during the same period, when major IT and other manufacturing and service firms’ market value crashed/ got the beating
of economic recession. The exports of textile, marine products and processed foods were affected to some extent. But there
lies opportunity for companies to streamline operations and shed off the extra burden in terms of lay-offs to get more
efficiency”. Addressing the participants, Dr. M.S Swaminathan, M.P (Rajya Sabha) said there is no clear cut effect of
recession on the farm sector but to some extent the export has been affected, particularly the textile and plantation sector.
However, he suggested that we should stimulate consumption in the country as 92% of our produce is consumed locally.
Regarding agricultural development, he suggested strengthening of the post harvest infrastructure in the form of rural
godowns and warehouses not only for the food grains but also for fresh fruits and vegetables, adoption of IPM & INM
system, strengthening of agriculture extension services through social engineering and social mobilization at the Panchayat
level. He was very critical about the hunger and malnutrition status in the country, “We should ensure that malnutrition and
hunger is removed in the next 10 years”, he asserted. He also stressed on the availability of quality human resources for
the development of the sector, “Over 60% of our population is below the age of 35 years and the very big challenge is to
attract and retain the young generation in agriculture”. He also proposed for the establishment of a separate think tank for
framing agriculture policy. Dr. Mohan Kanda, Member, NDMA said that Indian economy has shown resilience to the
meltdown compared to other countries but we have to be very cautious as we are going through liberalisation, privatization
and globalization. “Our society is very conservative so the effect has not reached to its root. Moreover, a solid and firm
base for food production has negated the effect of the economic recession”, he said. He feels that the lending rate of banks
and financial institutions to the rural sector has decreased over the years but on the positive side it has reduced the impact
of recession on the farm sector. Dr. C.D Mayee, Chairman, ASRB said that the climate change and economic slowdown are
the two sides of the same coin, “Ultimately, global economic slowdown will damage the ecological aspects”, he said.
However, Mr. Mayee is confident that the economic slowdown will create more awareness about agriculture in the
parliament and as a result there will be more activity and development in the sector. He also said that in the near future
agriculture profession will see more elite people and there will be a renewed interest in the sector. Dr. Ramesh Chandra
from National Centre for Agriculture Policy asserted that recession has not affected agriculture to a large extent but at
micro level it has affected India’s export, increased competition in trade and a decline in demand for energy. He further
said that India is not insulated from the global melt down and much would depend upon terms of trade and trade policy for
agriculture. “There is a need to ensure that economic slowdown does not affect the Public sector investments in agriculture
and the credit flow to agriculture” he said. However, high quality and high value products, and organic products will be
affected more adversely, he said. Moreover, he suggested that policies are needed to counter adverse effect on export and
to safeguard against import. “Prevalent trade policy for agriculture is just opposite of what it should be during global
recession. Rather than pushing export, there is ban or restrictions on export of those commodities where we have surplus”,
he concluded. Addressing the conference, Mr. Andrew Lam, Agriculture Counselor, Canada High Commission said that
better and transparent agriculture trade relation between the two countries will help to beat the recession. “The major
challenges in Indian agriculture are subsistence farming, poor post harvest infrastructure and lack of a proper supply chain.
Both India and Canada can partner to develop the sector and increase the efficiency of farming”, he said. Dr. T. Haq,
Former Chairman, CACP told that recession effect is non significant but it is not nil. He also called for drastic changes in the
government policies, more specifically fixing of MSPs and urged for the adoption of the recommendations of National
Commission of Farmers for overall growth of the farm sector. Dr. M.P Varshney, Vice Chancellor, AAU, Anand said that
recession effect is seen only in the luxury items like diamond industry of Surat, which has suffered from the meltdown and
totally collapsed. The workers migrated to their villages and engaged themselves in farming. He said that food and
agriculture industry is generally recession proof but to some extent the biodiesel and international trade has been affected.
“India’s agribusinesses should revert to the basics. Manage costs, work on improving productivity, examine and re-examine
the economics of any proposed expansion before increasing debt or using-up capital”, he suggested. Mr. R.C. Gupta, DDG,
FAI said that recession in the farm sector has been shielded by the government protectionist attitude in the form of MSPs
and subsidies. As the subsidy burden of the government has reached an unsustainable level, the industry expects some
bold and effective steps by the government to resolve the situation, he said. The Indian fertilizer industry today is one of
the most regulated industries in the world. “The industry in the long run would prefer to be de-regulated and be allowed to
operate like any other industry”, he added. R.G. Agrawal, Chairman, Crop Care Federation of India said slowdown of
economy will not have much effect on agriculture. However, he feels that the extension system should be strengthened in
the country, “ The T&V system developed during the Green Revolution period was successful but after that whatever
system was developed did not succeed. There is an urgent need for revival of the same ”, he said. Other distinguished
participants who presented their views on the issue included Mr. Ian Mottimer, Agri Counselor, Australia High Commission,
Mr. Raju Kapoor, President, Jubilant Organysys; Mr. P.G Chengappa, Vice Chacellor, UAS, Bangalore; Dr. Gajendra Singh,
Former Vice Chancellor, Doon University; Mr. Pankaj Mishra of Rural Mart A new monthly magazine in Hindi from the
Agriculture Today Group called Krishi Today was launched in the august presence of Dr.M.S Swaminathan. The magazine
has been conceptualized with a view to disseminate information of relevance to farmers, extension workers, government
officials ,agriculture industries and rural masses. The magazine will play a frontal role in creating awareness amongst
farmers and all those associated with agriculture in the hindi heartland of India.

New approach to mango farming can help raise yield


A novel approach to mango cultivation can help shorten the gestation period of the crop, while also improving its yield. Jain
Irrigation Systems, which is involved in hi-tech agriculture in the country, has tried out this approach departing from
traditional farming practices, with particular reference to plant spacing. The firm has gone in for ultra high density planting
(UHDP), wherein treeds are planted closer than the traditional method. It tried out this method as well as medium density
planting adopting 4.5m X 4.5M spacing at Jalgaon in Maharashtra. According to Dr Soman, Senior Vice-President of Jain
Irrigations Systems, initially, an area of 4.5 acres was covered with grafts of commercial varieties such as Alphonso and
Ratna. Later, it was expanded to 50 acres with 1,309 grafts being planted in 3m X 2m spacing and 2,976 plants in 3m X 1m
spacing. Before this, Jain Irrigations converted a farm at Ellaymuthur village in Coimbatore district of Tamil Nadu, taken
over from a renowned business firm in 2005 during the first phase of its project. The farm was converted into a hi-tech
one. “While the location was strategic (on the Coimbatore-Udumalpet stretch – about 21 km on the Munnar route), the
challenge was in developing water resources within the farm, because it is in the rain shadow area and at the time of take
over, the fields were water-starved,” he said. Under the first UDHP for mangoes in the country, special pruning and canopy
management techniques were adopted the orchards were ready for commercial production from the third year of planning.
“Mango has a long gestation period. We were able to reduce it from nine years to five in medium density planting and
further down to four in UHDP. The yield is no less. The yield/hectare for high volume varieties under traditional planting
methods is 10 tonnes. It rose to 18 tonnes/ha under medium density planting. Though it is still early to say much on the
yield levels under UHDP, we expect it to touch 25 tonnes/ha from high volume varieties and 12 tonnes/ha in low bearer
varieties. The trees have started to fruit even in the third year and the volume is also high,” Dr Soman said. Thanks to
modern technology and research, it is now possible to have “draw-fed mango trees” of six to seven feet height which would
not only allow access to the fruit directly, but also increase its yield. Rejuvenating old trees asked how the company helped
the existing (older) mango gardens improve yield levels, he said: “We help rejuvenate old trees, regulate the canopy and
do the topping. UHDP requires intensive pruning.” On cost, he said: “The planting cost ranges between Rs 60 and Rs 70 a
tree in the first year. After establishing the plant, the expense would work out to Rs 12,000 an acre (including labour cost,
but excluding the spend on irrigation.” The variety that is raised is not as important as the technology, said Dr Soman.
Despite efforts to expand area under mango and strengthen yield/hectare, Dr Soman envisages a shortage of the fruit this
year. “It is seasonal. While the yield has been good in the South, it is not so in the North. The price/kg of the fresh fruit
could, therefore, rule high this season,” he said. Varieties such as Himampasand and Banganapalli are for table
consumption. Pulp is extracted from select commercial varieties such as Alphonso and Totapuri (Bangalora). Dr Soman also
said the idea of mango being an irrigated crop was catching up, especially with Andhra Pradesh taking the lead in this. “But
Tamil Nadu is proving to be a hard nut to crack,” he said. He told Business Line from Jalgaon in Maharashtra that “irrigation
is required particularly during April-May. But the knowledge, awareness level amongst growers is very poor. We conduct
programmes in the mango growing belts in Tamil Nadu and Andhra between October and April on irrigation, fertigation and
canopy management and at the end of the season, take the farmers on a tour of the mango farms. Last year alone, we
handled 29 batches of farmers and the response has been phenomenal.”

GI status for basmati in 2 months


BASMATI rice, grown exclusively in India and Pakistan, may soon have a protection against unscrupulous patenting of the
grain. The Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (Apeda) is likely to receive geographical
indications (GI) for basmati in next two months, which will help the agency to register it in Europe so that India gets trade
advantage in international fora. “Apeda had applied to the authority in Chennai to register ‘basmati’ as a GI product on
November 28 last year and may receive the approval by May,” an industry official said. Only special products, produced in a
particular geographical location or region, can be registered under geographical indications. Registering a product under GI
in a foreign country gives exclusive right to the country of origin and disallows other nations to use that particular name.
Besides, it bars granting patent right of the word, basmati in this case. But there is a pre-condition that a product has to be
first registered under GI in the country of origin before applied in other countries. Rice exporters along with government
officials of both India and Pakistan had been discussing the issue of joint registration of basmati as a GI in Europe and other
countries for the past 4-5 years. The last talk was held in Pakistan on November 7, 2008. But, Apeda went ahead with the
registration process following one body in Lahore — Basmati Growers Association — acquiring the trade mark on the word
‘basmati’ from the registrar of trade marks in Pakistan. Apeda has challenged the decision in Karachi High Court, said the
official of the All India Rice Exporters Association.

FMC eases position limits for agriculture commodit


Commodity market regulator Forward Markets Commission have liberalised open position limits, a restriction imposed on
the quantity of commodities traded, and have also introduced an early delivery mechanism to boost agriculture commodity
trade on bourses. "We have revised open position limits for 'near month' period to increase liquidity and also taken
measures to improve delivery of commodities on exchanges," FMC Chairman B C Khatua told. The regulator, which has
taken decision in this regard in January, said that the position limits for 'near month' are now applicable for minimum seven
days before the expiry of the contract, while earlier it was fixed for 30 days, which restricted traders to trade in higher
quantity and as a result volumes started falling on the exchanges. The revised norm will help trader maximise trade
quantity before the specified time limit," FMC member Rajeev Aggarwal said.

CPRI released potato variety for French fries


Central Potato Research Institute (CPRI), Shimla, has released a new potato variety Kufri Frysona. This is the first ever
potato variety from India suitable for French fries. The trials conducted on the variety have shown its suitability for
cultivation in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal. The variety produces long tubers with more
than 20% dry matter. According to a report the breeder seeds will be produced after it is notified either by the state or
central variety release committee. However, its quality seed as well as disease-free in-vitro planting material will be
available to farmers from next year. Dr. SK Pandey, Director, CPRI shared “ it was a good sign that potato production was
increasing with the advent of several new high-yielding varieties like Kufri Pushkar for the entire Indo-Gangetic belt, Kufri
Sadabahar for Uttar Pradesh, Kufri Surya for warmer areas like Karnataka and Maharashtra”. The potato processing sector
had slowly emerged as a very large industry with more than 35-40 processing units located in various parts of the country.
They were engaged in value-added products like potato powder, chips and French fries. The development of indigenous
high dry varieties of Kufri Chipson series has given boost to the sector in recent years. It is estimated that by 2010-11,
nearly 10% of the total potato produced in the country will be consumed by the processing industry, which at present is
merely 4.5%. This will provide good returns to the farmers on one hand and will also absorb excess supplies during a glut.
As per CPRI, the area under potato rose by almost 547% since the 50s, while yield rose by 267% and overall output
jumped by 146%. In 2008-09, potato production is estimated to be around 28 million tonnes as against 25 million tonnes
achieved last year. The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) had declared 2008 as the International Year of Potato and
stated that the wonder crop may provide answers to critical food security problems faced by a large number of under-
developed countries.

Muhammad Yunus criticises loan waiver scheme


Nobel laureate and ‘father of micro credit’ Muhammad Yunus has faulted the government’s farm loan waiver scheme. “If
you borrow, you need to pay, otherwise the banking system would not work’’, Yunus said at the Idea Exchange of the
Express Group. Yunus’ point was that governments should not promote the concept of loan waiver, as people, irrespective
of their economic means, must develop the habit paying back the loans. “You can give a cash grant instead to help farmers
pay back the loan”, but there is no doubt that waivers do not help, he said. Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank in
Bangladesh in 1983, pointed to the bank’s recovery rate of more than 99% despite a crippling poverty ratio of 41% as per
Unicef data. He attributed this to the bank’s insistence on recovery, by providing support services. The bank with more than
7.7 million borrowers has a turnover of $1.2 billion. Yunus said a moderate rate of interest and a humane banking system
that extended loan tenures were reason enough for the poor to stay invested. For instance, each branch of the Grameen
Bank transforms itself into a relief centre during any natural calamity and supports the borrowers in rebuilding their lives
through ‘fresh loans’. “If people get back on their feet the banks also become much stronger,” he said. Though the ruling
UPA’s Rs 64,000-crore agricultural loan waiver had received a thumbs-down from Yunus, he praised the National Rural
Employment Guarantee Act, which he said was a better template to help out the poor. The model has been adopted by the
Bangladesh government too. He said the government should not stop providing 100 days of employment as stipulated
under the Act but use the window to provide access to productive work for them. Otherwise, the support system would
have to continue indefinitely.

Farm credit may reach Rs 2.5 lakh cr in 2008-09


Agricultural credit is likely to reach Rs 2.50 lakh crore during 2008-09, falling short of the targeted Rs 2.80 lakh crore. As
per the provisional data, credit to the farm sector has reached Rs 2.13 lakh crore till February and is expected to touch Rs
2.50 lakh crore during the entire 2008-09 fiscal, a senior government official said on Wednesday. Asked when the data will
be available, he said the figure is provisional as collecting information from all the banks take time. The government had
set a target of Rs 2.80 lakh crore as agriculture credit disbursal for the 2008-09 fiscal, of which commercial banks’ share
was Rs 1.95 lakh crore while cooperative banks were projected to extend Rs 55,000 crore and regional rural banks (RRBs)
Rs 30,000 crore. According to the mid-year review of the economy, farm loans worth Rs 95,064 crore have been disbursed
between April and September.

India to adopt Israeli tech to increase mango yiel


India will soon adopt an Israeli technology to rejuvenate mango trees that will increase the productivity of the crop.
National Horticultural Board has placed orders for two Israeli machines, Canopy Management Pruning Machine, which can
mechanically rejuvenate trees in large areas, NHB managing director Bijay Kumar told PTI. “Even as the area under mango
production is increasing every year, the productivity has not gone up as there is an urgent need for rejuvenation of the
trees, but farmers are averse to cut or prune their plants which is affecting productivity," he said. The machines are a set of
five equipment, which can pluck fruits that reduces post harvest losses and can also be used for spraying, Kumar said,
adding each machine will cost Rs 25 lakh. “We can also use the machines for plucking and spraying on coconut and
arecanut trees,” Kumar said. “The first machine will arrive within a month and we will give it to the Indian Institute of
Horticultural Research (Bangalore). The other will arrive in June and it would be given to the Central Institute for
Subtropical Horticulture (Lucknow) for better acclimation, he said. Currently 40% of the total fruit area is covered under
mango cultivation covering about 2.2 million hectare. The total production this year is likely to be at par with last year,
which stood at 14 million tonne. "We are giving the machines initially to IIHR and CISH so that they study the usage of the
technology as they have large farmlands under them and also can give further inputs for developing such equipment in the
country," Kumar pointed out. The NHB Managing Director said, along with Canopy Management Pruning Machine NHB would
give a small Indian made cutting machine, that can be used with a tractor, to the institute so that scientists can make
comparative studies and develop a better technology for the benefit of farmers. Kumar said, both the institutes would
further give these equipment to farmers after charging a nominal amount from them.

RIL inks gas supply pacts with 12 fertilizer cos


Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) on Friday formally signed gas sale and purchase agreements (GSPA) with 12 urea
manufacturers in a move that may result in annual fertilizer subsidy savings of Rs 3,000 crore for the Centre. The GSPA
involved supply of 15 million standard cubic metres per day (mscmd) of natural gas from its Krishna Godavari basin D6
block to 15 urea units across the country. These belong to Nagarjuna Fertilizers and Chemicals Ltd, IFFCO, KRIBHCO,
Gujarat State Fertilizer Company, National Fertilizers Ltd, Tata Chemicals Ltd, Chambal Fertilizers and Chemicals Ltd, Indo
Gulf Fertilizers Ltd, Shriram Fertilizers and Chemicals Ltd, Gujarat Narmada Valley Fertilizer Company, and KRIBHCO-
Shyam Fertilizers. The companies also signed gas transportation agreements with Reliance Gas Transportation
Infrastructure Ltd (RGTIL), a Reliance Group company. The East-West pipeline built by RGTIL would be used to transport
gas from D6 block to fertilizer units by inter-connecting with pipelines belonging to GAIL (India) Ltd and Gujarat State
Petronet Ltd (GSPL). Mr. P.M.S. Prasad, President and CEO (Petroleum), RIL, claimed that the supply of D6 gas to these
units would help enhance the country’s urea production by approximately seven million tonnes per annum (from the
existing 20 mt). “We expect this to reduce our fertilizer subsidy bill by Rs 2,000-3,000 crore annually,” Mr. Atul Chaturvedi,
Secretary, Department of Fertilizers, told press persons. The GSPA envisages supply of D6 gas at a landfall price of $4.2
per mBtu. This price excludes pipeline transmission tariff, marketing margin, and State levies. The gas is expected to be
available to customers in Andhra Pradesh such as Nagarjuna Fertilizers’ Kakinada plants at $5.7-5.8 per mBtu and those in
Maharashtra and Gujarat in the region of $6 per mBtu. RIL has levied a marketing margin of 13.5 cents per mBtu. Though
the transmission tariff is to be decided by the Petroleum & Natural Gas Regulatory Board, RGTIL has indicated a range to its
customers. The tariff would be levied on the volume of the gas and could range from $0.17 to $0.45 within Andhra Pradesh
and $0.93 outside the State. The initial production from the D6 block is estimated at 40 mmscmd, of which 15 mmscmd is
to be supplied to the fertilizer sector. The gas is expected to start flowing in the next few days and supplies will begin from
mid-April. RIL plans to start production with 10-12 mscmd of gas in April and will be ramped-up to 40 mmscmd by July and
reach peak production of 80 mscmd in a year. The Petroleum Secretary, Mr. R.S. Pandey, said that a separate agreement
between GAIL and fertilizer companies for transporting D6 gas through the public sector gas transporter will be signed
shortly. This will facilitate supply of the gas to customers in the North including IFFCO and National Fertilizers. A major
concern expressed by the fertilizer industry was on gas supplies to urea units in the event of decline in production from the
fields. “Both sides have agreed that the gas allocation in such a circumstance will be left to the EGoM,” a fertilizer industry
source said. In case of any other disruptions there is a force majeure clause. As regards an agreement with the power
companies for gas supply, Mr. Prasad said, “We are waiting to get a list of power companies and then initiate talks. We
have already sent draft agreement for Ratnagiri Gas and Power Pvt Ltd (erstwhile Dabhol).”

RIL inks gas supply pacts with 12 fertilizer cos


Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) on Friday formally signed gas sale and purchase agreements (GSPA) with 12 urea
manufacturers in a move that may result in annual fertilizer subsidy savings of Rs 3,000 crore for the Centre. The GSPA
involved supply of 15 million standard cubic metres per day (mscmd) of natural gas from its Krishna Godavari basin D6
block to 15 urea units across the country. These belong to Nagarjuna Fertilizers and Chemicals Ltd, IFFCO, KRIBHCO,
Gujarat State Fertilizer Company, National Fertilizers Ltd, Tata Chemicals Ltd, Chambal Fertilizers and Chemicals Ltd, Indo
Gulf Fertilizers Ltd, Shriram Fertilizers and Chemicals Ltd, Gujarat Narmada Valley Fertilizer Company, and KRIBHCO-
Shyam Fertilizers. The companies also signed gas transportation agreements with Reliance Gas Transportation
Infrastructure Ltd (RGTIL), a Reliance Group company. The East-West pipeline built by RGTIL would be used to transport
gas from D6 block to fertilizer units by inter-connecting with pipelines belonging to GAIL (India) Ltd and Gujarat State
Petronet Ltd (GSPL). Mr. P.M.S. Prasad, President and CEO (Petroleum), RIL, claimed that the supply of D6 gas to these
units would help enhance the country’s urea production by approximately seven million tonnes per annum (from the
existing 20 mt). “We expect this to reduce our fertilizer subsidy bill by Rs 2,000-3,000 crore annually,” Mr. Atul Chaturvedi,
Secretary, Department of Fertilizers, told press persons. The GSPA envisages supply of D6 gas at a landfall price of $4.2
per mBtu. This price excludes pipeline transmission tariff, marketing margin, and State levies. The gas is expected to be
available to customers in Andhra Pradesh such as Nagarjuna Fertilizers’ Kakinada plants at $5.7-5.8 per mBtu and those in
Maharashtra and Gujarat in the region of $6 per mBtu. RIL has levied a marketing margin of 13.5 cents per mBtu. Though
the transmission tariff is to be decided by the Petroleum & Natural Gas Regulatory Board, RGTIL has indicated a range to its
customers. The tariff would be levied on the volume of the gas and could range from $0.17 to $0.45 within Andhra Pradesh
and $0.93 outside the State. The initial production from the D6 block is estimated at 40 mmscmd, of which 15 mmscmd is
to be supplied to the fertilizer sector. The gas is expected to start flowing in the next few days and supplies will begin from
mid-April. RIL plans to start production with 10-12 mscmd of gas in April and will be ramped-up to 40 mmscmd by July and
reach peak production of 80 mscmd in a year. The Petroleum Secretary, Mr. R.S. Pandey, said that a separate agreement
between GAIL and fertilizer companies for transporting D6 gas through the public sector gas transporter will be signed
shortly. This will facilitate supply of the gas to customers in the North including IFFCO and National Fertilizers. A major
concern expressed by the fertilizer industry was on gas supplies to urea units in the event of decline in production from the
fields. “Both sides have agreed that the gas allocation in such a circumstance will be left to the EGoM,” a fertilizer industry
source said. In case of any other disruptions there is a force majeure clause. As regards an agreement with the power
companies for gas supply, Mr. Prasad said, “We are waiting to get a list of power companies and then initiate talks. We
have already sent draft agreement for Ratnagiri Gas and Power Pvt Ltd (erstwhile Dabhol).”

MFI Bandhan unlocks capital by selling Rs 180-cr f


BANDHAN, one of the country’s leading micro-finance institutions (MFI), has sold agricultural loans totalling Rs 180 crore to
a host of commercial banks including Punjab National Bank (PNB) in order to free up its resources. This move would help
Bandhan to grow business without raising capital from the market. The banks, in turn, will gain as the bought-out loans will
boost their agriculture lending ratios. Banks are stipulated to maintain a minimum 18% total agricultural advances of their
total net bank credit. Typically, such deals happen when a fiscal draws to an end. Private Banks especially become
aggressive in buying out loan portfolios from cooperative banks, regional rural banks and MFIs to meet priority sector
lending targets. In this particular case, Bandhan has sold Rs 60 crore worth of agri loans to PNB. It has sold loans worth Rs
75 crore to IndusInd Bank, Rs 25 crore to Development Credit Bank (DCB) and Rs 20 crore to Kotak Mahindra Bank.
Bandhan chairman and managing director Chandra Shekhar Ghosh said the deals have been struck in the spate of last 10
days. Senior officials from PNB and DCB have confirmed the development. The DCB official was, however, silent on the size
of the deal. Concerned officials from IndusInd Bank and Kotak Mahindra Bank could not be contacted. “This move will free
up capital and help us grow lending business without raising resources. This will also improve our capital adequacy ratio to
15% from 12%,” Bandhan chairman and managing director Chandra Sekhar Ghosh told ET. MFIs that are registered as
nonbanking finance companies must maintain CAR of a minimum 15% from 2009-10. This move will put pressure of these
entities to shore up capital adequacy ratio (CAR). Prior to this development, Bandhan had outstanding agriculture loans to
the tune of Rs 250 crore while its total lending portfolio stood at nearly Rs 700 crore. Consequent upon the latest deals, the
size of the size of its outstanding agri loan and total loan portfolios stand reduced to about Rs 70 crore and Rs 520 crore
respectively. Cumulatively, it disbursed loans over Rs 2,000 crore since its inception in July 2002.

Wheat prices start falling on higher production


WHEAT prices have begun to dip in anticipation of the high 78-milliontonne production adding to last year’s leftovers,
causing storage problem and a glut in the domestic market. This has raised demands that the government fix a date for
removing the two-year ban on exports to clear the massive surplus and create space. The government has committed to in-
principle lifting the ban on exports of wheat and wheat products in May after the general elections are over, but no date is
fixed yet. The anticipation of an imminent overcrowding in the wheat market has pushed down wheat prices this week by
Rs 20 per quintal to Rs 1,580 (March 25) from Rs 1,600 per quintal. That this is not part of a general trend of declining
prices is evident in that prices of tur dal, urad dal, moong dal, gram dal, maida and sooji all remained largely unchanged.
The state agencies are expected to buy an estimated 24 million tonnes in the 2009-10 season, compared to 22.5 million
tonnes last year, when official purchases begin on April 1. With 25% of the current stock lying in the open, the arrival of
fresh harvest and procurement would create more problems of storage, therefore the need for exports. In early March, an
empowered group of ministers (EGoM) had decided in-principle to lift the two-year-old ban on exports of wheat and wheat
products in May, after the general elections were over — lower wheat and food prices are expected to soften up voters
towards the governing combine of parties. A notification is expected in May, after which two million tonnes of wheat are
expected to be shipped out. As a preamble, Bangladesh bought some wheat from India this week. Wheat exports were
banned in February 2007, following poor state procurement for welfare programmes. This led to high-priced wheat imports.
However, it is likely the export market may not be remunerative by the time the country starts exporting. The International
Grains Council (IGC) estimated in its monthly report on Thursday that world wheat production should fall to 651 million
tonnes in 2009-10, down from a record 688 million in 2008-09 with area expected to fall by 1%. It said, however, that
wheat carryover stocks for 2009-10 would be higher, rising by 11 million to 171 million, since consumption was expected to
fall to 640 million from 643 million in 2008-09 due to a drop in animal feed use. So, while the traditional logic dictates that
the lower output of wheat globally spells higher prices, the lower consumption and higher carryover stocks could nullify that
to an extent.

RIL hikes gas margin, fert cos oppose


Fertilizer companies have raised objections to a revised draft agreement drawn up by Reliance Industries Ltd for buying gas
from its Andhra offshore field. The companies have protested against an increase in marketing margin to be levied by the
Mukesh Ambani-controlled company that is poised to start pumping shortly. TOI had first reported on March 3 that the
fertilizer companies were refusing to ink deals with Reliance saying the draft of the agreement is heavily loaded in favour of
the Mukesh Ambani-controlled company and puts conditions that do not suit Indian entities. They have now baulked at the
revised draft as it raises the margin to 15 cents per mBtu from 12 cents.

Hybrid Rice Conference to focus on R&D and Trade


The 2nd National Conference on Hybrid Rice organised by Food and Agriculture Council in Lucknow on 4th April, 2009 will
focus on R&D and Trade related issues, said MJ Khan, Director General, FAC in a press release in New Delhi today. Besides
R&D and Trade, the conference will discuss the national and international scenario in hybrid rice, production and policy
related issues and Governmental purchase and price interventions. Seminar deliberations will more specifically focus on
Uttar Pradesh, which accounts for almost 50% of the hybrid rice production in the country, which is estimated at 8,000 MT
annually, said MJ Khan while confirming that the roadmap of the seminar shall be presented to GOI and various state
Governments for implementation so that hybrid rice production could unlock its true potential. Renowned hybrid rice
experts from India and US are participating, besides senior seed industry executives and top officials from Central and
State Governments. The three sessions will be chaired by Vice Chancellors of SKUAT, Jammu, Dr. B Mishra, GBPUAT, Dr.
BS Bisht and NDUAT VC, Dr. Basant Ram, said MJ Khan

Foodgrain production to increase 2.2%: CMIE


Foodgrain production is expected to increase by 2.2% in 2008-09, the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) has
said in its monthly review here. CMIE expects total foodgrain production to reach 234 million tonnes as compared to 230
million tonnes during 2007-08, an increase of 2.2%. Kharif acreage was down by 2.4% in 2008 due to absence of rains in
the crucial sowing month of July. But increased acreage and favourable weather conditions are expected to boost rabi
production of crops, the CMIE report said. Despite expectation of higher foodgrain output, “our projection for growth in total
crop production during 2008-09 stands revised downwards to 1.2% from our earlier estimate of 2.5%,” it said. The scaling
down of growth rate of 2008-09 was due to an upward revision in the government food crops in 2008-09,” it added.

US initiates probe into India’s steps on farm impo


Concerned over its low share in India’s farm sector imports, the US has initiated an investigation into protectionist
measures undertaken by New Delhi and their bearing on American exports. “The US International Trade Commission (ITC)
has launched an investigation into the effects of tariff and non-tariff measures on US agricultural exports to India,” ITC said
on its website. The investigation follows a complaint by the US Senate Committee on Finance, which highlighted the issue
of “disproportionately low US share in India’s agricultural imports”. “While US exporters can provide individual examples of
trade measures that prevent their sales to India, the extent to which trade and investment measures account for the
disproportionately low US share of India’s agricultural imports remains largely undocumented,” the Committee on Finance
said in the letter to ITC. As per the Economic Research Service of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the India-US
agricultural trade has been expanding at 9 per cent every year since 1990, reaching $17 billion in 2007. However, as per
estimates, India maintains a large positive agricultural trade balance with the US as its exports to America was $1.2 billion,
while Washington's exports to India stood at $475 million.

Parle Agro, Dabur gear up to take on multinational


In a bid to take on multinational giants, home-grown brands Parle Agro and Dabur India are drawing up aggressive growth
plans to pump up volumes. Dabur India is entering into sub-contract manufacturing arrangement with local companies in
order to increase its production capacity. “To counter the multinational competition, Dabur is gearing up to foray into the
branded fruit drinks sector within a month,” said Amit Burman, vice-chairman of Dabur India Ltd. On the other hand, the Rs
950-crore Parle Agro Ltd is heavily investing on building up its retail visibility through various merchandise, to promote its
water brand Bailley, which directly competes with Coke’s Kinley and PepsiCo’s Aquafina in the Indian market place.
“Defying the economic slowdown, the Rs 85,000-crore Indian FMCG industry is steadily growing. With increasing
competition between MNCs and swadeshi players, the sector will further grow this financial year,” said an industry analyst
based in Mumbai. On Dabur’s growth strategy, Burman said, “We are increasing our advertising budget to launch new ad
campaigns to announce our new launches in Q4. We are looking at launching a new fruit drink this summer.” At present,
the company is fine-tuning its mass media campaign to announce its new launch next month. According to Burman, the
company has tied with local companies in western India for sub-contract manufacturing facility. “Our marketing focus will
also be on ground promotions at retail chains across the country,” he added. Across the road, Parle Agro is in the process of
rolling out its first lemon drink ‘LMN’ to take on PepsiCo and Coca-Cola’s lemon brands in India. On the company’s new
initiative, Nadia Chauhan, joint managing director and CMO, Parle Agro said, “We have developed this brand keeping in
mind Indian preferences. It is without any doubt that, only an Indian company can understand what real nimbu pani tastes
like and what the Indian consumer wants in a packaged offering.” At present, Parle Agro has three major business verticals
- beverages, packaged drinking water and confectionery. According to Chauhan, Parle Agro’s growth strategy for its water
brand will be aggressive, with large amount of retail activity taking place. “Besides our constant efforts towards increase of
distribution for our water brand, we are also investing a large amount on building up retail visibility. We plan to increase
our water manufacturing factories from the current 30 to proposed 60 this year,” she explained. On Parle Agro’s
confectionery business Chauhan said the company would continue to focus on increasing its distribution base, creating a
strong rural base and gradually establishing each of its brands. “In the confectionery category the rural markets contribute
as much to the business in India as the urban markets do and there lies a huge opportunity for us. Our confectionery
products lie in the 50 paisa and Re 1 category,” she added. According to industry analysts, the Indian FMCG sector will
witness a major tussle between swadeshi and videshi players in the next few months.

Govt allows export of 2 million tonne non-basmati


The government is believed to have allowed the export of 2 million tonne of non-basmati rice and increased the allocation
of rice and wheat to states for supply through ration shops. An empowered group of ministers (eGoM) on food, which met
on Thursday had decided to allow the shipment of non-basmati rice through diplomatic channels, official sources said. India
has exported 7.44 lakh tonne of non-basmati rice through diplomatic channels so far this fiscal. The country put a ban on
the commercial shipment of non-basmati rice in April last year to contain the price rise. The allocation, which has been
demanded by many states for a long time, has been increased only for families above the poverty line, the sources added.
The eGoM, headed by external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee, also decided to open wheat export after May, the sources
said. It also removed the limit on stocks of wheat a trader can build, as the country is likely to witness a bumper harvest
this year, they said. However, the panel of ministers deferred a decision on reducing the MEP on basmati to $800 per tonne
as proposed by the commerce ministry from the present $1,100.

Rs 95,579cr subsidy on food, fertilizers


The government has made a provision of Rs 95,579 crores for subsidy on food, fertilizer and petroleum for 2009-10.
Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee said that the government is committed to ensure food security in the country and
meeting the food requirement of the poor under the targeted public distribution system (PDS). "Inspite of higher
procurement costs and higher international prices during the last five years, the central issue prices under the TDS have
been maintained at the level of July 2000 in case of below poverty line (BPL) and Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) and at July
2002 levels for above poverty line (APL) category," said Mr. Mukherjee in his Budget speech. He said that the government
has ensured remunerative prices for the farmers for their crops. "Since 2003-04, minimum support price (MSP) for the
common variety of paddy was increased from Rs 550 to Rs 900 per quintal for the crop year 2008-09. In case of wheat the
increase was from Rs 630 in 2003-04 to Rs 1,080 per quintal for the year 2009," said the finance minister. The subsidy bill
for this fiscal has shot up by 80 per cent to an all-time high of Rs 1,29,000 crores in this fiscal, though in the interim
budget the government proposes to bring it down to Rs 1,00,932 crores in 2009-10. In the revised estimates for 2008-09,
the government has estimated the total outflow on various subsidies to increase to Rs 1,29,243 crores from the actual
subsidies of Rs 70,926 crores during 2007-08. Analysts believe that in the next fiscal year, the subsidy on petroleum
products is likely to be much less than this fiscal as international prices have significantly come down. This fiscal the
international prices of crude oil had touched $140 per barrel. Currently the price of crude oil is hovering around $40 per
barrel, which has decreased the losses of the public sector oil companies.

Subsidy may be within Rs 50,000-cr next fiscal


The Centre is confident of reining in the total fertilizer subsidy bill during 2009-10 “within Rs 50,000 crore” against the
estimated Rs 1,00,000 crore-plus for the current fiscal. “International prices, especially of phosphatic fertilizers and
ingredients, have eased considerably and if current trends continue, the subsidy bill for the coming fiscal can be contained
within Rs 50,000 crore,” a senior official at the Department of Fertilizers told Business Line. The Centre had originally
budgeted the total subsidy outgo for 2008-09 at Rs 30,986.36 crore, including Rs 12,900.37 crore for indigenous urea, Rs
7,238.89 crore on imported urea and Rs 10,847.10 crore on “decontrolled” phosphatic and potassic fertilizers. But as
against this, the actual allocation so far has been in the region of Rs 1,00,600 crore. Of this, about Rs 21,000 crore has
been towards indigenous urea and Rs 14,150 crore against imported urea. The bulk of the subsidy is on account of
decontrolled fertilizers, comprising Rs 33,000 crore on domestically manufactured nutrients and the balance Rs 32,500
crore on imported material. “While in the past it was urea that absorbed most of the subsidy, this time it has mainly been
decontrolled fertilizers, particularly di-ammonium phosphate (DAP) and imported ingredients such as phosphoric acid,” the
official said. The country will end up importing a record 6.5 million tonnes (mt) of DAP this fiscal, against 2.7-2.8 mt in the
preceding two years. While the average imported DAP price amounted to $294 a tonne in 2006-07 and $492 a tonne, cost
& freight, they went up as high as $1,300 during the current fiscal. “We had at one time expected the total subsidy
requirement for 2008-09 at Rs 1,45,000 crore. But with DAP prices alone falling below $400 a tonne, it will not cross Rs
1,10,000 crore,” the official said. The Centre, he said, would seek to limit the concession rate on DAP to Rs 10,000 a tonne.
“If import prices are $380 or Rs 19,000 a tonne, domestic companies should be able to sell at the maximum retail price of
Rs 9,300 by availing a concession of Rs 10,000. But this is not possible if international prices shoot up as they did last
year”, the official pointed out.

Public sector banks asked to step up lending to ag


Anticipating a dip in credit delivery by cooperative credit institutions, the Centre has asked public sector banks to lend
about 10 per cent more than their target. Commercial banks, including the government-owned lenders, were earlier
expected to lend around Rs 1,95,000 crore to the farm sector during the current financial year. Government data for April
December 2008, shows that scheduled commercial banks will comfortably achieve their target while regional rural banks,
which are sponsored by the state-run banks, may also just manage to achieve their target. However, cooperatives are
falling short of their target. These institutions have been wary of lending as more farmers are defaulting on loan repayment
in expectation of a fresh loan waiver and settlement scheme. Commercial banks have achieved over 63 per cent of their
target in the first nine months of the fiscal 2008-09, slightly higher than 61.92 per cent of the target achieved in the same
period of the previous fiscal (chart). Regional Rural Banks (RRBs) have achieved 59 per cent of their target of Rs 30,000
crore, lower than 73.66 per cent achieved in April-December of 2007-08. The RRBs have assured that they will make all out
efforts to achieve the target. Cooperative institutions were the worst performers. They have achieved only 52 per cent of
their annual target of Rs 55,000 crore, as compared to 82 per cent of the target achieved in the first nine months of the
previous year. Worried over the performance of the cooperatives, the government has asked the public sector banks to lend
about 10 per cent more of their target to ensure the overall target of Rs 2,80,000 crore farm credit for 2008-09 is achieved.
In April December 2008, 60.66 per cent of the target was achieved, which is lower than 66.79 per cent of the target
achieved during the period in the previous fiscal. “Public sector banks have been asked to lend about 10 per cent more, so
that if the cooperatives do not meet the target, the overall credit target does not suffer,” said a bank chief. A government
official confirmed this. The issue was discussed in the meeting of state-run bank chiefs with finance minister Pranab
Mukherjee on February 2. On January 16, Finance Secretary Arun Ramanathan held a meeting with the Secretaries
Cooperation or Finance of the State Governments, to review the progress of agriculture credit flow by all cooperative banks
and RRBs. National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), a refinancing institution, is also undertaking
monthly review of Ground Level Credit.

Seed Today launched


A new magazine christened “Seed Today” was launched by Prof M. S. Swaminathan on 4th February, 2009 at the Library
Hall, IARI, PUSA New Delhi. Dr. S. A. Patil, Director, IARI presided over the launch ceremony. M J Khan, Chief Editor of
Agriculture Today, welcoming the august gathering, opined that the magazine is an attempt to fill the information void in
the seed sector and the sector needs a very separate focused approach for its further improvement. If the seed and breed
is improved, half the work is done, he said and stressed about the emergence of Seed Village clusters in the country .
Addressing the gathering Prof. Swaminathan said that quality seed is the major limiting factor hindering farm production
and farmers often complain about non availability of proper varieties. There is a need for the revival of the glory of seed in
the country, what India witnessed during the Green revolution period, he said. He appreciated the initiatives by the
Agriculture Today group, with the launch of “Seed Today”, where information and views can be shared and debated among
the various stakeholders on different issues and progress. Towards the end he quipped that “I hope the magazine will cater
to the need of various stakeholders in the seed industry and the common man, by highlighting the importance of seed”. Dr.
S.A Patil, Director, IARI shared the achievements of IARI in the field of seed research and development. Participatory
approach should be followed for the breeder and foundation seeds with the training and involvement of the farmers,
particularly the farm women, as stated by him. He suggested an interactive website for seed supply for farmers. He also
said that it is high time to invest in seed research and the magazine can highlight the various issues of the seed sector. Mr.
Mohan Kanda,Member, National Disaster Management Authority; Mr R.K Sinha, Executive Director, National Seed
Association of India, KV Somani, Executive Director, Sungro Seeds and KB Chaudhary, President, Bharat Krishak Samaj
also graced the occasion. . Mr. R. K. Sinha stressed the need of a technology mission on quality seeds. He also shared the
current issues facing the sector as, germplasm exchange and public private partnerships among many. Mr. Mohan Kanda
stressed that the future of Indian agriculture would depend on good quality seeds. However, he feels that farmers’ income
is the utmost priority at this stage. “ In a year when we had bumper crop, we have had the highest number of farmer
suicide” So, we must develop the ability to serve the farmers. He appreciated the role of the Agriculture Today group for
working towards the cause of Indian farmer and disseminate information on agriculture to all important stakeholders of the
industry. KV Somani asked for the recognition of seed sector as the priority industry. Farmers viewpoint for the
deregularisation and quality seed availability to the farmers and the government role in the process was discussed with
élan, by Mr. KB Choudhary.

India to host Conservation Agriculture Congress


India is hosting the 4th World Congress on Conservation Agriculture on 4-7 February 2009 in New Delhi. Earlier the
congress was organized in Spain, Brazil and Kenya. The congress is aimed to address innovations in agriculture for realizing
improved efficiency, equity and environment. More than 1000 delegates representing scientific community, policy advisors,
farmers’ organizations, corporate leaders and non-governmental organizations from different parts of the world, will gather
to share the knowledge to conserve and judiciously use precious natural resources for overcoming the global food crises
and alleviating poverty. World community is serious about the sustainability of agriculture, which is facing multiple and
complex challenges. Conservation agriculture has the potential to deliver a host of benefits that are increasingly desirable in
a world facing population growth, environmental degradation, rising energy costs, soaring food prices and climate change,
among other daunting challenges. The role of conservation agriculture is well recognized by most of the developed
countries and many developing countries. India is one of the leading countries in developing countries promoting
conservation agriculture. More than 2 million hectare area under rice-wheat system in the Indo-Gangetic plain is under
resource conservation technologies. Farmers who adopted these technologies are saving water and energy costs, attaining
higher yields, and getting more returns. Large scale trials and farmers experiences show that the available technologies can
be adopted in a wide range of rainfed and irrigated environments. The Indian experiences are slowly spreading to other
South Asian countries and Central Asian countries. The congress will demonstrate the Indian experiences on conservation
agriculture to the participants attending the congress from different parts of the world. The congress is being jointly
organized by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research and the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences. The sponsors of
the congress are the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, the International Fund for Agricultural
Development, the Rice-Wheat Consortia, and the International Centre for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas, the Indian
Society of Soil Science and the Indian Society of Agricultural Economics. Shri Sharad Pawar, Union Minister of Agriculture is
the patron of the congress. Dr Mangala Rai, Secretary, Department of Agricultural Research and Education, and Director-
General, Indian Council of Agricultural Research is the chairman of the International Steering Committee.

Nabard nod for Rs 360-cr loan to Bihar


THE National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (Nabard) has sanctioned loan of Rs 360 crore to Bihar
government under Rural Infrastructure Development Fund (RIDF X1V) for the construction of two high-level bridge
projects, besides 29 roads in 11 districts. “With this, the total loan sanctioned under RIDF (X1V) for the year 2008-09 stood
at Rs 752 crore as against an allocation of Rs 621 crore sanctioned last year,” said a Nabard release. The loan will be
utilised for the construction of 1.32 km high-level bridge across the river Gandak in West Chamaran district. The project will
entail an expenditure of Rs 359 crore, although the loan sanctioned by Nabard will be Rs 266 crore. “The Bihar government
will provide Rs 93 crore by way of its share and the Bihar Rajya Pul Nirman Nigam Ltd will be the executing the agency,”
the release said. The Gandak bridge project is expected to be completed in three years. The Nabard has also made
available loan for the construction of 371.25 metre high-level bridge across river Arai in Darbhanga district. The total bridge
cost is estimated at Rs 35 crore and a RIDF loan of Rs 26 crore has been made available for the purpose.

Tulsi on a global journey


It wasn't the whiff of money but faith in the small, inconspicuous plant in his courtyard that nudged Kailash Nath Singh,
now 87, to venture into something unheard of more than a decade ago. When Organic India, then Indo-Israel Trading
Corporation (IITC), asked him to take up organic cultivation (without the use of chemicals and fertilizers) of tulsi or Indian
Basil, Kailash, bogged down by low yield from his farm and debts, was wary. “Although the idea of cultivating tulsi sounded
strange initially, I nonetheless accepted the offer. My skepticism changed to confidence once I saw how the firm operated,”
Kailash says. The risk taken by the 75-year-old did pay rich dividends. And as Kailash’s income rose, many farmers eagerly
followed in his footsteps. Now, over 10,000 farmers in the drought-hit districts of Bundelkhand, besides Azamgarh and Mau
districts in the eastern UP, are cultivating tulsi as a cash crop in addition to their routine agricultural practices. They are
producing more than 2,000 tonnes of tulsi annually from over 1,000 acres of land. Motivating the farmers wasn’t difficult
after my success story and when farmers came to know of the firm’s approach, says Kailash. The Lucknow-based firm
decided to bear the cost of production as also the risks of crop failure and market volatility. Farmers were to only tend and
harvest the crop. In short, each one contributes according to his ability. For the past ten years, in fact, the farmers have
been paid even when the produce wasn’t good enough due to adverse climatic conditions or pest attack. What more, their
produce fetches them eight times more than the market value. If the rate of tulsi is Rs 10 to Rs 15 per kilo in the market,
the firm buys it for, say, Rs 80 to Rs 90 per kilo. For Organic India, too, the benefits are equally large. “This is because
these farmers are producing pure organic tulsi, which fulfills the specifications of international market,” said Krishan
Guptaa, the CEO and Managing Director of Organic India. The production cost for the farmers, too, has gone down as they
do not need to spend in chemical fertilizers. They do not have to worry about selling their produce either. The company not
only provides them with organic manure but also reaches the field to buy the produce. The farmers have crop security
because the company is a guaranteed buyer of their produce. “The crop season is from January to June when the farmers
are assisted by field managers and technical managers of the company for best yield,” adds Guptaa. Meanwhile, the tulsi
growers of UP have another task at hand these days — to supply one million saplings of tulsi for planting around Taj Mahal
to check pollution. They have already handed more than 20,000 saplings on Republic Day to the district administration of
Agra. An agriculture festival called the Tulsi Mahotsav that celebrates the wonder herb Tulsi (holy basil) is held in Azamgarh
district of Uttar Pradesh every year. Organised by Organic India with its Tulsi farmers, the festival is held at the onset of
winter. It seeks to honour Tulsi and pay tribute to Tulsi farmers who have converted the ravaged soil into fields of
prosperity. This is the only festival in the world which celebrates the queen of herbs.

New Agreement on Rice Research


An international agreement signed today between Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and International Rice
Research Institute (IRRI), Philippines will support and facilitate India’s rice research for the next 3 years, helping the
nation’s rice production at a time of new challenges such as global climate change, increased cost of production, value
addition and the revitalization of food production. The IRRI and ICAR have announced details of the new ICAR work plan
agreement (2009-2012), which ensures India’s continued access to the advanced rice research from around the globe and
the technologies subsequently developed. The present Work plan (2009-2012) includes agreements on three major projects
supported by the Bill & Melinda gates foundation: Stress-tolerant rice for poor farmers in Africa and South Asia (STRASA);
the Cereal systems initiative for South Asia (CSISA); Creating the second green revolution by supercharging
photosynthesis: C4 rice. STRASA aims to develop and distribute improved varieties of rice that can be grown in rainfed
ecosystems—where farmers have little or no access to irrigation—and withstand environmental stresses such as drought,
submergence, and salinity. CSISA’s 10-year goal is to produce an additional 5 million tons of grain annually and increase
the yearly incomes of 6 million poor rural households by at least $350. The initiative will employ innovative public-private
partnerships for delivery of technology to farmers. “The agreement will develop, promote, and accelerate rice research and
training efforts between IRRI and ICAR,” said Dr. R. S. Zeigler Director General, IRRI. “The renewed collaboration will also
provide important support for India’s other investments in agriculture and help India strengthen its science capacity.”
Secretary DARE and Director General, ICAR, Dr. Mangala Rai stated that the work plan for the next three years will focus
on genetic resources conservation, evaluation, and enhancement; enhancing productivity and sustainability of intensive
cereal systems; improving productivity and livelihood for fragile environments; impact, mitigation and adaptation to climate
change; and strengthening linkage between research and development. Dr. Rai further stated that by converting rice from
C3 photosynthesis to the more efficient C4 photosynthesis, more carbon dioxide could be utilized and more grain could be
produced. There will be enhanced crop information management system through India-IRRI Collaborative breeding
programmes.

Remarkable Growth in Agriculture – Shri Sharad Paw


Unabated by the economic slowdown, agriculture has registered a remarkable growth of more than 4% during the last two
years, stated by Shri Sharad Pawar, Union Minister of Agriculture, Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution, while
chairing the 80th Annual General Meeting of the ICAR Society here today. We could achieve these milestones mainly due to
technological interventions and weather-based farm advisories developed and recommended by ICAR, he said. He proudly
announced that record production of 230.67 million tonnes of food grains during the year. Shri Pawar further added, in
oilseeds, a record production of 28.28 million tonnes was achieved with the foreign exchange earning of Rs. 12,875 crore
through export of 7.62 million tonnes of oilseed products. Shri Pawar further added that timely supplies of inputs also
provided the impetus for higher agricultural production and productivity. Shri Pawar appreciated and commended the
positive approach of ICAR, whose scientists quickly responded by devising a scientific strategy for rehabilitation and
restoration of agriculture for flood-ravaged Bihar and adjoining areas. Shri Pawar, who is the President of the ICAR Society,
informed the members that the ICAR has launched a unique project on 'More crop and income per drop' in farmers'
participatory mode which will promote efficient and judicious use of irrigation water. Similarly, an ICAR-Rural Development
interface aims at conservation of natural resources along with creation of rural employment through identification and
dissemination of technologies. While highlighting the achievements, he said, an annual fish production of over 6.8 million
tonnes has become possible mainly through research, capacity building and technology transfer by the ICAR. We could
ensure year-round availability of fish seed through the ICAR Mega seed project, said Shri Pawar. The Agriculture Minister
informed the members that owing to a conscious decision of the Government of India to exempt the scientific positions in
ICAR from restrictions on their recruitment, which had caused an initial dip since 2001 in total number of appointments, the
ICAR has taken proactive measures to adequately man its scientific cadre. During the preceding year itself 448 scientists
were recruited, he informed. In addition recruitment is in advanced stage for nearly 1000 scientists including the vacancies
likely to arise by the end of this year, he further added. Shri Sharad Pawar announced, in a major initiative, 78 new KVKs
including 50 additional KVKs in large districts have been approved. To ensure quick, regular and quality delivery of
improved technologies in the present knowledge-intensive era, e-connectivity to 200 Krishi Vigyan Kendras is being
established. While presenting the Annual Report of the ICAR, Dr. Mangala Rai, DG, ICAR informed that a significant
breakthrough is development of first public sector transgenic Bt cotton variety Bikaneri Narma (BN Bt) has been developed
for commercial cultivation and farmers can reuse seeds of this variety year after year. In his address, DG mentioned that
the Council has taken decision to reorient the functioning particularly of National Research centres to work in Directorate
mode on Groundnut; Rapeseed-Mustard; Soybean; Sorghum; Oil Palm ; Cashew ; Medicinal and Aromatic Plants;
Mushroom; Onion & Garlic; Floriculture; and Water Management; Coldwater Fisheries; and Women in Agriculture. The
National Bureau of Agriculturally Important Insects (NBAII) is established by reorienting Project Directorate of Biological
Control. In order to protect agriculture from the increasing abiotic stresses through technological intervention, a state of the
art National Institute of Abiotic Stress Management is contemplated. Shri Kanti Lal Bhuria, Minister of State for Agriculture
was present at the meeting along with Agriculture Ministers from various States and members of the ICAR Society. Shri A K
Upadhyay, Additional Secretary, DARE and Secretary, ICAR, were also present along with senior government officials, and
agriculture scientists.

Change of mindset required: Advani


Addressing farmers leaders from across the country at his residence in New Delhi today, Leader of Opposition, Sh. LK
Advani said that it is the change of mind set which will bring the required change in farm sector and improve the situation
of farmers, who have committed suicide in lacs. Expressing his shock and anger, he said that the most vital sector of the
economy is the most neglected by the Government today. Quoting Sangh ideologue, Late Sh. Deen Dayal Upadhyay that
"every hand to be provided work and every field to be provided water", he said that when his Government comes to power,
the agriculture development will be taken up in mission mode with emphasis on water management and rural employment
generation. He further added that a sense of pride is missing in agriculture and the farming has to be made more profitable
to attract youths. He favoured the idea of giving direct subsidy to farmers. Earlier welcoming farm leaders, BJP president
Sh. Rajnath Singh said that agriculture is the backbone of the country, yet our farmers, who toil to provide us food, remain
in peril. Recounting the major initiatives like Kisan Call Centre, lowering of farm loan interest rates and the Agriculture
Channel, he said that the NDA Government will launch seven point mission approach to revolutionise growth in agriculture
and create rural employment. NDA working Convenor, Sh. Sharad Yadav and farmers leader, Sh. Sharad Joshi, MP, were
also present in the meeting organised by Agriculture Today, the national agriculture magazine. The meeting was
participated by over 30 farm leaders from the States of J&K, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Uttaranchal, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar,
Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Chhatisgarh, Himachal Pradesh and Kerala. Among the important farmer leaders were;
Sh. Rakesh Tikait of Bhartiya Kisan Union, Sh. Krishan Bir Chowdhary, President, Bharat Krishak Samaj, Sh. GS Thind,
Executive President, Rashtriya Kisan Sangathan, Fr. Mathews, president, INFARM, Sh. Arun Bhaku, President, Kisan Manch.
The main issues raised by farmers were the remunerative prices, direct disbursal of subsidies, direct procurement of MSP
produce for FCI, launch of agriculture channel, separate budget for agriculture, bringing agriculture under the concurrent
list and marketing infrastructure.

IRRI project to help poor farmers in S Asia


Six million South Asian farmers would be able to produce an additional five million tonne grain annually and yearly income
of the poor farmers would increase by at least $350 within a span of 10 years. This goal is expected to be achieved under
the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA), announced by the Philippines-based International Rice Research
Institute (IRRI). The 10-year project would focus initially on eight hubs in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Nepal, which
represent key intensive cereal production systems and plays a major role in feeding close to a quarter of the world’s
population. The initiative will bring together a range of public and private sector organisations to enable sustainable cereal
production. CSISA will be led by IRRI with support of $19.59 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation over three
years and more than $10 million aid from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) over the first
three years. Achim Dobermann, IRRI deputy director general for research said, “The food price spikes of 2008 were a stark
reminder of what can happen when agricultural productivity growth which is reliant on continued research and
development-tapers off and demand begins to overtake supply.” “By contributing critical know-how to major national
initiatives and private-sector investments in new technologies for improving cereal productivity and farm income in South
Asia, CSISA can take big steps in the eradication of hunger, malnutrition, and poverty in a region that has grappled with
these afflictions for far too long,” added Doberman. CSISA aims to reverse declines in annual cereal yield growth of recent
years, decrease hunger and malnutrition (almost half the region’s children under five are malnourished), and increase food
and income security in South Asia through the accelerated development and deployment of new cereal varieties,
sustainable management technologies, and agricultural policies. According to Dobermann, CSISA’s 10-year-goal is for four
million farmers to achieve a yield increase of at least 0.5 tonne per hectare on five million hectare and an additional two
million farmers to achieve a yield increase of at least 1.0 tonne per hectare on 2.5 million hectare. These figures translate
into at least five million tonne of additional grain produced annually, with an additional economic value of at least $1.5
billion per year and substantial other savings in terms of energy and other production costs. The other major objectives
include better crop management and post-harvest technologies and practices, the development and dissemination of
improved rice, wheat and maize varieties and creation of a new generation of agricultural scientists and professional
agronomists. Three other international agricultural research centres-the International Food Policy Research Institute
(IFPRI), the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre
(CIMMYT)-will partner with IRRI, national agricultural research organisations, education and extension systems, non-
government organisations and private-sector companies to implement CSISA. South Asia is home to 40% of the world’s
poor with nearly half a billion people subsisting on less than $1 a day as they struggle to boost grain supplies in the wake of
growing demand and strained natural resources. By drawing on the combined strengths of a wide range of public and
private sector partners, CSISA aims to accelerate the development and delivery of new technologies for resource-efficient,
sustainable management of current and future cereal cropping systems. The initiative will build on past work by several
initiatives in the region supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, including that of the
Rice-Wheat Consortium for the Indo-Gangetic Plains, which has developed and promoted with farmers and researchers
resource-conserving technologies now used on as many as two million hectares. This project is also expected to augment
efforts in other parts of the world to alleviate poverty and hunger.

Wheat output may fall by up to 1.5 MT in 2009


Wheat production, which reached a record 78.4 million tonnes (MT) last year, may fall by up to 1.5 MT in 2009 due to high
temperature in some parts of the country. Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat witnessed higher temperature
than normal during mid-December, which could affect the yield in these states, according to official sources. Besides, the
wheat acreage is also likely to decline marginally compared with last year, they added. Wheat area stood at an all-time high
of 28.1 million hectares in Rabi 2008. “Wheat production may fall by 1-1.5 MT from the earlier expectations,” a senior
official said. The government is targeting 78.5 MT of wheat production in 2009. Last week, Agriculture Commissioner N B
Singh had said that the wheat acreage may fall by 1-2 lakh hectares or reach the same levels this year but expressed
confidence that “there will be the same level of production as last year, as we will have better productivity”. The supply of
quality seeds in large scale would help raise productivity, he had added.

Blackstone picks 25% in NSL Seeds


PRIVATE equity giant Blackstone is picking about 20-25% stake in NSL Seeds for an estimated Rs 250-300 crore. Privately
held NSL, which claims to be the largest hybrid seed company in India, is engaged in R&D, production and marketing of
seeds. The actual investment size and exact equity stake being acquired by Blackstone stands undisclosed. But a person
directly involved in the transaction told ET that the deal size is pegged at around Rs 250-300 crore, which would value the
seeds company at around Rs 1,000-1,500 crore. NSL has a strong market presence in hybrid cotton seeds besides other
field crops such as corn, rice, sunflower, sorghum, pearl millet, and vegetable crops. It has a strong distribution network
with around 25 stocking depots, 1,000 distributors, 20,000 sub-dealers and a 350 person sales and marketing team. In a
press statement issued on Tuesday, NSL group chairman & managing director Prabhakar Rao said, “With their track record
in adding value, their global reach and proactive approach, Blackstone’s involvement will be very valuable in our journey
from a privately held company to a publicly listed world-class Bio-Agri franchise.” Even as the industrial and service sectors
are witnessing a slowdown, agriculture and farming community seem to be doing well. This is prompting private equity
investors to look at the sector. Blackstone-NSL is the third private equity deal involving a agriproduce firm announced over
the last one month. Earlier this month, Chennai based agri-solutions firm Sree Ramcides raised Rs 25 crore from ePlanet
Ventures and Morgan Stanley Private Equity Asia struck its maiden India deal by acquiring around 30.4% stake in castor oil
firm Biotor Industries for Rs 240 crore. Blackstone Advisors India chairman & managing director Akhil Gupta said in a
statement, “NSL is one of the strongest franchises in the Indian agriculture sector. India is focusing on improving its
agriculture sector and is witnessing a significant increase in investments in it. We believe that for Blackstone, NSL is an
ideal partner to explore the significant potential of this highly attractive sector. We have been impressed by both the
breadth and depth of NSL’s management team and look forward to working with them.” As part of this transaction,
Blackstone will have representation on the board of NSL Seeds. For Blackstone, this would be the third private equity
transaction this year. Early in December, it had bought a majority stake in the IT Infrastructure Management and
Outsourced Business Services divisions of CMS Computers and in February it announced a deal to pick 10.4% in public-
listed Allcargo Global Logistics for around Rs 242 crore. Besides, Blackstone group also invested in Everonn Systems and
put in money through a pre-IPO transaction in Pipavav Shipyard.
Jain Irrigation bags Rs 270-cr European export ord
Jain Irrigation Systems Ltd (JISL) has bagged order worth Rs 270 crore from its European customer for supply of
dehydrated white onion in 2009. Mr. Ashok Jain, Vice-Chairman Jain Irrigation Systems Ltd, said “We have developed high-
solid onion varieties, which are helping Indian farmers to produce more and in turn allowing us to give what the
international market expects.” The company has six fruit and vegetable processing plants in India and one in the US. It
processes over 350,000 tonnes of fruits and vegetables a year. “Globally the market for dehydrated vegetables is estimated
to be over 900,000 tonnes and onions account for major portion of this demand. India is the second largest producer of
dehydrated onions in the world. JISL accounts for 40 per cent of the total dehydrated onion exports from India,” he added.
The company is currently working with more than 4,000 farmers to produce fruits and vegetables on contract farming and
buyback arrangement. Its team of agronomists and agricultural scientists work hand-in-hand with farmers to train them on
right agricultural practices to get better yields and good returns for their agricultural produce, it said.

Agri Ministry plans bio-security system


The Agriculture Ministry is planning to set up a National Agricultural Bio-security System to counter increasing threats to
the country’s bio-security due to growing international trade and emergence of trans-boundary diseases like Ug-99 and
avian influenza. Besides, the new bio-security system will also be designed to anticipate bio-terrorism, which, experts fear,
can emerge as the new form of terrorism. The proposal to set up the bio-security system is based on recommendations of
the National Commission on Farmers headed by Prof MS Swaminathan and the National Policy on Farmers 2007. Talking to
The Tribune, Swaminathan said, “The threat to the country’s bio-security has increased due to increasing international
trade and emergence of trans-boundary diseases of plants and animals like Ug-99 and avian influenza. There is lot of travel
taking place and aircrafts are coming in from outside carrying trans-boundary pests.” While these are natural forms of
threat to the bio-security, Swaminathan said the danger in its man-made form in shape of bio-terrorism was increasing and
the country had to be prepared to deal with it. “Bio-terrorism is also a potent threat in the present security environment.
Rather than reacting to it later, we recommended an anticipatory mode,” he said. Introduction of genetically modified
organisms and climate change also have the potential to create new forms of diseases and fast spread of existing diseases.
“Global warming means malaria parasites will multiply faster, even in winter months,” he added. To protect bio-security of
the country, the ministry is taking some other measures as well. The National Plant Protection Institute (NPPTI),
Hyderabad, has been converted into a society to give it more autonomy for human resource development for effective bio-
security. Facilities of the institute, re-christened as the National institute of Plant Health Management (NIPM), will soon be
upgraded and faculty expanded for training in plant protection. The regulatory framework relating to plant protection is
being strengthened. The Regional Plant Quarantine Station (RPQS), Amritsar, has secured ISO 9001:2000 certification, say
ministry officials, adding it is the second RPQS to have obtained ISO 9001:2000 certification after RPQS, Chennai. The
other three major RPQS located at Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai are also pursuing ISO certification. All 35 plant quarantine
stations located countrywide are being strengthened to carry out inspection consignments for imports and exports of
plants/plant material more effectively.

WRMS to set up 150 weather stations next year


THE INDIAN Farmers Fertilizer Cooperative plans to provide daily weather forecast to around 800,000 farmers across the
country from 2009. But, if something like this has to be made practically possible, then India needs to have at least 6,000
weather stations across the country. As of now, the country has around 1,000 automated weather stations, and about
3,000 rain gauges. In order to accelerate weather infrastructure setups across the nation, Hyderabad-based Weather Risk
Management Services (WRMS), one of the pioneers in weather infrastructure and advisory services, is busy forging tie-ups
with the likes of Ford Foundation and Nabard. “For us to reach to a broader audience we require around 20-30 stations in
every district. This will be a structured set up, which will help us in giving information related to specific crops of that area.
For something like this, we will have to invest Rs 40-50 lakh,” says Anuj Kumbhat, founder and director, WRMS. The
weather infrastructure and advisory firm is in talks with external agencies like Nabard, World Bank and ICICI Lombard to
raise project-specific funding. In the coming year, it is looking to set up around 150 weather stations in West Bengal and
Jharkhand, and around 50 stations in Tamil Nadu for starters. If these plans reach fruition than WRMS will be able to
provide 10-15 day forecast to farmers across the country. As of now, it gives three-day forecast on weather and
temperature working with the India Metrological Department, and disseminates it to the farmer via customers like
IFFCOTOKIO General Insurance Co, Reuters and Pepsico. While Reuters Market Light gives farmers weather and crop data
through mobile phone, Pepsico has signed up a deal with WRMS for providing this data specific to contract farmers who
supply the multinational food and beverage company. “We are giving farmers peace meal feed but would like to provide
weather data on a more consistent basis,” says MGBanga, CEO, IFFCO Kisan Sanchar, the telecom venture of Indian
Farmers Fertilizer Cooperative Organisation. WMRS hopes its work in setting up automated weather stations will make it
possible for agencies like these to help the Indian farmer cope better with the vagaries of the weather, and perhaps
understand the necessity of subscribing to a weather insurance product.
Tractor Industry and Farmers Facing Serious Proble
Rural economy is the back bone of the Indian Economy. In case we could equip the farmers with farm mechanization tools
like tractor and implements, the agricultural production will increase tremendously and if the farmers are financially well
off, a lot of additional demand for consumer durables like TVs, refrigerators, ACs, washing machines including motor cycles,
cars and multi-utility vehicles can be generated which will ultimately help to neutralize this general slowdown in the
industry to a great extent unlike other sectors reeling under the shadow of slowdown, there continues to be normal demand
for tractors but due to limited availability of retail finance in the industry and the farmers are suffering, said Mr. L D Mittal,
Chairman, Sonalika Tractors. He pointed out the various obstacles like the slowdown of financing from the banking
especially the public sector banks has been the most important factor for the declining trends in the industry despite good
monsoon this year. Private / Micro Financiers are taking cues from PSU Banks. SBI withdrew the ‘blanket-ban circular’ – but
no real respite on the ground. Decision making has become centralized leading to inordinate delays. In some areas, lending
filter now is as high as 10-15 acres whereas average landholding in India is hardly 4 to 5 acres per family. The budget for
agriculture is consumed by financial institutions by lending money for non-productive purposes such as warehouses etc.
whereas the farm mechanization suffers. In case there are a larger number of NPAs in a particular area, the credit facilities
for the whole district is stopped by the lead banks, the total number of defaulters is hardly 5% of the population of the
area, but the remaining 95% are also punished for no fault of theirs. He also suggested certain reforms that would produce
better results in the near future, like banks should have farmer-friendly attitude while sanctioning loans for farm
mechanization tools like tractors and implements; a particular portion of the budget for agricultural loan should be reserved
for farm mechanization tools only. As per our assessment, 8% of the total agriculture budget will serve the purpose. Bring
back lending norms to 4 acres as market value of agricultural lands has shot up significantly in the recent past. Restore
margin money requirement to 15%. Reduce interest rates for lending to farm mechanization at par with other auto sector.
De-centralize sanctioning authority to branch level as before. Factor in income from commercial usage of farm tractors as
lending criterion. Provide more liberal floor finance to dealers of tractors and farm implements. Re-visit SBI customer credit
scoring model - should be made more liberal. SBI should take the lead in sanctioning more tractor loans on realistic norms
to improve the comfort level of farmers, for other PSUs to follow.

Grow more orthodox tea: Jairam


THE production of orthodox tea should increase in the coming years, said Union minister for state for commerce and power
Jairam Ramesh here on Saturday. Speaking to reporters after inaugurating the e-auction system for tea at Tea Trade
Association of Coimbatore, he said, the country should move to orthodox tea production in a big way. “We export what we
produce. We need to change the policy and produce what others want,” Mr. Jairam Ramesh said, adding the world market
prefers orthodox variety more than CTC teas. Currently, only 8% of tea produced in India is orthodox variety. By the end of
the Eleventh Plan, it is proposed to increase this to 120 million kg from the current 85 million kg. “To increase orthodox tea
production, the government has announced lot of incentives in the 11th Plan,” he added. Further, calling productivity
enhancement as the key to growth, Mr. Jairam Ramesh urged the South Indian growers to utilise the special purpose tea
fund launched in July 2007 for rejuvenation and re-plantation of tea bushes. The objective of the fund is to replant 11,000
hectares per year for the next 15 years. The country had five lakh hectares under tea. About two lakh hectare would be
replanted in 15 years. He said, in the first year, at the national-level 60% of the target was achieved but South India is
lagging behind with only 40% target achieved. “The extreme labour shortage and cost norm are the main problem here and
we hope to meet these two issues,” he said. He also called for promotion of 5% of tea garden area for tea tourism in Tamil
Nadu as like Assam. “I have requested the state government to allow 5% of tea garden area for horticulture and tourism
promotion, so that there would be cash flow for tea plantation,” he said. Regarding the reintroduction of e-auction system,
Mr. Jairam Ramesh said the new e-auction system developed by NSE team has helped the tea trade associations in India to
move from the 19th century model to the latest 21st century. The country produce about 950 million kg of tea annually and
roughly 500 million kg of tea or 53% is marketed through manual auction systems introduced in 1890s. The entire quantity
of tea marketed through the manual auction system would now come under the e-auction system by the end of January
2009. “Over a period of time, the tea that is marketed through private sales should also come under this system,” he said.

Strawberry tourism charms Maharashtra hills


WITH CHRISTMAS just days away, a peppy hill station of Panchgani-Mahabaleshwar is buzzing with tourist activity. Unlike
previous years, though, this year the visitors are not taking in the sights: they are spending time at strawberry farms.
Mahabaleshwar is gaining a new identity — as a “strawberry-tourism destination” and a big exporter of the fruit. "Last year,
for the first time the farmers of Mahabaleshwar exported strawberries to European nations. Last year's exports were 900
tones; this year produce has just started coming in and we have received orders of about 1,000 tones from Belgium. We
are expecting a 100 per cent rise in this year's exports,” said Krishna Bhilare, vice president, Indian Strawberry Growers’
association. Last year’s crop of 14,000 tonnes is expected to be topped by a good measure this year, thanks to a
combination of better climatic conditions, use of new technology and more farmers opting for strawberry. More than 1,000
farmers this season planted strawberry on over 1500 acres of land in Mahabaleshwar-Panchgani. Last year farmers
exported strawberries to countries like France, Belgium, Dubai and Sri Lanka. Strawberry grower Sunil Parate said, "We
have been growing strawberries for 40 years. But the actual growth in production has come in the last three-four years
after we opted for polyhouse farming. The new breed of fruit also gives double output after sowing.” The Mahabaleshwar-
Panchgani belt region contributes over 85 per cent of the total strawberry production in India. The rest comes from regions
like Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Bangalore.

Agri-commodity ban may go by Jan


The Forward Markets Commission (FMC), the regulatory authority of the Commodities Futures Markets, is likely to lift
futures trading suspension that is still on for four agri-commodities - rice, wheat, tur and urad - by January next year. The
FMC had imposed futures trading ban on eight agri commodities -tur and urad in January, wheat and rice in February and
refined soya oil, rubber, potato and chana (chick peas) in May - to put brakes on surging inflation For the latter four, there
had been a November 30 timeline for lifting the ban which has lapsed. However, the trading suspension on wheat, rice, tur
and urad, which still continues, may be lifted between end-December to end-January, FMC chairman B C Khatua said on
Friday FMC seems to have done an analysis of the available demand and price scenario. Today, the global commodity
market is softening, and supply and demand are at comfortable levels "Worldwide, weather conditions have also been
favourable for agri-commodities. Petro prices are also on a decline," Khatua said, building a case for bringing back trading
in the four commodities, two of which are staples - rice and wheat Thus, the FMC has sent a report to this effect to the
ministry of consumer affairs, which governs it. Inflation, one of the main reasons for introducing the suspension, was at a
more tolerable 8% in end-November, a climb-down from the double-digit 12.9% about two months back The FMC feels
resumption of trading in chana, soya oil, rubber and potato will send positive signals to the agriculture derivatives sector.

FCI, CWC holding 116 lakh t grains


Food Corporation of India and Central Warehousing Corporation together have about 116 lakh tonnes of foodgrains in their
godowns across the country, the Rajya Sabha was informed today. ''The total quantum of foodgrains currently held by Food
Corporation of India (FCI) and Central Warehousing Corporation (CWC) in their godowns across the country is 92.01 lakh
tonnes and 24.47 lakh tonnes respectively,'' the Minister of State for Agriculture and Consumer Affairs, Mr. Akhilesh Prasad
Singh, said in a written reply to Parliament. Of the total quantity of foodgrains held by FCI, 91.59 lakh tonnes of grain are
less than two-year-old, 41,000 tonnes are more than two-year-old and 500 tonnes are more than five-year-old. While in
CWC, about 24,46,793 tonnes are less than two-year-old and 614 tonnes are 2 to 5-year-old, he said.

No need for sugar imports, says ISMA


The country has sufficient stocks of sugar and does not need to import the sweetener either in raw or white form this crop
year, a leading body said on Friday. “There is more than sufficient availability of sugar, far beyond the domestic
requirement with sizeable carry forward stocks to the next year,” Indian Sugar Mills Association (ISMA) president Ranjit
Puri said in a statement. Recent media reports have suggested late cane crushing in top two producing states could
pressure supplies and lead to imports.

Tata Chemicals to set up fertilizer plant in UP by


Tata Chemicals has firmed up plans to set up a manufacturing plant for customised fertilizers at Babrala in Uttar Pradesh.
The company will invest close to Rs 50 crore in this facility having a production capacity of 20 tonne per hour. Interacting
with FE at CII Northern region headquarters on Monday, Kapil Kumar Mehan, executive director, Tata Chemicals said the
company had already invested about Rs 5 crore in research and assessment of the soil since the last three years. “We have
been testing the soil for different districts and the customised fertilizers have been developed considering the needs of
specific crops and soils,” said Mehan. He further added, “This will be the first plant being set up by a company for
customised fertilizers. It is expected to be operational by the time of kharif crop of 2010. The plant will cater to the needs
of about 15 districts located near it. We have analysed the area and assessed individual crop requirements. The customized
fertilizers will include nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, sulphur and boron. These will also help in increasing the yield
of crops like wheat, rice, sugarcane, potato and maize by 15-20%.” To make sure the farmers make an efficient use of
fertilizers maintaining the right balance of NPK, Tata Chemicals is creating awareness among them. On the other hand, the
company plans to expand its network of Tata Kisan Sansar from the current 600 outlets to 1,200 within the next five years.
“We are present in Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Bihar and Jharkhand and now we are exploring market
space in Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. The model is being improved further and the
existing outlets being modernised. Through our Kisan Sansar network, we are affecting the lives of over two million farmer
households across 20,000 villages,” Mehan said. Khet se—the joint venture between Tata Chemicals and Irish agri-products
distribution firm Total Produce, will also see an investment of Rs 250-300 crore in the next three years with 20 new
distribution centers lined up for the launch. “We have already set up a distribution centre at Malerkotla in Punjab at a cost
of Rs 15 crore. It has a capacity of accommodating 100 tonne of fruits and vegetables per day. The next centre will be
coming up in Mumbai soon with 20 more cities on the radar,” Mehan added.
ITC bags UNIDO award
ITC won the top UNIDO award at the International Conference on Sharing Innovative Agribusiness Solutions 2008 at Cairo
in recognition for its exemplary initiatives in agri business, says a press release. ITC’s agri business was adjudged the
winner out of 120 solutions presented by 65 countries, for providing innovative solutions including updated information on
crops in remote Indian villages. ITC’s e-Choupal, the largest rural digital infrastructure in the world, today covers over
40,000 villages and benefits over 4 million farmers. ITC’s initiative was presented the top award among the 15 short listed
for their innovative character and their potential to help developing countries attract agri business-related investments.

Double yield from new rice genes


Rice forms an important part of the diet of people worldwide. There has been an increase in the price of rice, particularly in
the last one year. A variety of reasons such as low yield, natural calamities such as drought, flood etc have been cited as
reasons for the sharp rise in prices. A recent discovery in this connection is reason for hope for rice consumers across the
world. A young scientist from University of Alberta, Canada and a group of Indian scientists have discovered a group of
genes in rice that enables a yield of up to 100 per cent more in severe drought conditions! This discovery marks the first
time this group of genes in rice has been identified, and could potentially bring relief to farmers in countries like India and
Thailand, where rice crops are regularly hit by drought. The results of the research of Jerome Bernier, a Ph.D student in the
Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science of University of Alberta, were published recently in the plant
sciences journal Euphytica. Bernier started his research four years ago and focused on upland rice, which, unlike the
majority of rice crops, grows in non-flooded, dry fields. He conducted his research at the International Rice Research
Institute in the Philippines, in conjunction with scientists there and in North India. New challenges are emerging in the
world’s upland rice farming areas. The uplands have traditionally suffered from drought and infertile soil, weeds and plant
diseases. Soil there has been badly eroded and degraded as a result of the slash-and-burn agricultural techniques that for
many years. This, in turn, destroys the watershed, producing problems in the lands below. Upland rice is grown in rain-fed
fields prepared and seeded when dry, much like wheat or maize. The ecosystem is extremely diverse, including fields that
are level, gently rolling or steep, at altitudes up to 2,000 meters and with rainfall ranging from 1,000 to 4,500 millimeters
annually. Bernier started with 126 genetic markers and narrowed down his search to a group of genes that had the desired
impact. In very severe drought conditions, rice strains with the new genes were shown to produce twice as much as those
strains that did not have the genes. The new genes stimulate the rice plants to strike deeper roots, enabling it to access
more of the water stored in the soil. “For subsistence farmers who rely on the crop to feed their families, this extra yield
can make a world of difference,” said Bernier. No doubt that this new research could increase the annual global rice
production by encouraging people to cultivate rice in drought-hit regions. The research was funded in part by the Canadian
International Development Agency and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research.

FCI to lease private godowns


The Food Corporation of India (FCI) has decided to take private godowns on lease in view of 44 lakh tonnes of wheat lying
in the open. This new policy, which is likely to come into effect before the wheat harvest next year, is expected to give
some relief to the FCI as well as procurement agencies of Punjab and also lower the damage caused to food grain when
lying exposed to natural elements. Stake holders were invited to discuss the Warehousing Act 2007 at a seminar organised
by FICCI here today in which problems of storage as well as how to create optimum storage capacity were taken up.
According to sources, the storage situation in Punjab is grim with the state unable to stretch the capacity of its present
plinths. Food and civil supplies minister Adesh Partap Singh has been repeatedly requesting that the movement of wheat
outside the state be sped up. The state is expected to procure more than 125 lakh tonnes of wheat during the current
procurement season. FCI regional manager Sarvjit Singh disclosed that Punjab had a protected storage capacity of only 106
tonnes and that this was full and 44 lakh tonnes of food grain was lying in the open. He said even if the state tried its
utmost and movement of foodgrain out of the state was smooth, only 22 lakh tonnes of wheat would move out of the state
by the next harvest. Sarvjit said keeping this in view it was decided to formulate a policy whereby quick storage capacity
could be created by involving the private sector. He said Punjab’s share in wheat production was 100 lakh tonnes out of the
total purchase of 223 lakh tonnes. FICCI executive director R.K. Saboo disclosed that if the Centre was to make
arrangements for warehouses, the cost would run up to Rs 4,000 crore. He said private godown owners were also being
offered a good deal in the Warehousing Act, 2007 by proposing to let them use their godowns for other activities also. He
said farmers too would benefit as they would be able to use these private godowns to store their food grain and could also
take loan against the food grain if required.

Centre confident of raising wheat acreage by 1 m h


The government on Thursday expressed confidence that area under wheat will be raised by one million hectares this year
despite less sowing by farmers so far. The target will definitely be achieved towards the end. Acreage will be raised in non-
traditional wheat-growing states like, Bihar, agriculture secretary T Nanda Kumar said when asked about the target of
raising wheat acreage by one million hectares this year. However, chances of increasing wheat acreage in major growing
states such like Punjab and Haryana are very remote, he added. While releasing the first advance estimate for this season
on September 25, the secretary had said that wheat coverage is targeted to be raised by one million hectares. Wheat
acreage last year reached around 280 lakh hectares last year. The acreage of wheat in the on-going season has dipped
marginally to 83.78 lakh hectares (lh) till November 21 against 84.99 lh in the year-ago period according to data released
by the agriculture ministry. The secretary also ruled out any shortage of fertilizer during the current season saying non-
availability of the nutrient may happen for a maximum of 3-4 days in certain areas but otherwise their is no shortage as
such anywhere. India achieved record wheat production in 2007-08 at 78.40 million tonnes. The government has targeted
78.5 million tonnes for the 2008-09 season. Earlier, speaking at a function organised by the International Competence
Centre for organic agriculture, the secretary said India would like to accelerate organic farming but a little slowly at this
point of time . Mr. Kumar urged advocates of organic farming to promote consumer awareness and ensure better returns to
farmers for the sustenance of such agricultural practices.

FAO calls for new world order for agriculture, $30


FAO director-general Jacques Diouf has appealed to the world leaders to meet next year to design a new world agricultural
order and find $30 billion a year to eradicate hunger from the Earth once and for all. Addressing a special session of the
FAO’s 191-member-nation governing conference in Rome, he said the world summit was needed because, “after more than
60 years (since FAO’s foundation) it is essential to create a new system of world food security”. “We must correct the
present system that generates world food insecurity on account of international market distortions resulting from
agricultural subsidies, customs tariffs and technical barriers to trade, but also from skewed distribution of resources of
official development assistance and of national budgets of developing countries”, Diouf said. The summit, proposed for the
first half of 2009, “should lay the ground for a new system of governance of world food security and an agricultural trade
that offers farmers, in developed and developing countries alike, the means of earning a decent living,” he said. “We must
have the intelligence and imagination to devise agricultural development policies together with rules and mechanisms that
will ensure not only free but also fair international trade.” The summit should also “come up with $30 billion a year to build
rural infrastructure and increase agricultural productivity in the developing world,” he said. Proposing to commit such a sum
to save humanity from hunger was not unreasonable given it had taken only few weeks to find more than 100 times that
amount to deal with a global financial meltdown. The amount was modest compared to $365 billion of total support to
agriculture in OECD countries in 2007 and $340 billion in world military expenditure the same year by developed and
developing countries. At the proposed Meeting, state and government heads should also agree to create an “Emergency
Intervention Fund” to provide rapid-reaction resources to boost food production in poor countries heavily dependent on food
imports, Diouf said. To boost international food security, Diouf suggested building on the present Committee on World Food
Security (CFS) created in 1974 after the World Food Conference to monitor the international food situation. “As an inter-
governmental mechanism, the CFS is universal and is open to all member nations of FAO and the UN and to the
representatives of other international organisations, NGOs, civil society and the private sector,” he noted. Specifically, the
CFS’ role would be to prevent international food crises and help develop and implement the necessary policies at national,
regional and international levels to ensure food security in the world. It could also act as a forum for debate on the pro-
security principles that should govern the international agricultural system. One of its tasks would be to analyse future risks
and needs and formulate appropriate policy recommendations. It should be enhanced as a system for coherence in the
governance of world food security. It should include a “global partnership for food security” building on existing alliances
and an global panel of top experts building on existing external advisory panels of experts in crop, livestock, fisheries,
forestry and socio-economic aspects of food and agriculture, possibly along the lines of the Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change.

PNB disburses agricultural loans under "Utsav-Har


Continuing its proactive role in the economic development of the State, Punjab National Bank, J&K Circle disbursed loans
under various direct agricultural schemes in a function at Sanjimour, here today. The function Utsav - Haryali was
inaugurated by Chief Guest, Mandeep Kour, District Development Commissioner, Kathua who disbursed Kissan Credit
Cards, Tractor Loans, Dairy, Bee Keeping, Pump sets & loans pertaining to other agricultural activities. R.C.Kaul, Deputy
General Manager and Dr. B M Padha, Chief Manager Punjab National Bank, J&K Circle were also present at the occasion. Mr.
R C Kaul said that for accelerating the pace of rural development and to create awareness about various loan schemes
related to agricultural development and poverty alleviation segments, the bank proposes to disburse fresh loans all over the
State through Utsav Haryali. He said that the Bank is deeply rural oriented and is aggressively involved in Micro Credit
disbursements, Kissan Credit Cards, Self Help Group formations, Village Adoptions & Farmers Club launchings. The PNB
Kissan Card Scheme is presently the best product of its kind, available in the market under which farmers can withdraw
cash for meeting short term production needs as well as domestic requirements and PNB provides facility to the card
holders for withdrawing money from any branch of the bank in the district. This, he said offers convenience in buying farm
inputs from dealers. He informed that, the bank is also providing fresh loans to those farmers whose cases have been
waived under Government of India's Agricultural Debt Waiver & Debt Relief Scheme-2008. And by doing this, the doubts in
the minds of the farmers will be cleared that after the debt waiver, the farmers will not be given fresh loans. Ms. Mandeep
Kour, DDC Kathua appreciated the visionary concepts of Punjab National Bank like the Utsav Haryali aimed at changing the
lives of a large number of people especially the farmers living in rural areas. She urged the bank management to conduct
such functions more often by reaching out to the un-banked areas thus creating awareness among the farmers through
such agricultural loan distribution cum workshops. She said that opening of Zero Balance accounts by PNB through its
Financial Inclusion scheme will benefit a large number of people living in slums & backward areas thereby changing their
lives.

Export of seed spices up 95% on crop failure


The country’s seed spice exports skyrocketed by 95% to Rs 116.80 crore in the first seven months of this fiscal on better
price realisation and strong demand in the global markets. The seed spice exports stood at Rs 59.95 crore in April-October
period in 2007-08. In volume terms seed exports rose 13% to 17,100 tonne during April-October from 15,180 tonne last
year, the Spice Board said. The demand for Indian seeds soared due to short supply from other producing countries like
Syria, Turkey and Iran where production of spice seeds dipped due to crop failure, Spice Board chairman VJ Kurian said.
Consequently the unit value of export went up to Rs 68.30 per kg from Rs 39.49 per kg during the year-ago period, he
added. Total spice exports during April-October surged by 71% to Rs 269.98 crore from Rs 157.93 crore in the same period
last year. The spice exports during October went up by 9% in to Rs 402.99 crore compared to Rs 370.96 crore in the same
month during 2007. Cumin exports during April-October surged by 71% to Rs 269.98 crore from Rs 157.93 crore in the
same period last year.

Trading in banned commodities may resume


Commodity market regulator Forward Markets Commission on Wednesday said that it is hopeful that the government would
not extend the ban on futures trading in four items potato, rubber, chana and soyoil-- beyond November. Asserting that it
had been clearly established that futures trading was not responsible for inflation, which itself is coming down, FMC
chairman BC Khatua told PTI he was hopeful for futures trading to resume in the banned commodities. FMC has already
submitted a status report to the Consumer Affairs Ministry giving details about the price movement of four commodities --
soyoil, chickpea (chana), rubber and potato-- before and after the ban, Khatua said.

USDA estimates 7.8 mt decline in global sugar outp


The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has forecast world sugar production for 2008-09 at 158.781 million tonnes (mt)
of raw value, against the 166.574 mt of 2007-08. That works out to a decline of 7.793 mt or 7.169 mt in terms of white
sugar (one tonne of white sugar is equivalent to 1.087 tonnes of raw sugar). CONSUMPTION UP On the other hand, global
consumption is slated to go up from 157.124 mt in 2007-08 to 162.082 mt in 2008-09. This means that, unlike last year,
this year’s output will trail consumption by 3.30 mt. The biggest contributor to the 7.793 mt projected decline is India,
which could register a drop of 5.71 mt (from 285.80 mt to 228.70 mt).M Other major countries/regions to see lower
production in 2008-09 include the European Union (17.74 mt to 16.90 mt), China (15.898 mt to 15.785 mt), the US (7.394
mt to 6.968 mt), Australia (4.939 mt to 4.90 mt), Pakistan (4.163 mt to 3.562 mt), Russia (3 mt to 2.95 mt), Ukraine
(2.01 mt to 1.30 mt) and Philippines (2.455 mt to 2.20 mt). These would, however, be partially offset though higher
production in Brazil (from 32.10 mt to 32.45 mt), Thailand (7.82 mt to 7.90 mt), Indonesia (1.95 mt to 2.06 mt) and
Turkey (1.8 mt to 2.1 mt). Impact on prices what is clear from this is that the fundamentals for sugar are bullish and,
according to the USDA, “consumption looks to continue to outstrip production” even in 2009-10. But what effect these
would have on prices is difficult to predict, given the current global liquidity crunch and the exit of speculative funds from
commodities. “The market seems to be driven by macroeconomic factors as much as fundamentals,” the agency has
pointed out.

Tea exports to cross 200 mn kg in FY09


India’s tea exports are not expected to slow in 2008-09 and will likely cross 200 million kg, minister of state for commerce
and power Jairam Ramesh said on Wednesday, as the country looks for newer markets for the beverage. “I see tea exports
crossing 200 million kg in FY09 even under most pessimistic situation,” Ramesh told reporters. In FY08, India exported 179
million kg of tea, according to Tea Board data, on lower shipments to Iraq following remittance problems. Exports to
traditional markets such as Russia were also expected to fall in the next few months on lesser imports due to the global
financial crisis. But India expects exports to Egypt to cross 15 million kg in the current fiscal, from an average of 4 million
kg in the past few years, Ramesh said. Similarly, exports to new markets such as Iran would touch 10 million kg, from a
meager 5 million kg a year ago, on successful promotion of Indian brands there, he said. The country also expects exports
to Iraq to recover from last year’s levels of about 3 million kg and touch 20 million kg in FY09 since earlier remittance
problems were resolved, he added. “We see a new market in America that is dominated by iced tea,” Ramesh added. Next
month, a delegation of industry and Central government officials would also promote Indian tea in Pakistan. Pakistan
imported about 16 million kg last year, he said. In 2007, the country produced 940 million kg of tea.

Cos can export non-basmati rice


IN a curious move, the government has allowed two export-oriented units (EoUs) to ship out non-basmati rice. These units
may be also exempt from paying export duty on the rice. There remains a ban on export of nonbasmati rice on other mills,
despite pressure from the industry and a good harvest. The rice will be exported out of Andhra Pradesh, where rains,
following the cyclone Khai Muk last week, wreaked havoc on 50,000 acres of standing paddy in East, West Godavari and
Krishna districts. A notification issued on Wednesday by the DGFT allows two 100% EoUs — Venkatachalapathi Modern Rice
Mill (Pondicherry) and Bharat Exporters (Andhra Pradesh) — to together export 25,000 t non-basmati. “In a partial
relaxation of the export ban” imposed in October 2007, these EoUs will have to export this quantity at a minimum price of
$1000/t. Indian non-basmati is currently priced at Rs 25-28/kg or $500/t. However, they have not been asked to pay the
$160/t export tax that is at present levied on basmati. There is also no port restriction as imposed on basmati. “The export
of non-basmati rice allowed to the above 100% EoUs shall be during the kharif marketing season 2008-09, and the quantity
exported, shall be monitored through an appropriate system put in place by department of commerce,” the DGFT has
added. Rice industry watchers say the decision to allow just two mills is worrying because the ministry has yet to make the
process of selection transparent to other exporters. “Why have they allowed only these two EoUs when so many others are
equally eligible. It’s a move that raises eyebrows,” said a miller here. Earlier this week, the empowered group of ministers
(EGoM) on food decided to continue the ban on non-basmati rice exports. The decision to allow exports out of Andhra
Pradesh also defies logic because consumers there are struggling with rising rice prices.

Seed industry seeks tech mission, infra status


The Rs 5,000-crore Indian seed industry plans to double the agricultural production in the country. For this turnaround
exercise, which requires new hybrids and varieities with improved traits for higher yield, the industry is seeking the launch
of a technology mission on quality seeds. To function on the lines of the technology upgradation fund scheme (TUF) of the
textile ministry, one of the main components of the mission is to encourage the setting up of seed banks by the private
sector. In memoranda, to be submitted to the agriculture ministry next week, the National Seed Association of India (NSAI)
has urged the need to set up seed banks across the country to meet the unexpected requirements of seeds in situations
arising out of natural calamities. “The technology mission must have provision to provide interest subsidy at 7% per annum
for the loans availed for setting up of seed banks,” RK Sinha, executive director, NSAI, said. These seed banks would
involve the construction of conditioned godowns and may require an investment of about Rs 15 crore apart from a
maintenance cost of Rs 2.5 crore, he added. A seed bank is a place where seeds are stored in conditions where their
viability and vigour are maintained with 5,000 - 10,000-tonne capacity. Apart from the technology mission, the industry is
also seeking infrastructure status in order to encourage investments in the seed sector. According to Sinha, the status
would make the companies eligible for priority lending by banks apart from an exemption from income tax under Section 80
1A for a period of 10 years. With the agricultural sector faced with challenge of climate change, the seed sector has become
more critical for improving productivity with research and development effort coming to the forefront.

Separate lending rate for farm sector mooted


THE agriculture ministry has proposed a separate agriculture lending rate (ALR) on the lines of the prime lending rate (PLR)
of banks. PLR is the rate at which banks lend to their best customers. This has been suggested to ensure loans to farmers
at more affordable rates. Compared with the present fixed rates at which loans are extended to the farm sector, ALR will
allow banks to lend to farmers in different regions as per their needs. The agriculture ministry feels that ALR could vary
from state to state and could range anywhere between 7 to 14 per cent. "There cannot be a general rate of interest for
farmers. The cost of credit has to be linked to the earnings of a person. PLR is general in nature but ALR will be sector-
specific. For example, rate of interest in Bihar will be different from that in Punjab as the return on farming in the two
states will be different," said an official in the agriculture ministry, who did not wish to be identified as the idea is in initial
stages. At present, credit for the farm sector of up to Rs 2 lakh is given at PLR or subPLR rates, whereas above Rs 2 lakh
the rate of interest is fixed at the banks discretion. A crop loan up to Rs 3 lakh is given at a rate of 7 per cent to the farmer,
while the gov ernment provides 2 per cent interest subvention (subsidy) to the banks, taking the rate of interest to 9 per
cent for banks. This year, the government had released Rs 2,615 crore as interest subvention to banks. The official said
once ALR is in practice, there would not be need of any interest subvention. "Subsidies are not sustainable. In future
everything will be determined on commercial terms." About 60 per cent of the population in India is dependent on
agriculture, though the sector contributes only about 18 per cent to the country's gross domestic product. The informal
farm credit business in India is about Rs 1,00,000 crore, which is about 38 per cent of the total credit to the agriculture
sector. Loans at more affordable rates by banks will take the farmers out of the clutch of moneylenders. The government
has fixed a target of Rs 2,80,000 crore for the fiscal year to end-March 2009 for agriculture loans. But credit flow to
agriculture declined by 5.8 per cent to Rs 95,064 crore in April-September this year, compared with Rs 1,01,021 crore in
the same period last year. Finance minister P Chidambaram has expressed confidence that the target of Rs 2,80,000 crore
would be met.
PUSA 1121 notified basmati
The ministry of agriculture has notified PUSA 1121 variety as basmati. The price of this variety, already brought to mandis
of Punjab and Haryana, is likely to rise with its being classified as basmati. Official sources said a decision to notify this
variety as basmati was taken by the Central Sub-Committee on Crop Standards and Notification of Varieties last month.
Since geographical indications (GI) of this variety had not been listed earlier, it took time for the variety to be notified as
basmati. The official notification by the Ministry of Agriculture on October 29, lists the variety grown in the Indo-Gangetic
plains (three states of Punjab, Haryana and Delhi) as basmati variety. Following the notification, declaring PUSA 1121 as
basmati, its prices in mandis in the region went up. The price of this variety went up to Rs 3,400 per quintal today in Ladwa
mandi in Haryana, from Rs 2,700/ Rs 2,800 per quintal last week. Similarly in Rajpura mandi, the variety fetched Rs 3,200
per quintal in auction today. In Khanna, the largest grain market in Asia, the variety was sold in auction at Rs 3,070 per
quintal today. Last week, this variety fetched only Rs 1,800/Rs 2,100 in Punjab mandis. For its elongated grain and aroma
this variety had become very popular with exporters and found market in West Asian countries. Due to growing demand
and good price offered to farmers, farmers in Punjab and Haryana had shifted to cultivation of PUSA 1121. Last year, this
variety was sold for Rs 2,600 in the procurement season, but reached a high of Rs 3,800 in open market. As a result, area
under this variety in Punjab and Haryana increased considerably this year. However, the Centre banned the export of all
non-basmati varieties earlier this year. Though the ban on export of this variety was lifted, but it was declared non-basmati
variety, leading to a crash in its price. Punjab and Haryana had appealed to the Centre to declare this as basmati. Ashok
Sethi adds from Amritsar: The Central government notifying PUSA 1121 as basmati has pushed up the price of this variety
which was developed under the Basmati Development Mission a few years ago. Farmers of Punjab and Haryana who have
adopted this variety reaped a bumper harvest in the current paddy season. The price which started at Rs 2,000 per quintal
at the beginning of arrival has risen to Rs 3,200/ Rs 3,500. A spokesman of the Agriculture Department said farmers would
get Rs 50,000 to Rs 60,000 per acre from an average yield of 18/19 quintal per acre. He said in the current paddy season
the area under 1121 had swelled to more than four times against the same period in 2007-08. He hoped if the trend
continued the farmers would come out of the debt trap. Exporters expressed satisfaction at the decision of the government
to term 1121 as basmati. They now urged the government to withdraw Rs 10,000 per tonne export duty on basmati rice, a
major damper on exports. They urged the government to withdraw the duty in view of a bumper crop, rising dollar and stiff
competition from Pakistan.

FinMin calls for more agri credit flow


Alarmed at the prospect of not meeting the annual farm credit target of Rs 2,80,000 crore for 2008-09, the finance ministry
has asked banks to undertake special drives to enhance credit flow to agriculture. Finance Minister P Chidambaram will also
raise the issue when he meets the chiefs of public sector banks here tomorrow. Credit flow to agriculture declined by 5.8
per cent to Rs 95,064 crore in April-September this year as compared with Rs 1,01,021 crore in the same period last year.
As against the annual target of Rs 2,80,000 crore for public sector banks, regional rural banks (RRBs) and cooperatives, the
lending to farmers stood at Rs 95,064 crore in the first six months of the current financial year. This is 33.95 per cent of
the annual target. During the same period in 2007-08, the lenders had met 44.9 per cent of the annual target of Rs
2,25,000 crore. Considering the slow pace of farm lending, Finance Secretary Arun Ramanathan met executive directors of
all public sector banks and National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (Nabard), the refinancier to RRBs and
cooperatives, to review the status on September 24. The chiefs of eight public sector banks, with slow progress in
agriculture credit, have been asked to improve their lending. Meanwhile, the Department of Financial Services have also
issued fresh instructions to all banks and Nabard to expedite agriculture credit flow, sources said. Out of Rs 1,95,000 crore
target for 2008-09, the 28 public sector banks have lent Rs 64,988 crore in April-September. They have achieved 33 per
cent of the annual target as compared with 40.5 per cent in the same period last year. Though absolute amount lent by
public sector banks were higher during the period, there is even a decline in the absolute amount lent by RRBs and
cooperatives during April-September this year.

Deepak Panwar appointed FCI chairman


Deepak Kumar Panwar, a 1974 batch Indian Administrative Service officer from the Andhra Pradesh cadre, has been
appointed Chairman and Managing Director of Food Corporation of India (FCI), a senior company official said today. Panwar
takes charge from Alok Sinha, who superannuated on October 31. Panwar was special chief secretary in the Andhra Pradesh
government before being appointed head of the nodal food grain procurement agency. The official said Panwar is likely to
take charge by Wednesday.

Farm outlay pegged at Rs 1 trillion


The Centre is planning increase in the outlay for agriculture in the 11th five-year plan. In the 10th five-year plan, an
amount of Rs 20,000 crore was earmarked for agriculture. In the next plan, the amount has been raised to Rs 1 lakh crore
(Rs 1 trillion). This was stated by Dr V.V. Sadamate, advisor (agriculture), Planning Commission. He was at Palampur
Agriculture University today to preside over the 30th foundation day ceremony of the institution. He also said an equal
amount would also be raised by the private sector. The agriculture universities should make use of this enhanced outlay by
reaching put to small and marginal farmers in technology transfer, setting up technology information centres at block level,
regularly arranging farmer-scientist interface, and carrying out extensive soil testing to reduce production costs, he stated.
Sadamate suggested that a pool of about 100-200 progressive farmers in each district should be created to propagate high
intensity farming. These will act as role models to propel the agricultural growth. Similarly, education being offered by the
agriculture university should be entrepreneur driven. Dr Tej Partap, vice-chancellor, said a separate head should be created
for agriculture universities in the budget outlay for agriculture. Presently, the universities are facing financial crunch after
an increase in pay scales as per the recommendations of recent wage board. Until a separate budget is earmarked for
agriculture universities, it is difficult for them to plan and execute research projects. While outlining the blue print of
Palampur Agriculture University, the vice-chancellor indicated that major changes in teaching and infrastructure
development were underway. Present intake of about 800 students in various professional courses was likely to increase
about 10 times and ultra modern facilities will be created in phases. The university has bagged first position in the country
as far as projects under national innovation projects of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research were concerned. A
documentary entitled ‘Salt traders of great Himalayas’ was also screened on the occasion. S.C Sharma, director, research,
and Dr Pardeep Sharma, dean, postgraduate studies, also expressed their views.

Cereal consumption on a decline in India, says sur


Cereal consumption in India has further declined in both urban and rural areas, even though families are spending more on
it. This worrisome trend has been reported by the latest National Sample Survey (NSS) report released on Friday. It also
reports that monthly per capita expenditure, unadjusted to inflation, has nominally increased in the past two years. The
report is based on a survey of over 63,000 households carried out during July 2006 and June 2007. Experts consider this a
thin sample, while the five-yearly NSS surveys take up much bigger samples, typically twice this size. The last big sample
survey was held in 2004-05. According to the latest report, cereal consumption in rural areas was 11.7 kg per person per
month and 9.6 kg in urban areas. In the previous large sample survey in 2004-05, it was 12.1 kg in rural areas and 9.9 kg
in urban areas. Cereal consumption has been declining for several years now as reported by NSS reports. In 1993-94, it
was 13.4 kg in rural areas and 10.6 kg in urban areas. Cereals constitute the single biggest source of nutrition for a
majority of Indians, and it also consumes the largest share of expenditure in families, among food items. Although some
people have argued that declining cereal consumption represents replacement by other food items, this does not appear to
be borne out by the data on expenditures for various items. Expenditure on cereals has actually gone up in both urban and
rural areas from Rs 101 to Rs 115 per person per month in rural areas and from Rs 106 to Rs 119 in urban areas. On the
other hand, expenditure on milk, eggs, vegetables and edible oils has largely remained the same. The NSS report also
provides information on total monthly expenditure per person, which is a measure of the general income levels of the
population. It was Rs 695 in rural areas and Rs 1,312 in urban areas in 2006-07, compared to Rs 625 and Rs 1,171 in
2005-06. This represents an increase of about 9%. Since the consumer price index increased by about 2% in this period, it
appears that real incomes have increased by about 7% over the course of one year. Given the relatively smaller sample,
this can only be a tentative conclusion. The report also said that wood, chips and dung cake continued to be the main fuel
used in rural areas, with over 84% of the rural population still dependent on this. In urban areas, almost 60% of the people
were now using LPG. Fuel continues to be an important element of family expenditure in urban areas. Another dimension of
the great rural urban divide, and the sad state of infrastructure in the countryside, is provided by the fact that in rural
areas, 42% of homes are still lit by kerosene, with electricity not yet available. The survey sought to find out the effect of
employment programmes by seeking data on those who had found employment in public works in the past year. Among
men, this share was about 7% while among women it was just 3.5%. Except among those families earning less than Rs 10
per day, the number of men who applied for work but did not get it was more than those who succeeded in getting work.
This seems to reflect a laxity in the implementation of schemes like the NREGA.

Panel to look into revival of closed fertilizer pl


The Cabinet on Thursday approved revival of the Barauni unit of Hindustan Fertiliser Corporation Limited (HFC) through a
special purpose vehicle. The Cabinet also accorded approval for constitution of an empowered committee of secretaries to
look into all the financial models for revival of each of seven closed units. The SPV will be promoted by the National
Fertilizers Limited (NFL), Rashtriya Chemicals and Fertilizers Ltd. (RCF) and Krishak Bharati Cooperative Ltd. (KRIBHCO),
finance minister P Chidambaram said on Friday. To make the unit viable, the government is also considering waiver of
outstanding Government of India loans and interest, he said. The government has already given ‘in-principle’ nod for the
waiver. The location of Barauni fertilizer unit is ideal as there is no other operational fertilizer unit in and around the closed
plant. SPV is also at liberty to raise funds from other sources and partners at appropriate time, he said. Thus revival of the
unit, apart from improving fertilizer availability in the vicinity, would also generate employment and thereby socio-economic
development in the area in particular and the state of Bihar in general. However, the natural gas which is a key input will be
a crucial issue for the revival exercise. Since the price of feedstock has got a direct correlation with subsidy, it is necessary
that the cheapest natural gas available in the country is made available to these units in varying quantities and at varying
prices, the expert maintain. A definite time schedule for provision of connectivity to these units needs will be laid down. The
fertilizer sector has been provided highest priority in allocation of gas but the price discovery mechanism for domestic gas
has been left open ended which may lead to very high prices for gas in the country thereby making priority allocation for
the sector redundant. The committee will be chaired by the fertilizer secretary Atul Chaturvedi and comprise of secretaries
of expenditure, disinvestment, planning commission, department of public enterprises and petroleum and natural gas. “The
committee will submit its recommendations, including the model for revival of each of the closed units to the government,”
Chidambaram said.

Biopesticide to be made available in market soon


Teri, which has brought out bio-pesticide Teri DBT to fight the cotton bollworm, will soon be available in the open market.
The Energy Research Institute has entered a tieup with Pasura Biotech Private Limited for technology transfer and
production of pesticide to be made available in the market for farmers. The plant-based pesticide was developed and
patented by Teri after a decade-long research by Teri and independent studies by Indian Agricultural Research centres
show substantial rise in cotton productivity as high as 205 per cent due to the use of pesticide. The biopesticide launched
last year will be available early next year and around 220 tonnes annually even as Teri plans more tie-ups to upgrade its
production. It works against cotton bollworm (Helicoverpa armigera), a common larvae affecting cotton crop yield, affecting
growth of more than 181 plant species. The larvae, which has also developed resistance towards pesticides, is the major
reason for decline in productivity. The pesticide has also been proved to be effective against chickpea and the institute is
also studying its effect on sunflower and vegetables like tomato. "By the time it is available in the market we will be able to
indicate whether it works on other pests also," said Dr Nutan Kaushik, project-in-charge, Teri.

Agri biz grads head to microfinance


Microfinance is estimated to be a Rs60,000 crore market in India. Today, the companies in this sector are seeking
specialised B school grads to help them reach the rural poor by giving them easy credit facilities. “We are on the lookout for
agri business and rural management students who have an understanding of the target audience and their sources of
livelihood," says Manjusha Raulkar, vice president, HR at SKS Microfinance. At SKS Microfinance, India's largest and fastest
growing microfinance company, management grads usually start out as area managers. Their India wide operations reach
18 states and 3.78 million clients.” To compensate the demanding work, remuneration is set at Rs7lakh per annum,"
informs Raulkar. MS Sriram, professor of agribusiness management at IIM A says, "Thirty-seven students took up
microfinance as an elective, 17 of these are from the post graduate programme. This is a significant increase for a subject
that had very few takers earlier.” Even management grads are enthused about making an impact in the rural areas. "We
provide low interest loans to women for income generating activities like livestock, agriculture, agri trade, pottery and new
age businesses like beauty parlours," says Aditi Jopat, an agri business management graduate from Symbiosis Institute of
International Business. Jopat works as an area manager for SKS in Jaipur, Rajasthan and handles 12,000 clients across 15
branches. "My field staff does a survey of population, occupation and income levels in the district. We then target a village
and study it well. In an open meeting, we inform the villagers about our loans, interest rates, benefits and repayment
procedure," she adds. Micro finance companies usually lend money to women since they tend to use resources more
productively than men. Jopat claims that the loan repayment rate is 99% since women become guarantors for one another
and repay loans under peer pressure. Companies like SKS have also started several business extension projects like selling
mobile handsets, mobile banking services, retail insurance, health insurance, solar lights for electricity, education services
etc on microfinance loans for their clients. These are offered in collaboration with service specific companies. "SKS has
launched 10 English medium schools in collaboration with an education provider in Andhra Pradesh to provide primary
education till third standard. This will help SKS clients educate their children at subsidised rates via microfinance loans,"
says Vaka Venkat Krishna, an IIM A student who works as a business development manager in Andhra Pradesh.

Ispat Energy plans to produce bio-CNG


Ispat Energy Ltd, a subsidiary of Ispat Industries Ltd, has plans to invest about Rs 1,000 crore in the current fiscal for
producing bio-CNG from pressmud, a byproduct of sugarcane processing. Biogas is extracted from pressmud, and it is
further chemically treated to produce bio-CNG. The gas produced can be used as a fuel for transportation and industrial
applications. Mr. Shishir Tamotia, CEO, Ispat Energy, told Business Line that the company intends to work with 20 sugar
mills in Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh for producing bio-CNG. It has decided to invest Rs 35 crore in a bio-CNG facility for
Warna Sugar Ltd, Maharashtra, he said. Mr. Tamotia declined to share the details of the fund raising plan. Ispat Energy has
signed a BOOT (build-own-operate-transfer) agreement with Warna for setting up the 11,000 cubic metres a day bio-CNG
plant, which will be online by October 2009. The plant is expected to utilise 110 tonnes of pressmud and 100 tonnes of wet
and dry organic manure a day to produce the gas. The complete project can generate 16,000 to 30,000 carbon credits a
year. CantorCO2e, which is of the leading provider of financial services to the global environmental and energy markets,
would be developing the clean development mechanism documentation, which is required for selling the carbon credits for
10 years. Mr. Tamotia said that bio-CNG would be produced at about Rs 26 a kg and would be sold to Warna at Rs 28 a kg.
The sugar mill would use it as a piped natural gas for its residential colony and also selling it commercially in 19 kg
cylinders, he said. Mr. Tamotia said the company planned to invest Rs 5,000 crore in the next five years for distribution of
natural gas. It would produce its own natural gas from organic sources and not from hydrocarbon sources. It has identified
tier-II and III cities such as Kolhapur and Sangali close to the sugar belt of Maharashtra for city gas distribution, he said.

South Asia all set to operate its food bank


South Asia is likely to witness the operation of its Food Bank, as the region's agriculture ministers are planning to meet in
Delhi early next month to formulate the Regional Agriculture Perspective and Vision-2020. The region's agriculture
ministers would also consider the setting up of a milk grid for the region as part of the broader issues relating to the dairy
sector. As per the directives of the 15th summit in Colombo in August, this year, the South Asian Association for Regional
Cooperation (SAARC) has done the last critical mile in terms of putting the region's food bank scheme into operation. The
idea of a SAARC Food Security Reserve was first conceived way back in 1987 with a reserve of 2,41,580 tonne of wheat and
rice, but the scheme could not take off the ground. Learning from the failure, the region's leaders agreed to set up a South
Asia Food Bank at the 14th SAARC Summit in Delhi in April 2007, the modalities of which were finalised at the 15th SAARC
Summit in Colombo in August, this year. The SAARC secretary general, Sheel Kant Sharma said, "The SAARC Food Bank's
board met for the first time in Colombo in October 15-16, 2008 and finalised the modalities for determination of price on
FoB basis, arranging deferred payments by the requesting country, exemption from regulatory duties by the releasing
country and release of food stock from facilities closest to the requesting country." The contribution by each member
country to the SAARC Food Bank has been fixed, with India's share being the largest at 63.42%, followed by Bangladesh
and Pakistan with 16.58% each, Sri Lanka and Nepal with 1.66% each, Maldives with 0.08% and Bhutan with 0.07%.
Afghanistan's contribution is fixed at 1,420 tonne. A meeting of the South Asia Civil Society Forum convened by the Nepal-
based South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics and Environment (SAWTEE) last week has suggested to the SAARC
Secretariat the ways for simplifying the operation of the food bank. This would be the region's second experiment with
institutional food security after the failure of the SAARC Food Security Reserve due to its complicated process and hard
conditions. One of the main reasons for the failure was the balance of payment crisis afflicting the region. The newly
proposed SAARC Food Bank has put in place simplified procedures and proposed release of stocks for meeting the
production or buffer shortages in member countries, apart from meeting the emergencies arising out of severe and
unexpected calamities. Member countries can ask for release of stock if their annual foodgrain production falls by 8% over
the three-year average. However, exceptions can be made for seasonal shortfall. The bank has provisions for involvement
of the private sector at nodal points of transactions.

Latest crop varieties do not reach farmers’ field:


Fifty-two per cent of Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs) and on-farm testing service of the Indian Council of Agriculture Research
(ICAR), were still demonstrating old crop varieties released between 1948 and 1997 in frontline demonstrations on oilseeds
and pulses. As a result, the latest crop varieties and technologies did not reach the farmers’ fields, the Comptroller Auditor
General has observed in the report for the year ending March, 2007. The report was tabled in Parliament on Friday. The
ICAR is responsible for conducting extension activities like demonstration, testing and transferring farm technologies from
research institutes to farmers’ fields. The performance audit of the extension activities of the ICAR during the tenth plan
revealed that there was significant shortfall in conducting technical activities like training, frontline demonstrations and on-
farm testing for farmers, the report said. The results of the frontline demonstrations being conducted by the KVKs showed
that the demonstrated practices were not cost-effective for adoption by farmers. The total expenditure of the ICAR for its
extension activities during the tenth five-year plan was Rs 834.77 crore. Further, the report pointed out that only 0.34 per
cent of the total rural youth trained were able to gain self-employment. “Inadequate training courses were being conducted
for practicing farmers, rural youth and extension functionaries,” the report said in a scathing criticism of the ICAR. It said
that monitoring, evaluation and overall management of KVKs were inadequate and needed to be strengthened. The
Agriculture Technology Information Centres (ATICs) were not fully successful in providing a single-window supporting
delivery system for the availability of technology products, diagnostic services and technology information to the farmers
and other end users. The basic eligibility criteria such as proper site selection, minimum requirement of cultivable land (for
demonstrations), mortgage of land were not followed in the establishment of KVKs. Further, there were delays in
development, non-utilisation and misutilisation of infrastructural facilities in KVKs. The National Research Centre for Women
in Agriculture (NRCWA), which is also an agency for frontline demonstrations for women, did not undertake 70 per cent of
its activities during the tenth plan. It did not create a data base on gender specific information, identify hazards in
agricultural operations and develop need-based technologies for women. The report has categorically stated that the
extension activities of the ICAR needed to be over-hauled to ensure better transfer and adoption level of farm technologies
and for enhancement of productivity.

Clarity on fertilizer bonds likely by November-end


THE amount of dues from the government to fertilizer companies to be settled in bonds this year now hinges on the
additional resources the budget is able to generate. In the background of the current financial turmoil, any clarity on the
bonds from the Centre will come by the end of November. The latest calculations by the fertilizer ministry had indicated
that around Rs 14,000 crore of the remaining dues (against unpaid subsidies/concessions to fertilizer companies) could be
settled in bonds in the current financial year, with another Rs 31,000 crore being settled in cash. However, these plans
depend on how well the government is able to manage its fiscal deficit in 2008-09. Earlier this week, finance minister P
Chidambaram admitted that the government could overshoot its fiscal deficit targets for the year in view of the ongoing
financial turmoil. Well-placed government sources told ET: “ The size of the fertilizer bonds for the current year would be
known only after a month.” The government’s fertilizer subsidy bill for the year is still projected at well over Rs 1 lakh
crore. If the rupee continues to weaken for the rest of the year, any marginal gains made on the subsidy bill may be
nullified. The pending dues to fertilizer firms account for a substantial chunk of the projected fertilizer subsidy bill of Rs 1,
20,000 crore. Budgetary provisions for the year, ironically and quite inexplicably, were only a paltry Rs 31,000 crore,
spelling a massive difference. That allocated amount, in fact, was enough to ensure fertilizer supplies only up to June 2008,
barely three months into the year. Not surprisingly, they have been pushing aggressively for squaring up of all dues by the
government urgently and in cash, while being deadset against the issuance of bonds by the government to settle dues.
During 2007-08, Rs 7,500 crore (about 19% of the total subsidy for the year) was settled in the form of bonds.

Hi-tech foodgrains rationing system for below pove


The State Government has introduced a hi-tech rationing system which will ensure the timely supply of foodgrains to
people living below the poverty line and simultaneously prevent black-marketing and circulation of bogus ration cards.
What has prompted the Yeddyurappa Government to launch this novel measure is the high level of black-marketing in
foodgrains (estimated around 25 per cent). The Government spends Rs. 900 crore annually towards foodgrains subsidy.
Governments in the State over the past three decades have found it difficult to check the rampant black-marketing in
foodgrains and circulation of bogus ration cards, although it is evident that politicians have been behind the large-scale
issue of below poverty line cards in exchange for votes. And all this has been at the cost of the poor and the needy for
whom the rationing system has been designed. The new system, which has been introduced on a pilot basis in select ration
shops of Bangalore, Mysore, Dakshina Kannada and Chikmagalur districts, is expected to substantially reduce the subsidy
expenditure. In all, 26 companies, which submitted an Expression of Interest to participate in the scheme to check
malpractices, have been allotted ration shops to showcase their technology. The participating companies have provided
each ration shop with a hand-held machine which has the details of the consumers in their jurisdiction and the foodgrains
for which they are eligible, apart from the quantum of grain allotted to the shop concerned. Chief Minister B.S.
Yeddyurappa, who reviewed the progress of the implementation of the scheme with Minister for Food and Civil Supplies H.
Halappa, Principal Secretary (Food and Civil Supplies) K.M. Shivakumar and Commissioner, Food and Civil Supplies,
Shivaram, told The Hindu that Karnataka ranked first in the introduction of the hi-tech system and this would be extended
to all parts of the State over a period of time. Several other States, which are facing similar problems relating to black-
marketing and bogus ration cards, had sought details of the scheme. Thumb impression on arrival at the shop, a consumer
has to give his thumb impression and all details relating to his family size and a printout of the quantum of foodgrains for
which he is eligible is provided. Thereafter, the small machine at the ration shop deducts the foodgrains provided to the
consumer from the quantum made over to the shop by the wholesale agent. The consumers of all these select ration shops
under the pilot project have been provided photo identity-cum-biometric cards. Meanwhile, the Government has directed
that all below the poverty line card holders should be in possession of a photo identity-cum-biometric card to draw their
monthly ration, which includes 20 kg of rice at Rs. 3 a kg, 5 kg of wheat also at Rs. 3 a kg, apart from sugar and kerosene
at highly subsidised rates.

Nabard, SIDBI oppose national fund for unorganised


The National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (Nabard) and Small Industries Development Bank of India
(SIDBI) want the funds for micro enterprises in the unorganised sector routed through these institutions rather than a
newly set up entity. It was earlier proposed by the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS),
led by Dr Arjun Sengupta, to set up a separate entity called National Fund for the Unorganised Sector (NAFUS). The report
submitted to the Government is awaiting Cabinet approval. NAFUS’s primary focus would be on non-farm micro enterprises
with investment of less than Rs 5 lakh. Officials from Nabard and SIDBI voiced their views at a seminar on ‘Access to
Finance for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector’ organised by IGIDR and NCEUS. “If a new entity is set up, it will take a
few years for the entity to be fully operational. It is better to use the existing institutions for the disbursal of funds,” said
Mr. C.K. Gopalakrishna, Chief General Manager, Nabard. NCEUS has proposed a start-up capital of Rs 500 crore for NAFUS,
which can be further increased to Rs 1,000 crore, said Dr Arjun Sengupta, Chairman, NCEUS. The purpose of NAFUS is to
lend to the unorganised sector primarily for productive purposes, rather than consumption purposes, said Mr. Sengupta.
Disbursal of funds could take place either through a new organisation or through existing institutions. It is possible that
existing institutions can help in capacity building of the unorganised sector, said Mr. Sengupta.

Companies line up for organic tea


Competition has started heating up in the organic tea segment. With consumers getting health conscious companies are
launching new products in the segment, which is still at a nascent stage and is pegged at Rs 50 crore. Organic India has
allocated $10 million over the next three years for the development and the launch of 24 new products in organic tea
segment. The company, however, refused to speak on the products in detail. One of the leading brands in the organic tea
segment, Organic India is aiming a turnover of $40 million over the next three years. The company would build greenfield
projects, augment its manpower and increase the number of farmers to achieve capacity augmentation. The company has
already launched 18 flavours of ‘Tulsi Tea’ in the US market. It has launched four flavours of the tea in India and is going to
bring in five more flavours. Last month the company launched a few new flavours—sweet Lemon, tulsi sweet rose, India
breakfast, or tulsi mulethi. The Kolkata-based Duncans Tea Ltd (DTL), which is also seriously looking at this segment will
introduce more new products in the market over the next six months. “It’s an emerging segment mainly patronised by the
health conscious upmarket urban consumers. Currently we are working on different health related variants of organic tea,”
MC Appaiah, chief operating officer, Duncans Tea Ltd said.

Agriculture Leadership Awards 2008 announced


The National Awards Committee of Agriculture Leadership Awards, under the Chairmanship of the Hon'ble Governor,
Haryana, which met in New Delhi, announced the Awards for 2008, under various categories. The Policy Leadership Award
goes to renowned scientist, Dr. MS Swaminathan, Chairman, MS Swaminathan Foundation and MP (Rajya Sabha) for his
role in formulating and influencing policies related to the farm sector at the National and International levels for over five
decades, which positively impacted the lives of millions of farmers in India and around the world. The Research Leadership
Award goes to eminent agriculture scientist, Dr. VL Chopra, Member, Planning Commission and former DG, ICAR for his role
in providing leadership to the national research & development for over two decades. The State Leadership Award goes to
Andhra Pradesh for its tremendous performance in agriculture due a large number of policy initiatives in the field of water
management, inputs supplies, marketing reforms, credit flow, farm insurance, dairy sector etc. by the State Government
under the Chief Minister, Dr. YS Rajasekhara Reddy, which accelerated agricultural growth and brought about overall rural
prosperity. The Development Leadership Award goes to NABARD for the institution launching a large number of programs
and schemes for agriculture growth, rural employment, entrepreneurship development, agribusiness projects, grassroot
movement of self-help groups for micro credit, rural infrastructure development etc., which impacted the farm growth and
contributed to rural prosperity. The Life Time Achievements Award goes to three outstanding personalities for having
served the Indian agriculture system for over four decades each, which positively impacted the growth in India's farm
sector, created newer opportunities and contributed to overall rural prosperity. Dr. V. Kurien is known as pioneer of White
Revolution in the country and the architect of Operation Flood, who organised milk producers under the cooperative system
and later created NDDB, which helped milk farmers substantially. Dr. KL Chadha is known as the Pioneer of Golden
Revolution in India, who provided leadership to horticulture development in India through shaping policies, building
institutions, disseminating knowledge and energising the system for employment and entrepreneurship opportunities in
horticulture sector, which benefited millions of farmers in the country. Dr. RS Paroda is known for his transformational role
in the Indian agricultural system, having headed ICAR as its DG, which witnessed rapid growth in farm sector, building of
agriculture institutions of international repute and forging international cooperation. A scientist par excellence and an
outstanding administrator, he also played global roles in FAO and CGIAR systems, which helped farmers and agriculture
around the world. The Corporate Leadership Award goes to Jain irrigation Systems Limited, Jalgaon and Monsanto Mahyco
Biotechnology Limited, Mumbai. Jain Irrigation Systems Limited for having pioneered the concept of precision farming and
use of plastics in agriculture through the use of micro-irrigation by deploying huge field force to educate farmers and
working closely with the Government, which helped in saving of water and improvement in farm quality and yields. The
work of JISL has been nationally and internationally recognised. Mahyco Monsanto Biotechnology Limited for having helped
India in cotton revolution, resulting in the doubling of cotton yields in five years time and India becoming the 2nd largest
cotton grower in the world. With the adoption of Bt. cotton technologies, the independent studies have shown, farmers
gaining over Rs. 7,000 crore annually, besides India brightening its prospects of becoming world's largest producer of
cotton in the years to come. The Farming Leadership Award goes to two outstanding personalities for having served the
Indian farmers for over four decades each, which positively impacted the growth in India's farm sector. Sh. Sharad Joshi for
having worked tirelessly for over four decades in organising farmers under Shetkari Sangathana, taking up their issues and
influencing policies for farm sector, besides contributing directly to policy formulation as the Chairman of Standing National
Advisory Council on Agriculture and the National Task Force on Agriculture, which helped significantly in betterment of
socio-economic milieu of the millions of Indian farmers. Sh. MS Grewal for modeling integrated farming systems, increasing
the yields by four times of various horticultural crops, which got him much recognition in Punjab and awarded by the State
Govt. He took his models of successful farming to the fellow farmers in various parts of Punjab that helped thousands of
farmers in adopting integrated and efficient farming systems, which benefited them. The Government of India recognised
his role and took his services by nominating him to CACP as Member. The Agriculture Leadership Awards have been
instituted by Agriculture Today, the national agriculture magazine, published by Centre for Agriculture and Rural
Development from New Delhi. The Awards shall be presented on 19th Sept, 2008 at the Agriculture Leadership Summit in
New Delhi at a glittering ceremony to celebrate the spirit of hopes and happenings in India's farm sector. Details can be
visited at www.agriculturetoday.in

Bt brinjal to go commercial next year


After an overwhelming success of Bacillus thurengiensis (Bt) cotton, Bt brinjal is all set to go commercial from the next
sowing season, with the completion of its trial runs. After the launch, Bt brinjal will become the first edible product in the
country to be grown using genetically modified (GM) seeds. According to R K Sinha, executive director, All India Crop
Biotechnology Association, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research has been sowing GM seeds of Bt brinjal for the last
four to five years and has found no harm in commercialising it with adequate approval from the authorities concerned. This
year, ICAR covered between 15 and 18 acres under Bt brinjal across the country to test the viability of commercialisation
before the final approval. “Brinjal is a staple food for many poor people, which also has medicinal properties. Hence,
commercialisation would not only benefit farmers, who can save their investment in pesticides, but may also boost their
income by way of a higher production,” Sinha said. On December 10, 2007, the Supreme Court had refused to stay
Mahyco’s (Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company) trials of Bt brinjal in various parts of the country following a plea from
social activists Aruna Rodrigues and P V Satheesh. A committee, under the union ministry of environment and forests, had
given clearances for the large-scale field trials in August 2007. According to a study by Mahyco, the technology supplier for
Bt brinjal and a strong advocate of genetically-modified agricultural crops, farmers invest about Rs 100 per pesticide spray
per acre for anywhere between 40-45 sprays of the 90day brinjal crop. Secondly, harvesting is not allowed after four to five
days of spraying to avoid any residual pesticides, which may be consumed directly under the existing norms. But farmers
continue to harvest within two days of spraying. Hence, the intake of pesticides through fruits and vegetables is high, the
study pointed out. By sowing Bt brinjal, hardly one or two sprays are required against the insect attack. But the number of
sprays may increase depending upon the intensity of pest infestation, said Mahendra Kumar Sharma, general manager,
Mahyco, who is also closely monitoring the developments of Bt brinjal. Launched about six years ago, Bt cotton has covered
almost 70 per cent of the area under cotton in India. This is likely to rise further to 80 per cent this year. A change in
farming techniques has revolutionalised the living standards of cotton farmers by enriching them monetarily.

India to import three million tonnes of pulses


India is likely to import 3 million tonnes (MT) of pulses in FY09, 11.1 per cent more than a year ago, to bridge the gap
between rising domestic demand and a likely fall in summer-sown pulses output, a senior official said. “The government
agencies will import 1.5 million tonnes of pulses and we are expecting same amount of imports from private players,”
Yashwant Bhave, secretary, consumer affairs ministry said on Wednesday. In 2007-08, imports were around 2.7 million
tonnes, according to provisional estimates, he said. India is the world’s biggest producer, consumer and importer of pulses.
The country allowed duty-free import and banned export of pulses in 2006. The ban was extended to March 2009. Prices of
kharif, or summer-sown pulses like tur or red gram, urad, or black matpe, and moong, or green gram, have risen by more
than 15 per cent in the last three months due to a drop in the acreage. Area under kharif pulses was 10 million hectares as
on September 4, down 16.7 per cent compared to 12 million hectares the same time last year, farm ministry data showed.

Policy Leadership Award for Dr. MS Swaminathan


The National Awards Committee of Agriculture Leadership Awards, under the Chairmanship of the Hon'ble Governor,
Haryana, which met in New Delhi, announced the Awards for 2008, under various categories. The Policy Leadership Award
was decided in favour of renowned scientist, Dr. MS Swaminathan, Chairman, MS Swaminathan Foundation and MP (Rajya
Sabha) for his role in formulating and influencing policies related to farm sector at National and International level for over
five decades, which positively impacted the lives of millions of farmers in India and around the world. The Research
Leadership Award for 2008 goes to eminent agriculture scientist, Dr. VL Chopra, Member, Planning Commission and former
DG, ICAR for his role in providing leadership to the national research & development for over two decades. The Farming
Leadership Award for 2008 goes to Sh. Sharad Joshi for having worked tirelessly for over four decades in organising
farmers under Shetkari Sangathan, taking up their issues and influencing policies for farm sector, besides contributing
directly to policy formulation as the Chairman of Standing National Advisory Council on Agriculture and the National Task
Force on Agriculture, which helped significantly in betterment of socio-economic mileu of the millions of Indian farmers. The
Agriculture Leadership Awards have been instituted by Agriculture Today, the national agriculture magazine, published by
Centre for Agriculture and Rural Development from New Delhi. The Awards shall be presented on 19th Sept, 2008 at the
Agriculture Leadership Summit in New Delhi at a glittering ceremony to celebrate the spirit of hopes and happenings in
India's farm sector. Details can be visited at www.agriculturetoday.in

World Bank project to boost agri sector


A World Bank-aided agriculture project is expected to give a boost to the agriculture sector in Perambalur district. The
Agriculture Modernisation and Water Bodies Restoration and Management Project, is to be taken up in the Chinnaru sub-
basin and will give a push to increasing agricultural productivity, farm mechanisation and overall growth of the agriculture
and allied sectors in the district. The soil in the district is best suited for raising dry crops, though paddy is raised in a
substantial area. Sugarcane is the main commercial crop of the district. The Rs 8.23 crore project will be implemented over
a period of three years and seeks to stabilise and ensure full irrigation in the basin's ayacut area of 3,006 hectares. It would
also seek to reduce the area of cultivation of water intensive crops, such as paddy, and encourage farmers to go in for
pulses, maize, cotton, onion, horticulture and other vegetables that require lesser water supply. Eight Government
departments will execute the project. The information, education and communication (IEC) activities to sensitise the
farmers about the scheme has just commenced. A bulk of the funds, Rs 5.36 crore, would go to the Water Resources
Organisation of the Public Works Department for strengthening the irrigation infrastructure in the river sub-basin. As many
as 34 major tanks, nine anaicuts, their inlet channels and irrigation canals in 32 villages would be desilted and provided
with concrete linings under the project. The bunds of the canals and weirs and shutters would also be strengthened. The
Agriculture Department has been sanctioned Rs11.92 lakh for encouraging farmers to go for dry crops such as onions and
sunflowers. As part of the scheme, model agricultural farms would be established on 50 acres in select places. The
Horticulture Department would encourage farmers to raise fruits such as tissue-culture banana, mangoes and vegetables
such as chillies, tomato and turmeric. Farm implements such as drip irrigation/sprinkler systems and combined harvesters
would be supplied at subsidised rates to farmers through the Agriculture Engineering Department, which has been allotted
Rs 1.10 crore. Training would be provided to the farmers on modern cultivation practices and about drought-resistant crops
through the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University. Guidance would be given to the agriculturists by the Animal Husbandry
Department on the ways to increase milk and meat production. The officials of the Fisheries Department would lend their
expertise on fish rearing in inland tanks and ponds.

Tatas take franchise route for F&V bu


THE TATA group is adopting the franchisee route to grow its fruit and vegetables cash-and-carry business. The recently
created joint venture (JV) between Tata Chemicals and Europe’s largest fresh produce company — Total Produce, has
drawn up a plan to set up 20 cash-and-carry distribution centers across India. Khet-Se Agriproduce India, as the 50:50 JV
is called, will invest Rs 212 crore until fiscal 2012. It has just signed up its first franchise store in Ludhiana for wholesaling
fresh fruits and vegetables. “We have identified 6-7 acres at Kalyan, near Mumbai, for our second distribution centre and
we plan to have a franchisee store here too. We will go in for franchisees wherever suitable ones are available to operate
the stores. Where we do not get suitable franchisees, we will look at setting up our own stores for cash-and-carry
operations,” says a senior Tata Chemicals official. In Punjab, where Khet Se signed up its first franchisee — a local
entrepreneur associated with the Tata group, the company has set up a state-of-the-art cold storage and ripening facility at
Malerkotla that functions as an integrated collection, primary processing and distribution centre. The franchisee on the
other hand runs the store, which services local clientele such as businesses and small retail outlets. Tata Chemicals is using
its relationship with farmers and its network of around 613 Tata Kisan Sansar Kendras to not only sell agricultural inputs
but also to advice farmers on crops to grow and farming practices to adopt. “We expect to procure fresh fruits and
vegetables worth between Rs 60-70 crore via contract farming agreements between individual cultivators and Khet-Se,
facilitated by our TKS Kendras,” says the Tata Chemicals official. The Tatas are also purchasing wheat, paddy, maize and
potato seeds from farmers on a contract-farming basis. These seeds are then retailed through its TKS Kendras to farmers in
north and east India. “We have now started a pilot with Tata Consultancy Services to offer farmers information on weather
patterns and market prices of produce on their mobile phones. If this pilot in Aligarh is successful, the service will be rolled
out to more places and farmers everywhere will benefit from the free service,” says the senior Tata Chemicals official. The
objective behind all these initiatives is to strengthen the bond with farmers so that the forward integration business of
Khet-Se is well received. Once the Mumbai distribution centre becomes operational, Khet-Se will also start supplying to
Trent’s hypermarket format — Star India Bazaar, which is expanding its network in the country’s commercial capital.

India world’s largest coconut producer


INDIA has overtaken Indonesia and Philippines in coconut production and has become the world's largest producer of the
fruit. Coconut production in the country touched 1,584 crore in 2006-07, up from 1,481 coconuts in the previous year.
Coconut development board (CDB) chairperson Minnie Mathew said the coconut productivity has also shown an upward
trend during the year. It increased to 8,165 per hectare from 7,608. The southern states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and
Karnataka account for 90.29% of the areas and 91.13% of the country’s coconut production. Though tsunami had wrought
damage to crops in certain parts of the country, good monsoon in the last few years has helped increase production. While
the Indian coconut production has risen, that of other major global producers, Indonesia and Philippines, has declined.
Coconut production in Indonesia fell to 1,498 crore and that of Philippines to 1,260 crore. Ms Mathew said CDB has
introduced the concept of coconut-based farming system as against the traditional practice of cultivating coconut as a mono
crop. This has helped in augmenting the farmer’s income. Nearly 57.41% of the total budget of the board is allocated for
productivity improvement. CDB’s campaign on health benefits of coconut products and consumption of tender coconut
water has yielded positive results, she said. In the last three years, there has been a 130% rise in the consumption of
tender coconut in Kerala alone.

Overseas farming to boost food security on the car


CONTRIBUTING their bit to the global Indian takeover, the government and India Inc plan to buy sizeable land abroad for
cultivation. Seen as a long-term answer to keep prices of farm products under control, the grand plan envisages acquisition
of large tracts of land in neighbouring countries like Myanmar and far off places like Paraguay. Canada and Australia are the
other countries under consideration. The ministry of external affairs has suggested that purchase of land for cultivation
should cover Africa, too. Having discussed various proposals for overseas land acquisition at a top-level meeting, the
government is also planning to revisit restrictions on investing abroad. Liberal rules would help Indian companies and public
sector organisations to purchase land abroad for cultivation. The crop grown in these farms would then be shipped to India.
The current focus is on pulses and oilseeds. Highly-placed sources said 10,000 hectares has already been identified in
Paraguay, at $4,000 per hectare, for soyabean cultivation. Proposals have also come from Brazil and Argentina, where the
price of farm land is around $6,000 per hectare. The Solvent Extractors Association has identified land in Paraguay and has
approached the Exim Bank for financing the deal. The acquisition in Paraguay is estimated to cost around Rs 200 crore.
Interestingly, the move comes at a time when a major controversy is brewing over acquisition of farm land in the country
for industrial development. The government-run State Trading Corporation (STC) has also evinced interest in buying land
overseas, the sources said. Oil companies are also exploring purchase of land in South America to produce raw material for
ethanol. Officials involved think it is cheaper to buy huge tracts of land in South America or Africa. Apart from prices being
high, they say, large tracts of land are not available in India, too. STC, one of the companies involved in importing edible oil
and pulses, is keen to procure land in Latin America, Canada and Australia. Senior officials who find the land acquisition
plan interesting, however, have a word of caution too. “Arrangements have to be made for exporting the produce to India.
Transportation and logistics are important in such cases. We should also make sure that local governments do not stall
exports to India,” top government sources said. Private sector players want the government to play a facilitating role,
enabling them to buy land abroad. Chinese companies are making inroads into Africa with the active support of their
government, they said. In the case of neighbouring countries, the core issue is transport connectivity. The external affairs
ministry, for example, feels that logistics should be tied up when land is purchased. At the government level, talks have
been initiated with Myanmar for cultivation of pulses for exclusive export to India. The Myanmar government has already
initiated work to upgrade a port there for better sea links with India. For decades, India has been depending on imports to
meet its growing edible oil demand. Similar is the case with pulses and the situation is expected to be not much different in
the case of other farm products too as demand is fast outstripping supply.

RBI moots farm revamp to boost productivity


The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has suggested a comprehensive agriculture revamp programme as a policy initiative to
shore up the stagnating agricultural productivity in India. “Stagnation in productivity in agriculture on the one hand and
growing incomes and changes in consumption patterns on the other have led to demand-supply mismatches in the case of
major agricultural commodities,” the central bank pointed out in its Annual Report on Friday. The factors that were stifling
agricultural productivity included lack of yield growth, decline in agricultural investment, and rising input costs, especially
fertilizers and fuel, according to RBI. It feels that the comprehensive agricultural revamp programme should aim at
developing area-specific high yielding varieties, especially for wheat and pulses. Food prices have hardened in India in
recent times, but the increase in wholesale prices of various crops was of a much lower order in comparison with the
increase in global food prices, it said.

Agriculture Leadership Awards for 2008 to be decla


The final results of the much awaited Agriculture Leadership Awards 2008 are likely to be announced on 4th Sept, 08, when
the National Awards Committee meets and takes final decision on the seven categories of awards. Speaking to reporters in
New Delhi, MJ Khan, Convener of the Agriculture Leadership Awards said that the delay is due to Dr. MS Swaminathan
being away to attend a program at IRRI in Manila and he is expected back here on 4th Sept. The Committee, which met in
New Delhi on 25th Aug, 08, under the Chairmanship of His Excellency, Dr. AR Kidwai, Hon'ble Governor of Haryana,
reviewed the various nominations received; it was suggested to hold consultations with Dr. MS Swaminathan, before taking
the final decisions. Revealing the details, Mr. Khan said that a large number of entries have been received from all over the
country, besides nominations by eminent persons for all the seven categories. The award categories for 2008 are: 1. Policy
Leadership; 2. Research Leadership; 3. Development Leadership; 4. Farming Leadership; 5. Industry Leadership; 6. Best
Agriculture Performing State and 7. Lifetime Achievement.

ACME aims to invest in “Farm to Home” supply chain


ACME Cold Chain Solutions, a part of the Acme Telepower Group is planning to start a “Farm to Home” supply chain by
making use of 2000 cold rooms, to be built in villages and small towns. Around 30-40% of perishables are lost in India due
to improper storage and transportation facilities, said Mr. Manoj kumar Upadhyay, Managing Director, Acme. He said that
the company had made an outlay of Rs 1000 crores for the construction of 2000 cold room and 5000 specially designed
vendor carts for the cities and cold boxes for transportation purposes. Acme has patented a thermal management system,
working on the PCM technology, which happens to be the backbone of Acme cold rooms, cold boxes and carts. Acme aims
at creating an efficient cold supply chain, which can leverage on the multi seasonal advantage that India offers.

Biomass from bamboo seen as alternative to coal


‘The high energy biomass from bamboo could serve as ‘green coal’. This is renewable and less polluting than coal,’ Dr N.
Barathi, Director, Growmore Biotech, has said. He said biomass from bamboo was never seen as an alternative for
alternative to coal until recently due to various reasons such as the low average yield of bamboo, difficulty in harvesting
and the lack of standardised agricultural practice for cultivating the plant. “We have developed a thornless bamboo variety
– Beema. Not only is the yield high (about 100 tonnes a hectare a year), its energy value at 4,000 Kcal is also high, at 80
per cent of coal energy value. The bamboo (green coal) is available at just about a third of the cost coal,” he said, adding
“today we are witnessing not only coal shortage, but a steep rise in its price. By going for this green coal, we can save
foreign exchange and protect the environment as well.” Growmore has a monthly production capacity of 4 lakh bamboo
plants. The company has been involved in supplying bamboo plants to the Governments of Mizoram, Tamil Nadu and
Gujarat. “We are in talks with Maharashtra Government as also some corporates for supply of tissue culture plantings,” Dr
Barathi said. The company has supplied to farmers with small holdings of up to 10 acres in Tamil Nadu. “It is more than a
year now. Plantations in Kerala have raised bamboo as a border crop and in swampy lands.” Stating that the variety –
Beema – from Growmore stable served as an excellent carbon sink, he said that under well managed condition with drip
and fertigation, the crop could be harvested in two years, unlike the normal crop which could be harvested only after 6-7
years. The combustion property and energy value/kg can further be improved by either pelletising chips and powders made
from all plant parts of bamboo or by gasification by heating bamboo biomass, he added

HDFC Bank bets big on rural market


HDFC Bank, the country’s third largest public sector lender, has chalked out new measures to expand network to rural
areas of the country, with an aim of capturing opportunity created by increasing demand for banking and finance products
by farmers and self-help groups. New branches in rural areas would have a core banking facility, similar to those that the
bank provides to customers in metropolitan cities, according to a top executive of the bank.

Reliance rural retail kicks off in Gujarat


AFTER having scaled up its retail operation in cities, Reliance Retail is now looking at rural India. It is piloting a rural-
business-hub (RBH) model in a Gujarat village, which if successful and implemented could rival that of DSCL’s Hariyali
Kisan Bazaar and Future Group’s Aadhar. RBH would offer farm input, food, grocery, consumer durables, and financial and
health services. It will also provide farmers a platform to sell their produce, an equivalent of village haat. A community hall
and entertainment facilities will form part of the hub. A typical RBH would be spread over 3-5 acre and require an
investment of around Rs 5 crore, besides the cost of land, a Reliance executive told ET. It couldn’t be ascertained how
much Reliance has earmarked for its RBH project, but the company executive said it could run into hundreds of crores. The
company plans to set up at least 40 hubs in Gujarat alone in the first phase. RBH will serve twin functions for Reliance rural
retail as well as sourcing for its urban retail centres. RIL Chairman Mukesh Ambani has talked of fomenting agriculture
revolution in the country and giving farmer their due by cutting middlemen and directly procuring from them for company’s
retail stores. Reliance has over 40 collection centres in Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.
The company feels rural hubs may not initially turn profits, but is banking on big volumes to sustain the business. Reliance
Retail has scaled fairly rapidly in the past two years to set up over 700 stores across several cities. The tally of stores are
still below its target, as its move were stalled in some states such as UP, where traders’ protest forced the company to shut
down stores. For its RHB business, the company aims to avoid difficult states such as UP, West Bengal and Bihar. Despite
this, riding into hinterlands may not be easy for India’s biggest business house, as managing politics at village level is not
that too easy, with each village being dominated by politics of a different hue. Moreover, getting an efficient health services
in place in rural India has been a major challenge for almost all governments in the country. Despite huge resources at
their disposal, state governments have not been able to get doctors to the villages, as most doctors prefer a better life in
city.

Rice procurement 6 pc above last year


Rice procurement this year continues to trail behind the target set for 2008 even though it surpassed last year’s
procurement by almost six per cent this week. For the other essential foodgrain - wheat - there has been an all-time record
procurement and the government, fighting inflation and rising essential commodity prices in the crucial election year, says
that sugar prices are expected to come down and wholesale prices of mustard and groundnut have already declined. As per
the official data, rice procurement as on August 13 was 265.96 lakh tonne in the Kharif Marketing Season (KMS) 2007-08
as against the overall procurement of 251.07 lakh tonne during 2006-2007 marketing season. The procurement this year
saw an increase of 5.95 per cent over the previous year. The government is confident that rice stock will be 62.53 lakh
tonne as on October 1, against the buffer norm of 52 lakh tonne. But officials feel that the government may not be able to
reach the procurement target of 276 lakh tonne for rice till September, thereby falling short by almost six lakh tonne for
2007-08 KMS. They say that so far 265.96 lakh tonne has been procured and about a month back this figure was 264.27
lakh tonne. Which means that even though procurement in the current season has been better than 251.07 lakh tonne
procured during the previous season, the total procurement is likely to be around 270 lakh tonne? Experts say farmers,
anticipating higher MSP for kharif paddy, may be holding back the stock, as the general feeling is that paddy MSP will go
up. Incidentally the total rice production is pegged at 95.68 million tonne for 2007-08, compared to 93.35 million tonne in
2006-07. Meanwhile, agriculture ministry officials say the government has taken several steps to maintain adequate
availability of foodgrains, edible oils and sugar in order to check price rise in these commodities. There is comfortable stock
of foodgrains and as on August 1 it is estimated that the stock of wheat on April 1, 2009, will be higher at 78.60 lakh tonne
compared to the buffer norms of 40 lakh tonne. Additional release of 5 lakh MT sugar (2 lakh MT of sugar for August 2008
and additional 3 lakh MT for September 2008), besides estimated 16 lakh MT of sugar availability (through regular 9 lakh
MT of monthly sugar releases and monthly pro-rata quantity of 6.5 lakh MT of dismantled buffer sugar stock) effected to
control sugar prices. This will become evident in two-three weeks from now. The wholesale prices of soya bean oil, mustard
oil and groundnut oil have declined by 12.10 per cent, 6.47 per cent, and 4.83 per cent, respectively, since last month.

Sugar industry demands long-term policy on exports


The sugar industry has sought a long-term policy to enable it to export regularly irrespective of variations in output. It said
the irregular nature of sugar shipments from India is resulting in low price realisation. "Usually, importing countries do not
look upon the Indian exporters as a reliable long-term supplier. So, Indian exporters suffer and that is reflected in the price
realisation for Indian sugar," Indian Sugar Mills Association director general S L Jain said. Indian sugar sells at a discount of
almost $100 per tonne against the international price, he said in the monthly newsletter of the association

India-FAO set to launch organic tea project


India is in the final stages of launching a project for organic tea under the aegis of the Inter-Governmental Group of the
UN-based Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO). The $1.6 million project is to be funded by another UN body, the
Common Fund for Commodities (CFC). The formal launch is likely to take place in mid-September, here. It coincides with a
growing interest in tea as a wellness beverage the world-over. Under this project, which would have three components,
India would evolve a package of farm practices which conform to organic tea cultivation. Towards this end, 100 hectares
each have been given to three tea estates in Coimbatore district in Tamil Nadu, in Darjeeling district in West Bengal and in
Upper Assam. Each of these estates will remain attached to a research association with which it will coordinate over the
three year tenure of the project. The research bodies which will be associated are: Tea Research Association, the Darjeeling
Tea Research and Development Centre and the United Planters’ Association of Southern India. These estates will try out
three models — uproot the entire gardens, rejuvenate it or convert existing bushes into organically cultivated ones.
Thereafter, the institutes will come out with a package of farm-practices, which will then be standardised for application to
all organically grown teas. As part of the project, a uniform system of certification would be evolved through empanelment
of Indian agencies. The Tea Board would take the responsibility of empanelling agencies whose people would be trained in
overseas schools for this purpose. This would replace the present system of a plethora of international agencies providing
this certification. The project also envisages conducting a worldwide study on demand for organic tea for both black and
green tea. It may be mentioned that China had already launched an FAO scheme for green tea. However, although India
does produce some organic tea, especially in Darjeeling (where 50 per cent production is stated to be through organic
methods) conversion to this manner of tea production on a large scale may not be very smooth. It would need an
attitudinal change as well as absorption of higher costs by at least 25 per cent. Of course, there is scope of passing this on
to customers who might not mind it at all if it assures them a clean cup of their favourite morning brew which will not leave
behind either any leaves or residues.

Futures trading ban on agri products may not be ex


The Centre may not extend the ban on the futures trading of four agricultural commodities beyond September. For
controlling climbing inflation, the government had suspended futures trading in Soyoil, potato, rubber and chickpea for a
duration of four months in May. “There is no plan to extend the ban on futures trading of agricultural commodities,” B C
Khatua, Chairman, Forward Markets Commission told FE. He said that there were no linkages between the commodity
prices and ban on futures trading. Even agriculture minister Sharad Pawar and an official panel probing the impact of
futures trading on commodity prices had said earlier that there was no clear link between the two. Even in exactly a month
after the government suspended futures trade in refined soy oil, potato, chickpea and rubber for four months in June, an
analysis done by FE indicated that, no commodity apart from potato has shown significant decline in the prices. According
to data from the spot market of NCDEX and private traders, Refined soya oil spot market prices, which were blamed for the
spurt in edible oil prices, had in fact risen by almost 11% since futures were suspended. The government suspended
futures in wheat, rice and two varieties of lentils in early 2007.

Pascal Lamy to visit India next week


Not the one to give up hope, WTO director general Pascal Lamy is visiting India next week to find ways for picking up the
threads from last month’s failed trade talks in Geneva. “Lamy would be visiting next week. He is coming here for discussion
with the government and industry,” commerce secretary G K Pillai said. The WTO chief, who is likely to be in India around
August 12-13, has expressed interest to talk with the industry. “I presume his attention would be on industrial sector,” he
said. Talk of Lamy’s visit to India comes days after the mini- ministerial meeting collapsed on the issue of safeguard for
farmers from the developing countries against import surges. The stand-off in the Geneva meeting was mainly between the
US on the one side and India and China on the other. India had later said that besides China, over 100 developing and least
developed countries were backing the cause of poor farmers. On his return from Geneva, commerce and industry minister
Kamal Nath too had expressed desire to resume negotiations for opening world trade, which he said should be fair to
developing countries.

Innovative olive crop project in Rajasthan


Olive farming is expected to receive an impetus in India with the implementation of a pilot project involving the Rajasthan
Government and an Israeli firm to cultivate on 250 hectares the plants that produce the fruits that yield the oil. “The
country is taking to olive plantation for the first time…, and if it becomes a success, the Rajasthan Government is planning
to extend the cultivation to about 25 million ha,” Indian Olive Association president V.N. Dalmia said here. Under the
project, 1,025 olive trees have been planted. The target number is 1.25 lakh. It is a three-way joint venture involving the
Rajasthan government, a Pune firm and an Israeli firm. The Rajasthan Government is providing land and capital and the
Pune firm is investing funds. The Israeli firm is providing dryland farming technology and buyback opportunities. Punjab
and Himachal Pradesh have announced similar projects on over 300 ha each. Olive plants take five years to yield the first
fruits and could provide good crops for up to 500 years, Mr. Dalmia said. However, good crop-years may be followed by
low-yield years alternately. Olive oil consumption in India is estimated to rise over nine times in the next four years,
according to Mr. Dalmia. “Olive oil consumption is pegged at 42,218 tonnes by 2012, growing at a rate of 75 per cent a
year. The target for this year stands at 4,500 tonnes.” Consumption has picked up by 73 per cent over the last two years.
South India leads in consumption, followed by the western and northern parts. India now depends on imports for all its
olive oil needs.

WTO talks collapse on farm deadlock


The nine-day laborious WTO talks to salvage the Doha trade round collapsed on Tuesday after the US was locked in a
deadlock with India and China over import rules for farm products. WTO chief Pascal Lamy said, “the core group of seven
nations, including India, US, EU, China and Brazil, failed to reach a convergence over Special Safeguard Mechanism sought
by developing countries against agriculture imports. The seven-year old trade talks, launched in 2001, got bogged down
this time around as India and China demanded lower trigger point for imposing higher duties in case of import surge,
sources Ministers were mulling a new compromise proposal on the safeguards as talks entered their ninth day — the
longest WTO ministerial-level meeting, trade officials said. Failure remained a real possibility. “If people don’t want this
deal, there’s no better deal coming along and we just have to consider, if this fails, what they will lose,” EU trade
commissioner Peter Mandelson said. The talks aimed at salvaging the seven-year-old Doha trade round had been “a minute
away” from being called off in the early hours of Tuesday over safeguards, one trade official said, but there was no sign of
agreement over the new compromise. “We cannot go on like this much longer,” a diplomat said. But Indonesian trade
minister Marie Elka Pangestu said: “Some of us are willing to stay as long as it takes. We will stay a few more days if it is
necessary.” The negotiations for a global deal trade began in 2001, shortly after the September 11 attack in the US. They
have lurched from crisis to crisis and risk further years of delay without a breakthrough now because of the US presidential
election in November and other factors. Negotiators from the United States, China and India were digging in their heels on
the details of a "special safeguard mechanism" against import surges in food products such as rice. The proposal also pits
developing farm exporters like Paraguay and Uruguay against other poor nations who are worried about their farmers'
survival, especially in Asia.

Centre okays Rs 231 crore for National Food Securi


The Centre has approved Rs 231 crore to all states for implementing the National Food Security Mission (NFSM) for pulses
and rice during the current kharif sowing season. This amount includes a fresh allocation of Rs 123.02 crore and the
previous year’s unspent amount of Rs 118.95 crore. According to an official statement, the total allocation of Rs 231 crore
is the first installment for 2008-09 and the remaining amount will be released at a later date. The statement also showed
that no fresh allocation has been made for Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, Punjab, Rajasthan and Tamilnadu as their unspent
funds from 2007’s total allocation was more than the approved amount for 2008. In six states, the total unspent amount
from 2007 was around Rs 20.41 crore, while 2008’s allocation for rice and pulses during the kharif season is Rs 9.87 crore.
“These states have been asked to use their unspent funds for this kharif season as 2007-08 was the first season of the
NFSM,” a senior government official said. The NFSM, launched in September 2007, aims at raising production of rice by 10
million tonne, wheat by 8 million tonne and pulses by 2 million tonne by 2011-2012 in order to reduce the country’s
dependency on imports and meet additional demand. Currently, India produces around 75 million tonne of wheat, around
95 million tonne of rice and around 14 million - 15 million tonne of pulses. But, rising population and shift in eating habits
are putting an additional pressure on the
US to get taste of Indian sugar soon
The Centre has released 8,200 tonnes of raw sugar from the free-sale quota of 2007-08 season for export to the US. In a
notification issued on Tuesday, the director general of foreign trade (DGFT) said it has allocated 8,200 tonnes of raw sugar
from the free-sale quota of 2007-08 for exports of tariff rate quota to US. Meanwhile, the sugar export in 2007-08 season
has already crossed 35 lakh tonnes and is expected to reach 40 lakh tonnes by September when the season ends. Of the
35 lakh tonnes of sugar that has been exported, over 22 lakh tonnes was raw sugar, while the remaining 13 lakh tonnes
was white sugar.

Food crisis, fuel price hike to figure at SAARC Su


The process for the SAARC Summit, scheduled here on August 2 and 3 was set in motion on Sunday with the meeting of
the programming committee consisting of senior officials from the member countries. The objective of the two-day meeting
is to take stock of the nitty-gritty of arrangements for the Summit. It will be followed by a two-day meeting of the Foreign
Secretaries to draw up the agenda for the Summit. Foreign Secretary, Shiv Shankar Menon is scheduled to arrive here on
Monday to take part in the meeting of the Standing Committee on July 29 and 30. The agenda for the Summit drawn up by
the Foreign Secretaries would be finalised by the Foreign Ministers in their meeting on July 31 and August 1. External
Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee is scheduled to reach here on the night of July 30. ‘Partnership for our people’ is the
theme of the 15th Summit to be inaugurated by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa on August 2.The heads of state of
Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal and Pakistan will attend the Summit. China, the European Union,
Iran, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mauritius and the United States of America will participate as Observers. The
representations from Australia and Myanmar for observer status in the SAARC would be considered at the Summit. Four
agreements are expected to be signed. These are an agreement for launch of the SAARC Development Fund (SDF) with a
corpus of $ 307 million, a treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance, an Agreement on the establishment of the South Asia Regional
Standards Organisation and a pact for formal entry of Afghanistan into the South Asia Free Trade Agreement.

Study for MSP based on input costs


An independent study aimed at fixing the maximum support price (MSP) of wheat and paddy on the lines of industrial
production has recommended an MSP of Rs 1,561 for paddy and Rs 2,194 for wheat. The recommendation of the study,
which was conducted by Dr Bikram Singh Virk of NGSA College, Kapurthala, takes into account the actual input costs on 5
acres of land to produce wheat and paddy and adds a 50 per cent profit on the total cost according to the recommendations
of the Swaminathan Committee. The study takes into account the cost of land preparation for both crops whether by the
farmer himself or on hire, the cost of direct inputs like fertilizers and pesticides, the joint cost for tilling five acres of land
which has been taken as this is the average land holding, the cost of agricultural tools and implements as well as the
depreciation on fixed assets. Explaining why he had taken these parameters, Dr Virk said the aim of the study was to
compute the direct and indirect cost of production of both crops and bring out the price fixation on the lines of industrial
production. In land preparation costs the study took into consideration the cost of tilling with discs, double tilling with
tillers, hard pressing/ sowing with drill, taking produce to the market and the total diesel consumption to calculate land
preparation costs. All these have been calculated at Rs 4,500 for wheat and Rs 3,250 for paddy for one acre each. Under
the direct inputs heading costs on seed, fertilizers and pesticides were calculated. These includes money spent on DAP, urea
and zinc fertilizers, wheat and paddy seeds, paddy transplantation cost in case of paddy, weedicide, spray and harvesting
costs. These come to Rs 4,670 for wheat and Rs 5,105 for paddy for one acre tilled by the farmer. Dr Virk said the study
also calculated the joint cost involved in producing five acres of wheat and paddy. This came to Rs 28,550 for wheat and Rs
27,550 for paddy for one acre tilled by the farmer and included the salary of one labourer, interest on an average loan of Rs
50,000, repair of pump set, emergency expenditure and repair of agricultural tools. The study has also for the first time
taken into account the investment made by farmers on agricultural implements, including tractors and taken into account
the depreciation of his fixed assets. Taking all costs into consideration, it held that a farmer spent Rs 1,332 (Rs 1,592 for
land taken on hire) for producing wheat and Rs 973 (Rs 1,107 for land taken on hire) for producing paddy. By taking the
average cost of land tilled by the farmer as well as that hired out by him, the study recommended a 50 per cent profit in
both cases. This comes to Rs 1,561 for paddy and Rs 2,194 for wheat.

Tea producing nations seek common platform


Battered by falling demand and low price realisation, tea producing nations have decided to form a body under the Food &
Agriculture Organisation to address regulatory and quality related issues. According to India, the second-largest tea-
producing nation, there are issues relating to quality of the product, expansion of area under cultivation, and the changing
palette of the customers shifting towards coffee that have to be addressed unanimously. India has urged the International
Tea Producers Forum (ITPF) members to come up with a forum to address issues concerning tea-producing countries.
Basudeb Banerjee, chairman of India's Tea Board, said, "The last meeting of the Inter Governmental Group (IGG) was in
May in China. The Indian delegation said that producing countries like Sri Lanka, Kenya, and Indonesia should form a unit."
"The prime purpose is to bring producers under one umbrella to work towards one intent and not at cross-purposes," he
said, at the 125th annual general meeting of the Indian Tea Association. According to him, every country believes that
there has to be a restriction on the expansion of area under tea. "Except for countries like Vietnam and some smaller
African countries, all producers feel that we should aim at improving productivity rather than expanding the area," he said.
Vietnam is a new player in tea growing.

Wine grapes make merry for Indian farmers


Move over Thomson Seedless and Bangalore Blue, its Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon time for Indian grape growers.
Thanks to the rising popularity of wine in India, more and more farmers in Maharashtra, for instance, are trading in their
acres of “loss incurring” table grapes and changing over to wine grape varieties according to industry experts. On an
average, 400 acres of table grape land are being converted to wine grapes annually, with Nashik biggie Sula leading the
pack by convincing some 700 farmers with around 5 acres each to turn to wine, thus converting a whopping 2,500 acres to
wine grapes. “The farmers get just Rs 10 per kg for table grapes as compared to the wine grapes which fetch them as much
as Rs 25-30/kg,” says Sula Wines CEO Rajeev Samant. “The farmers have realised the commercial viability of wine grapes
and want to earn better profits on their crops.” Bangalore-based Grover Vineyards has also ramped up its production
capacity as well, but the company’s director, Kapil Grover says “This trend is seen mostly in Maharashtra and has still to
catch up in Karnataka.” But that’s a hint Karnataka could well take from Maharashtra as the union food processing ministry
has increased its percentage of grants to small wine manufacturers in Maharashtra (especially in tribal areas) to 33% from
25%. “Even the small companies are looking at roping in farmers on contractual basis to ramp up their capacities,” says
food processing Minister Subodh Kant Sahai. “This rise has led to greater demand for the crop not only by the likes of Sula,
Indage and Grover wines but also by the small manufacturers,” says Delhi Wine Academy founder Subhash Arora. Adds
Tulleeho CEO Vikram Achanta, Confirming this, UB Group’s chief winemaker Abhay Kewadkar says that India’s wine market,
now at 1.2 million cases, grows 40% yearly. “Wine companies are signing contracts with farmers for 15 years as the wine
grape assures the farmer of a fixed and higher price and more importantly of a market.”

Plan to promote organic farming


About 50 lakh farmers across the country will be brought under the organic farming by 2012. Dr A.K. Yadav, director,
National Centre of organic farming gave this information while addressing the scientists of the CSK, Himachal Pradesh
Agricultural University, here today. He asked the university authorities to join hands with the centre to develop technologies
and a model for management practices on organic farming for the hilly and mountain areas of the country. The popular
belief that organic farming was merely replacing chemicals with organic inputs is misplaced. It was a wider issue involving
many other parameters like input management, trainings, specific technology development, developing area specific
models, development of organic clusters, marketing and formulation of regulations. Around 10 lakh farmers of the country
have already adopted this healthy and environmental friendly farming. A large area of Madhya Pardesh, Maharashtra,
Orissa, Kerala, Rajasthan and north-east states has come under the organic practices, he said. Yadav asked the scientists
to make available around 80 per cent of inputs on the farmers field and develop specific technologies for the hilly and
mountain states, as organic farming had been a tradition in the state. Dr Tej Partap, vice-chancellor, elaborated on various
issues regarding organic farming like experiences of the farming community, initial problems in adopting organic way and
possible solutions . The university will develop a massive programme on the organic farming with multi-disciplinary
approach. The research and extension programmes of the university on this farming will enhance its credibility among the
farmers. Dr S.C. Sharma, director of research, said this type of farming was suitable for small and marginal farmers of the
state. An organic farm had been developed in the University for research purposes.

Farming in Kollam go online


Farming related activities in Kollam district is slated to go online soon. A training session for farmers on the revised e-Krishi
programme, the first to be held in the State, began here the other day at the farmers market complex of the Vegetable and
Fruit Promotion Council Keralam (VFPCK), at Anchal Yeram. Around 20 farmers participated in the programme. e-Krishi is
being seen as having the potential to revolutionise the farming in the state, experts said. The mobile telephone explosion
has helped the fishing sector in the State with the fishermen getting timely help in deep sea when caught in trouble. Also
the rates of fish in different markets help the fishermen to concentrate their product in the best market available. In a
similar vein, e-Krishi will help the farmers to get day-to-day farm advisory services and market information and trade
online. Just as the fishing sector has to an extent succeeded in eliminating the middle men, the farmers will also benefit
from the removal of these unscrupulous middle men once they get the information on their finger tips. A pilot programme
was implemented in Malappuram district with United Nations Development Programme support, and this has been revised
since. e-Krishi is a web portal for Kerala farmers designed and maintained by the Indian Institute of Technology
Management, Kerala, in collaboration with the Agriculture department. The Kerala State IT mission implements it and the
farmers are trained through the Akshaya project. A top official of the Akshaya project said that e-Krishi was being taken to
farmers as part of the Government to citizen welfare programmes, in the second phase of the project. Farmers would be
trained at the Akshaya centres, apart from the 14 VFPCK markets in the district. A significant feature of the portal is the
sellers and buyers corner for the farmers and traders to get in touch with each other and strike short and long term deals.
This is expected to help bring about planned farming in the State. Sources told The Pioneer that the farmers in Kollam had
whole heartedly welcomed the portal and are trying to eagerly learn the intricacies involved in operating the portal.

Fertilizer bonds, insurers’ pick


Insurance companies have shifted focus to fertilizer bonds after the introduction of the special market operations by the
Reserve Bank of India (RBI) for the petroleum refinery sector. Bankers said the shift was largely due to the high yields on
them. Last year, about Rs 4,000 crore of bonds were placed with public and private sector fertilizer companies against
subsidy payments by the government. Bankers said the fertilizer companies were in the market to sell the bonds for
meeting their working capital requirements. As in the case of oil companies, they have also exhausted their credit lines as
banks have hit the exposure ceiling of 15 per cent. Last month, the RBI had hiked the exposure ceiling to 25 per cent.
However, in the case of the fertilizer companies, the ceiling is yet to be revised. With fertilizer companies strapped for cash,
the discounts for fertilizer bonds are about 50 basis points over the comparative oil bonds and at least 70 basis points over
sovereign bonds. For instance, on the 8.30 per cent 2023 fertilizer bonds, the bids are at about 9.2 per cent. The 8.01 per
cent 2023 oil bond was picked up by the RBI through its special market operations at 8.65 per cent. The yield on the
sovereign issue of 6.30 per cent 2023 is 8.50 per cent. The yield differential was despite the sovereign guarantee cover for
fertilizer bond issues. A top public sector bank official said, “Fertilizer bonds are illiquid instruments. With liquidity drying
up, nobody wants these instruments in their books.” Fertilizer bonds, moreover like other special bond issues, are also not
eligible securities for maintaining the Statutory Liquidity Ratio. As a result, most fertilizer companies were entirely
dependent on institutions like the Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) and other long term financiers that have appetite for
long term securities for discounting the bonds. LIC’s discounting rates currently ranged between 9 and 9.5 per cent, in view
of the high yield expectations. Besides, LIC was a monopoly buyer, leaving fertilizer companies with little choice other than
discounting the bonds at high rates.

Rainfed, watershed tech key to combating land degr


Where the overall degraded land in the country has been assessed around 120.72 million hectare, problems like water
erosion, wind erosion, water logging, salinity/alkalinity, soil acidity etc are leading to degradation of soil in various states.
Out of the total geographical area of 4.421 million hectare in Haryana, about 1.467 million hectares fall under the category
of degraded land. Meanwhile in Punjab out of the geographical area of 5.036 million hectare, about 1.280 million hectare is
degraded land. These figures compiled by the National Bureau of Soil Survey & Land Use Planning and Nagpur Council of
Agricultural Research- 2005 highlight the need to combat land degradation for sustainable agriculture. Speaking here at a
workshop organised by the Agricultural Finance Corporation, J S Samra, CEO, National Rainfed Area Authority said, "Where
over utilisation of ground and canal water is concerned, Delhi tops the chart with over utilisation of 170%, next comes
Punjab with 145%. Rajasthan over utilises 125% and Haryana 109% of the ground water. In Punjab except Muktsar all
other districts are very critical on over utilisation. Where the level of over utilisation is 62% in Muktsar, (that too due to
poor quality of water), Jalandhar over utilises 254% of water. This is one of the reasons why the water table is declining so
fast in these states." He further said, "The solution is to promote rainfed and watershed techniques. Where nutrient
deficiencies are concerned, for productivity enhancement from the present 10 tonne/hectare to 14 tonne/hectare Punjab
farmers will need 11 nutrients instead of 8 nutrients and imbalance of nutrients also leads to soil erosion." Land
degradation intensifies agricultural economic losses, disorganises local and regional food Markets and causes social and
political instability. Barry I Shapiro, director, Project Development & Marketing, ICRISAT told FE, "When we compare the
support of government for rainfed and irrigated areas, the policy support is 17 times more for the irrigated agriculture. It
causes farmers of this area to use more water and other inputs leading to degradation of land. It also prevents them from
diversifying to other crops. Rationalisation of policy is required as when there will be a curb on subsidy on irrigated
agriculture; farmers will tend to grow more legumes. There is a huge potential for these crops to be introduced into the
wheat-paddy cycle and increase the returns for the farmers. Community watershed programmes are being promoted to
increase the value of the agricultural yield."

Waking up to nutraceutical/functional foods


Now-a-days the nutraceutical or the functional food sector is getting a lot of attention around the globe. Though
comparatively new, this sector offers high development potential, combining three industries, that is, agri-food,
pharmaceutical and cosmetics. In the recent past, the functional foods sector has generated 200 new foreign investment
projects, accounting for 7% of the total number of projects, and created 9,610 jobs or 5% of the total number of jobs
created, according to statistics in the Invest in France Report. The global market for functional foods is currently estimated
at over €100 billion, which is roughly 5% of the total agri-food industry market. France is considered the leading destination
for investments in the nutraceutical/functional food industry. According to an Ipsos survey published in October 2007, 52%
of French consumers are concerned about the effects on their health by the food they eat. The market for foods developed
specifically for their health benefits is constantly evolving. Pharmaceutical laboratories are extremely active: specialized
SMEs such as Arkopharma (plant-based products) and Juva-santé (Juvamine beauté vitamin complex). Food supplements
rely on technology and innovation generated by the pharmaceutical or cosmetics industries, which leads to cross-industry
partnerships. Nestlé and L’Oréal have for example created the Innéov product line, specializing in cosmetic functional foods
while Novartis and Quaker Oats have created the Aviva line of dietary products. The agri-food industry as a whole also
generates many projects: Danone and Lactalis are at the forefront of innovation in terms of light, bioactive dairy products
enriched with vitamins or fiber, such as the Danone Actimel yoghurt containing Lactobacillus Casei, which represents €400
million of turnover. American and Japanese firms also have an important market share: Shiseido is developing an anti-
wrinkle yoghurt that contains aloe-vera. Knorr (Unilever) has launched Knorr Vie, which is a fresh fruit and vegetable drink
and Proactive yoghurts and drinks that reduce cholesterol.

New farm equipment to save time, money launched


In the southern suburbs of Chennai, which is witnessing massive infrastructure development and construction of
commercial buildings, a farming village seems a tall order. But far from the dusty roads, adjacent to crowded localities near
Keelkattalai and Medavakkam, lay Nanmangalam, one such village. There are a few acres of land where paddy is cultivated,
thanks to copious availability of groundwater and technical assistance from the Agriculture Department. And latest in the
line of equipment to assist the farmers improve productivity and help save precious money and time is the “wetland paddy
drum seeder.” A formal demonstration, made for the first time in St.Thomas Mount Panchayat Union (also called St.
Thomas Mount Block) was held recently in the paddy fields of Purushothaman. He is last among the farmers in the southern
suburbs of Chennai, who persists with agriculture without yielding to the charms of real estate sharks. On the new
equipment, officials of Agriculture Department said that the “drum seeder” was designed at Tamil Nadu Agriculture
University, Coimbatore. And the equipment could help in direct seeding of paddy, which would not only save time, but also
money for the farmers. According to conventional farming techniques, paddy seeds are sown and raised in a nursery for
about a month before being transplanted in the fields. The entire process would cost nothing less than Rs.7,000 an acre,
officials said. The new equipment would help in direct seeding, avoiding manual seeding and saving the time required for
raising the “to-be transplanted paddy seedlings in the nurseries.” R. Raghuraman, Assistant Director, Agriculture
Department, said the cost of the “drum seeder” was about Rs.5,700. It was available at a subsidised cost of Rs.4,200 to the
farmers. The purpose behind designing the equipment was shortage of farm labourers and the high costs in hiring them if
they were available. The “drum seeder” could be operated even by women. Direct seeding through the equipment would
also increase the yield per acre. “Tests have shown that the yield after using the equipment is 30 bags of paddy per acre,
while it is 20 bags per acre when conventional methods are followed,” Mr. Raghuraman said. Trials had proved its success
and the Department would soon be launching a campaign to popularise the equipment among paddy cultivators in the
southern suburbs of Chennai, mostly in villages around Tambaram. Farmers and non-governmental organisations willing to
know more about the equipment can contact officials at the Agriculture Department of St. Thomas Mount Block in
Chitlapakkam.

Aid for farmers using water-saving techniques


The Haryana government announced a new scheme for providing financial assistance to farmers adopting water-saving
technologies. Announcing the scheme, Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda said during 2008-09, Rs 225 lakh had been
earmarked for the scheme, which aimed at ensuring economic use of precious water and encouraged the farming
community to adopt various water-saving techniques. He said, under the scheme, the farmers would be encouraged to
adopt three water-saving technologies, construction of tanks, laying out underground pipeline systems and sprinkler
irrigation systems, by giving financial assistance to them. Hooda said on the construction of a water tank, a cost subsidy at
the rate of 33 per cent, subject to a maximum of Rs 50,000 per tank, would be provided to the farmers.

Professor searches new way of growing rice


Many a professor dreams of revolution. But Norman T. Uphoff, working in a leafy corner of the Cornell University campus, is
leading an inconspicuous one centered on solving the global food crisis. The secret, he says, is a new way of growing rice.
Rejecting old customs as well as the modern reliance on genetic engineering, Dr Uphoff, 67, an emeritus professor of
government and international agriculture with a trim white beard and a tidy office, advocates a management revolt.
Harvests typically double, he says if farmers plant early, give seedlings more room to grow and stop flooding fields. That
cuts water and seed costs while promoting root and leaf growth. The method, called the System of Rice Intensification, or
Sri, emphasises the quality of individual plants over the quantity. It applies a less-is-more ethic to rice cultivation. In a
decade, it has gone from obscure theory to global trend, and encountered fierce resistance from established rice scientists.
Yet a million rice farmers have adopted the system, Dr Uphoff says. He and his method have flourished despite the
skepticism of his Cornell peers and the global rice establishment, especially the International Rice Research Institute, which
helped start the green revolution of rising grain production and specialises in improving rice genetics. His telephone rings. It
is the World Bank Institute, the educational and training arm of the development bank. The institute is making a DVD to
spread the word. He lists top Sri users as India, China, Indonesia, Cambodia and Vietnam among 28 countries on three
continents.
Professor searches new way of growing rice
Many a professor dreams of revolution. But Norman T. Uphoff, working in a leafy corner of the Cornell University campus, is
leading an inconspicuous one centered on solving the global food crisis. The secret, he says, is a new way of growing rice.
Rejecting old customs as well as the modern reliance on genetic engineering, Dr Uphoff, 67, an emeritus professor of
government and international agriculture with a trim white beard and a tidy office, advocates a management revolt.
Harvests typically double, he says if farmers plant early, give seedlings more room to grow and stop flooding fields. That
cuts water and seed costs while promoting root and leaf growth. The method, called the System of Rice Intensification, or
Sri, emphasises the quality of individual plants over the quantity. It applies a less-is-more ethic to rice cultivation. In a
decade, it has gone from obscure theory to global trend, and encountered fierce resistance from established rice scientists.
Yet a million rice farmers have adopted the system, Dr Uphoff says. He and his method have flourished despite the
skepticism of his Cornell peers and the global rice establishment, especially the International Rice Research Institute, which
helped start the green revolution of rising grain production and specialises in improving rice genetics. His telephone rings. It
is the World Bank Institute, the educational and training arm of the development bank. The institute is making a DVD to
spread the word. He lists top Sri users as India, China, Indonesia, Cambodia and Vietnam among 28 countries on three
continents.

Punjab faces labour shortage


As work on the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme gathers pace in the villages of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh,
paddy farmers of Punjab are faced with an unprecedented shortage of farm hands to sow the crop. Rough estimates
suggest that almost 40 per cent of the 200,000-odd workers who travel around this time every year from poor villages in
Bihar and Uttar Pradesh to Punjab to help sow the crop haven't turned up this season. Last year, Punjab had produced 10.1
million tonnes of rice, which was 11 per cent of the national production. The state contributes a third to the central rice
granary. Paddy is sown on 2.6 million hectares of farmland in the state. Visits to villages showed that many small farmers
have had to postpone paddy sowing this season. Waterlogged fields waiting for people to come and plant the saplings are a
common sight. Longer delays, warned agricultural experts, could lower the yield of the crop upon maturity. Those who have
decided not to wait and go ahead with the sowing have had to pay significant premiums for workers this season. Farmers in
the Ropar district said labour cost had shot up from Rs 500-600 per acre last year to Rs 800-900 now, a rise of over 50 per
cent. In Fatehgarh Sahib, costs were found to be as high as Rs 1,000 per acre. This, the farmers complained, had come on
top of the steep rise in diesel prices, shortage of urea and the increase in seed prices. "The water table also has fallen at
least five feet. All my inputs have become more expensive," said Marah Singh of village Choranwala in Fatehgarh Sahib.
What has made matters worse is the state government's directive to farmers not to begin sowing paddy before June 10, so
that farmers use rain water and don't draw on ground water. While sowing used to be staggered over several weeks earlier,
this has caused it to be bunched together and worsened the labour shortage. Farming in Punjab is highly mechanised, but
only when it comes to field preparation and crop harvest. Paddy is always sown manually. The machines that can sow the
paddy saplings are expensive (Rs 7 lakh and above) and the small farm sizes put their commercial viability in question,
farmers said.

Cairo tea centre plan gathers pace


Al Misr, one of Egypt’s largest tea trading public sector company, is keen to invest in the India Tea Centre being set up in
Cairo. After facing delays over the search of a proper location, the centre is expected to start by August 15. “We have found
a suitable location in downtown Cairo, not far from the Indian Cultural Centre. The centre will be spread across 5,000 sq ft.
While the ground floor will house the café selling Indian tea and snacks, the next floor will be used by Indian companies for
marketing and other trading activities,” said D.P. Maheshwari, president of the United Planters’ Association of Southern
India (Upasi). Maheshwari said Al Misr had expressed its willingness to invest in the centre as it believed that Indian tea
would regain its lost glory in Egypt after the export duty cut. After state-owned Al Naser, Al Misr is the largest tea buying
company in Egypt. Upasi is supervising the setting up of the centre. The Upasi chief was part of the delegation that had
recently visited the country, including Union minister of state for commerce and industry Jairam Ramesh and Tea Board
chairman Basudeb Banerjee. Maheshwari said Al Misr’s proposal and other issues regarding the cost of running the centre
and industry participation would be discussed at a meeting of Upasi this week. The commerce ministry has given its
approval for the centre and the Tea Board will pay the rent for the premises initially. The proposal for the centre was made
in September 2005 and initially there were talks to use Air India’s premises in downtown Cairo for the project. Ramesh had
also written to the Oberoi group asking for space. However, none of these arrangements worked. Indian tea was once very
popular in Egypt. However, after the introduction of the Common Market of Eastern and Southern Africa in 1993, Kenya
raced ahead with an export duty of two per cent vis-à-vis 27 per cent for India. However, with the duty being reduced to
two per cent, the exports have once again gathered momentum. Around five million kg of tea was exported to Egypt last
year. This year it is expected to touch 15 million kg, with the bulk of it going from south India.
Basmati losing pristine aroma
Will India’s own Basmati rice would bathe latest victim of climate change? Farm scientists have issued the first warning on
how even slow rise in temperature by fractions of a degree in the northern plains, may lead to Basmati rice losing its
pristine aroma and length. Studies carried out by the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) have spelt out how
Basmati rice length-breadth and grain elongation ratio declines with increase in temperature. Rice production is optimum
when the temperature varies between 24-26degrees Celsius. This alarming trend was brought to the notice of the Union
Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar at the agriculture ministers’ conference in Hyderabad last month. “If the temperature is
high, Basmati’s aroma and grain length would be affected,” Y S Ramakrishna, director of Hyderabad based Central
Research Institute for Dry land Agriculture (CRIDA) told Deccan Herald. Ramakrishna, a key member of the ICAR team
working on the impact of climate change on crops, admitted that the Basmati case is an apprehension at the moment
rather than an evidence-based alarming. Declining apple productivity in Himachal Prades his perhaps a more definitive clue.
Since 1980-81, the apple productivity in the hill state has been on the wane because of a corresponding decline in
cumulative chill units, says a presentation, prepared by P K Agarwal from the Indian Agriculture Research Institute(IARI),
Delhi for the minister’s meeting. While the qualities of Basmati rice and medicinal and aromatic plants may change with
rising temperature, a big impact has already been felt on rabi crops like wheat. It’s productivity has declined by 45million
tonnes in the last two-three years. Analysis of wheat data since 1960s shows, while yield potential per hectare is almost 5
tonnes, the maximum yield is about 2.9tonnes. For this, high temperature is considered one of the villains. Understanding
the emerging threats from climate change, the ICAR is paying maximum attention to climate change and how crops can
adapt due to this. It is one of the themes areas under the World Bank funded $250 million National Agriculture Innovation
Project. Scientists are again meeting at CRIDA on June23-24, to work out the national farming strategy against climate
change, Ramakrishna added.

Decision on nutrient-based fertilizer subsidy soon


The Union Cabinet in a week’s time will take a decision on the issue of nutrient-based fertilizer subsidy. Under this scheme,
chemicals such as zinc and sulphur which are used for fertilizer production will get subsidy. The Government has been
contemplating the subsidy, in order to maintain soil health and nutrient balance, said Mr. Ram Vilas Paswan, Union Minster
for Chemicals, Fertilizers and Steel. He was addressing the media at an industry function. Mr. Paswan did not spell the
exact quantum of the subsidy. On the issue of the upcoming chemical hubs, Mr. Paswan said that six Petroleum, Chemicals
and Petrochemical Investment Regions (PCPIR) have been identified in the country which will attract an investment of
about Rs 50,000 crore to Rs 1 lakh crore. “All the hubs will come up as they have fulfilled the criteria of having 250 sq. km
of land. The proposals are under consideration of a high-power committee, and then they would be submitted before the
Cabinet for final approval. With PCPIR materialising on schedule, India would emerge as a leading player in the chemical,
petrochemical field in the world,” Mr. Paswan said. Gujarat, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and West
Bengal have submitted their proposals for establishing PCPIR in their coastal regions.

Spot exchange to give farmers better returns


THE country’s farmers will be able to access an alternative market, the National Spot Exchange Trading platform, from next
month. They can sell agricultural produce to competitive bidders from all over India and buy farm inputs after comparing
prices. A memorandum of understanding to the effect was inked between National Spot Exchange and Infrastructure
Leasing & Financial Services (IL&FS) on Wednesday. As per the pact, the National Spot Exchange (NSEL) will be accessible
through one lakh common service centers (CSC) set up by IL&FS in rural areas within a year. IL&FS has more than 10,000
CSCs as of now. IL&FS CEO (CSCs) Aruna Sundararajan said: “Farmers will be provided with real-time prices and a
transparent trading platform through the CSCs.” “NSEL will reach out to more than five lakh villages through the network of
IL&FS, and there will be a visible increase in the bargaining power of the farmers from these villages,” said NSEL MD & CEO
Anjani Sinha said. He added that smaller lot sizes in spot exchange are intended to benefit small and marginal farmers.
“The brokerage fees will be charged from the buyers while the farmers who are selling their produce don’t have to pay
anything.” All the contracts to be traded in the exchange will be of single-day duration and outstanding positions at the end
of the day will result into compulsory delivery. The initiative will boost commodity futures as the spot market and futures
market are complimentary.

Wheat procurement to cross all-time high


Wheat procurement by state agencies that is tipped to cross an all-time high of 22 million tonne could taper off in the
coming few days as both arrivals and buying is slowing down, a senior government official said. The procurement by state-
run agencies has almost doubled from last year’s total purchases of around 11.1 million tonne. “Both arrivals and
procurement is tapering off, but we are still confident of purchasing almost 40,000 tonne daily for the next few days,” an
official, on condition of anonymity, said. The onset of monsoon over north, in the coming few weeks, could also slowdown
procurement as storing wheat in the open during monsoon could damage the crop. The government has set a procurement
target of 15 million tonne for the current year for ensuring enough wheat for the buffer stock and public distribution system
(PDS). The record wheat procurement follows after two years of shortfall forcing the government to import wheat. India
imported more than 1.8 million tonne of wheat in 2007 as it could only procure about 11 million tonne against the target of
15 million tonne.

RAU ranks third in breeder seed production


Rajasthan Agricultural University has achieved third rank in the country in the production of breeder seeds and is supplying
the seed variety to Rajasthan and other States in huge quantities. Scientists attached to the university reviewed the
progress of seed production programme at a meeting in Bikaner over the weekend. University Vice-Chancellor Pratap
Narain, addressing the two-day meeting, said the production of both the breeder and certified seeds had met the targets
and the farmers had been apprised of the role of good quality seeds in augmenting their agricultural output by 15 per cent
to 20 per cent. While the breeder seed is the vegetative propagating material produced under the direct control of the
sponsoring plant breeder, certified seed is produced from the foundation or registered seed. It is endorsed by a seed
verifying agency. Dr. Narain said the certified seeds were also available for general distribution to farmers for commercial
crop production. He underlined the need to adopt seed production practices of “Beej Gaon” (seed village) standards.
National Seed Project’s Additional Director P. R. Kothari said the Rajasthan Agricultural University was playing a significant
role in the production of barley, wheat, gram, moth, moong, oilseed and gowar seeds. He pointed out that awareness
among farmers about the seed quality could be generated by organising “seed day” every year. In addition to the
scientists, a large number of agricultural research officers and representatives of Krishi Vigyan Kendras attended the
meeting. The participants set new targets for production of certified seeds during the kharif crop season and discussed the
steps for laying down revised guidelines for production of breeder seeds.

Soyabean:new money plant for Jharkhand farmers


When Dayal Munda (45), a tribal farmer, first heard the name of Swarna Vasundhra, he never thought it would lead to a
bumper crop. In 2007, Munda and 37 other farmers from Jharkhand were introduced to the soyabean variants, being
promoted as Swarna Vasundhra seeds by the ICAR’s Ranchi-based unit of Horticulture and Agro Forestry Research
Programme (HARP). Although the farmers were initially apprehensive and not ready to experiment with the new crop, the
results left them spellbound. “The yield was much more than we had expected. Looking at last year’s results, we expect a
good crop this time as well,” says Munda. The project was undertaken by the HARP in association with the Sir Ratan Tata
Trust and Taiwan-based Asian Vegetable Research and Development Centre(AVRDC). “Cultivation and consumption of the
crop will also provide nutritional security to the people of Jharkhand,” says Dr Sivendra Kumar, Principal Scientist, HARP.
Swarna Vasundhra (Glycine max) is rich in protein (11.4 per cent), minerals and nutrients such as calcium, potassium and
phosphorus, vitamins A, C and E and dietary fibres. In Taiwan, the crop is harvested when the pod is still green. Weighing
the importance of this vegetable,10 lines of soyabean were introduced from AVRDC at HARP and evaluated for three years.
“Two of the lines—scientifically named GC-89009-1-1-2(EC-384907 and AGS-337(EC-384905)—were identified as stable,
high yielding and widely adaptable and suitable for kharif season cultivation (June-Sept),” says HARP scientist RS Pan, who
is credited with developing the variety. “This variety produces green pods with a maximum percent of 2 and 3-seeded pods.
Shelled beans are used as an alternative to peas,” says Pan. Grown during June-September, the crop seems to have
become a favourite among the farmers, . “Swarna Vasundhra can boost our sales from June-September. Last year I sold
this vegetable at Rs 12 a kg,” says Ram Kishore Lakra, a farmer. With the market in Ranchi and its adjoining areas,
including Kolkata, Nawada, Patna and Raipur, taking a fancy to the new legume, the prospects seem to be pretty good for
Swarna Vasundhra.

UP langda mangoes to go to Japan


UP’s langda, a delicious variety of mango, may soon find its way on the Japanese table. A delegation of Japanese mango
traders visited Amroha last week and signed a contract with the local mango growers regarding export of langda. According
to Mandi Parishad director Rajesh Kumar Singh, "This could be a perfect opportunity to enter the Japanese fruit market.
The strict import standards set by the Japanese government were proving to be a major hurdle but this is a major
breakthrough." The langda variety of mango is grown in the Meerut-Saharanpur belt and has a longer shelf-life compared
to other varieties. The flesh of the fruit is largely fibreless that is preferred by foreign customers. The Mandi Parishad
officials claim that though the Japanese love mangoes, they had been exporting the fruit form several other countries but
India, for some strange reason, was not on their shopping list. Last week, a delegation of Japanese fruit-traders that were
on a visit to South India and Maharashtra to shop for mangoes, came to Amroha where they saw the mango orchards and
tasted the langda variety of the fruit. "They immediately liked it and started making inquiries about its quality and shelf-life.
We took them around and also showed them the vapour treatment plant set up in Saharanpur by the state government.
They were suitably impressed and signed a contract for export of mangoes in this season. They have promised to place
more orders from the next season," said Nadeem Siddiqui, one of the farmers who interacted with the delegation. The dust
storms that hit Uttar Pradesh in recent weeks have led to a glut in the market, with farmers facing losses. "The export of
mangoes will help us overcome the losses and the importers will also get the fruit at competitive prices. The Japanese
delegation was so impressed with the varieties of mangoes in UP that we expect bigger orders from the next season," Mr.
Siddiqui said. The Uttar Pradesh government had started export of the famous dussheri mangoes, under the brand name of
Nawab, three years ago, and most of the orders were from Dubai and other Gulf countries.

Infra upgrade, better tech to boost agri exports


To boost India’s tiny share in the global agriculture and processed food market, the Agricultural and Processed Food
Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) on Wednesday announced measures such as improvement of
infrastructure in identified clusters for value addition, better farm techniques for increasing yield, harmonizing standards
with global norms, upgradation of laboratories for testing and formulation of software to trace the origin of the products to
the farm level. “Despite our large production base and diverse agro climatic zones, skilled human resource, network of
Research & Development institutes, there are several weaknesses such as small holdings, lack of appropriate technology for
transportation, storage and processing of processed agricultural products,” Asit Tripathy, Chairman, APEDA said.
Significantly, Tripathy didn’t expect the recent imposition of export duty of $200 per tonne on basmati rice to hit rice
exports. “The export duty has not impacted the rice exports as prices are already high in the international market,” he said.
India is the second largest rice producer in the world and usually exports more than four million tonnes of rice in a year.
According to Apeda, the exports of agriculture and processed food products are expected to be more than Rs 26,900 crore
during the current fiscal, up from Rs 24,384 crore in 2007-8, an increase of 10%. Only 15 countries including Saudi Arabia ,
UAE, UK, Bangladesh , South Africa account for more than 63% of the country’s export of fruits, vegetables and other agri
products. “We are now focusing on former Russian republics, the CIS nations and North/South Korea to expand our
exports,” Tripathy said Meanwhile, India ‘s grapes export to Europe is estimated to have jumped by 20% during this season
even though countries like Germany and Netherlands changed the prescribed pesticide residues limit mid-season. “About
3,000 containers have been sent to Europe this year compared to 2,500 containers last year,” S Dave, APEDA director said.
Each container carries 15 tons of grapes. The ‘Grapenet’ software aimed at ensuring that grapes exported from India to 27
European nations conform to pesticide residue norms, is now being used by around 30,000 farmers. The software, launched
by APEDA last for tracing the origin of the product, has worked well. Dave said that there was no rejection of consignment
till now and he expects that Indian grapes would not fail quality tests as the software developed by the agency takes care
of all the requirements in the importing countries. India is the second largest producer of fruits and vegetables in the world.
Though global demand for fruits and vegetables has been growing at 4% annually, Indian exports haven’t kept pace.
“Farmers cultivating perishable goods such as fruits and vegetables and flowers do not have any takers in the international
Markets unless there was value addition. We can compete in the global market through Value addition and establishment of
strong backward linkages with the farmers, along with increasing productivity,” Tripathy said. Incidentally, with organic
food exports growing rapidly, Surinam , Sri Lanka and Thailand have sought Apeda’s help for technical assistance on
organic foods.

Fertilizer units bagst highest gas allocation


The empowered group of ministers (EGoM) is understood to have finalised gas allocations for 2008-09, giving top priority to
the fertilizer sector. Existing gas-based power plants have been given the second priority followed by city gas distribution
(CGD) projects. The ad-hoc prioritisation for one year has been set up to decide the fate of Reliance Industries’ KG basin
gas. The company is expected to pump 40 million standard cubic meter per day (mmscmd) of gas from the third quarter
this year. It is learnt from government sources that a final gas utilisation policy is still being debated. “An interim
arrangement for the year 2008-09 has been made so that RIL would be able to sell its KG basin gas, which is expected in
this year. A long-term policy on gas utilisation would be determined later,” a source present in the eGoM said. An EGoM is
the final authority on the subject assigned and its decision does not require the Cabinet’s ratification. It is learnt that for
2008-09 those fertilizer units that are stranded would get priority with a total allocation close to 50 mmscmd. This is higher
than last year’s allocation when fertilizer units got just about 30 mmscmd of gas. Similarly, only existing gas-based power
plant (read no new power plant) would get priority in gas allocation with expected 30 mmscmd allocation. The decision has;
however, left the power ministry sulking as it was expecting much higher allocation to run gas-based power projects to full
capacity. The power sector is also last in the priority order for gas allocation for greenfield projects. Power ministry had
earlier sought allocation of 77 mmscmd of gas for existing and upcoming projects. The power sector requires 60 mmscmd
of gas to run 13,334 mw of existing gas-based projects at 90% plant load factor (PLF). It requires additional gas for
running 1,285 mw of gas based capacity that is ready but is not being commissioned due to shortage of fuel, and another
1,002 mw is running on high-cost liquid fuel that needs to shift to gas to become economical.

India - the eastern hub of the food industry


Food ingredients are a big business in the west and is becoming quite large here too. Indian foods and spices are becoming
quite popular the world over, as people everywhere are discovering the flavour of India. This has encouraged food products
and ingredients suppliers to produce the kind of products that are suitable for large-scale production of these foods. India is
becoming the eastern hub of the food industry. Not only does it have leading productions of various materials like milk,
fruits and vegetables, grains and animal products but the food processing is also growing at a rapid rate to cater to
domestic needs and the export market, according to JS Pai, executive director, Protein Foods and Nutrition Development
Association of India (PFDAI). "The Indian food industry is growing at over 9% per annum. The size of the food industry is as
large as Rs 4 lakh crore and growing fast. It is one-fifth of the US food industry, which is $550 billion (Rs 22 lakh crore).
There are many factors that will stimulate the growth of heath and wellness food products in the country," said Pai. The
market is fast catching up with products like cholesterol management functional foods, diabetes management functional
foods, probiotics containing yogurts and ice creams, high fibre bakery products, breakfast cereals with fibres and other
functional ingredients, and herbal tea. The environment is ripe for offering consumers all kinds of healthy and functional
products. The rapid pace of city life has caused many inherent problems like stress, pollution, lack of physical activity, and
illnesses related to these, such as hypertension, diabetes, and cancer. Consumers are not only trying to find adequate
nutrition through their foods but also looking for foods that would offer protection against illness. The world market for
functional foods is about $75 billion and is mostly concentrated in North America, Europe, and Japan, with other regions
fast catching up.

Bagasse power for sugar units


The bagasse-based cogeneration option, which started as a cost-saving measure by sugar companies when the industry
was reeling under margin pressure a few years ago, is fast turning into a money-spinning option. Co-generation is the
concept of producing two forms of energy from one fuel, of which one is heat and the other may be electricity or
mechanical energy. Sugar producers across the country, who are fast shifting to bagasse-based generation option to meet
captive power needs, are increasingly exporting surplus to the grid from their plants and claiming CDM (Clean Development
Mechanism) benefits in return. Among manufacturers exploiting the cogeneration option, DCM Shriram Consolidated Ltd
(DSCL) is ramping up its bagasse-based generation and exporting surplus power to the tune of 27.5 MW to the Uttar
Pradesh Power Corporation Ltd (UPPCL) and getting CDM benefits in return. Sri Chamundeswari Sugars is building a 26-MW
cogeneration plant at its factory in Karnataka, of which 18 MW will be an exportable surplus to the State-owned utilities.
The Deoband Bagasse Cogeneration Power project is exporting surplus electricity to the tune of around 20 MW to UPPCL.
Global power equipment major ABB is among the majors eyeing contracts for supplying the automation systems and
electrical balance-of-plant to upcoming cogeneration units. In case of bagasse-based cogeneration plants, power comes
from burning bagasse, the fibrous residue remaining when sugarcane is crushed to make sugar. “The cogeneration system
needs to be encouraged in the overall interest of energy efficiency and also grid stability. A significant potential for
cogeneration exists in the country, particularly in the sugar industry,” a Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC)
official said. With conservative estimates suggesting a potential of over 20,000 MW power from co-generation in India, the
CERC has now directed state regulators to promote arrangements between co-generator unit owners and distribution
utilities for purchase of surplus power from such plants. With spiralling prices of fossil fuels translating into higher captive
power generation costs, manufacturers with sugar or rice mills, distilleries, petrochemical plants, besides fertilizer, steel,
cement, paper and aluminium units, are increasingly shifting to the cheaper co-generation option. Price variation DCSL,
which has a bagasse-based cogeneration capacity of 70.5 MW currently, is adding another 24 MW during the current fiscal.
The viability of bagasse-based generation, Mr. Ajay Shriram, Chairman and Senior Managing Director of DSCL, said,
“depends upon the prevailing sale price of bagasse in the market. Unlike coal and oil, the price of bagasse varies widely
from season to season. However, against oil, the price is likely to remain competitive always but against coal it may not.
With CDM benefit, the viability improves… DSCL has gone into cogeneration for export in a big way due to the existence of
CDM benefit.” DSCL received its full claim of Rs 1.34 crore during the last financial year. India is expected to add 1,200 MW
bagasse-based power capacity during the ongoing Eleventh Plan period. This would be nearly twice the 750 MW added
during the Tenth Plan. India, which is among the largest sugar producer in the world, generates nearly 40 million metric
tonne (MMT) of bagasse, most of which is now finding use as a captive boiler fuel.

Procurement: Punjab & Haryana at 7-year high


Wheat procurement for the central pool has hit a seven-year high this season, with Punjab and Haryana contributing a
lion’s share to the procurement programme, meant to beef up the buffer stocks. Punjab’s share is more than 50% of the
total wheat procured this year. Of the total procurement in Punjab, 95.1% had gone into the central pool and 2.3% into the
state pool. Private millers had lifted less than 2% of the total arrival in mandis. Haryana deputy chief minister Chander
Mohan said the newspersons the state contributed 51.92 lakh tonne of wheat—18.42 tonne more than the corresponding
period last year’s—to the central pool. The total wheat arrival in the Haryana mandis was 52.63 lakh tonne so far and out of
this 51.92 lakh tonne was purchased by the six government procuring agencies while traders bought the remaining 70,964
tonne—a mere 1% of the total arrival. Interestingly, last season, wheat arrival was 37.37 lakh tonne, with government
agencies procuring 33.50 lakh tonne. The arrival of wheat this season has beaten the record of the previous three years. In
Haryana, Hafed had procured 19.17 lakh tonne, food & supplies department 10.75 lakh tonne, Food Corporation of India
7.82 lakh tonne, Haryana Warehousing Corporation 4.84 lakh tonne, Confed 4.76 lakh tonne and Haryana Agro Industries
Corporation 4.56 lakh tonne. Traders had purchased only 70,964 tonne. Sirsa district saw the largest arrival at 7.63 lakh
tonne, followed by Karnal at 6.02 lakh tonne, Fatehabad at 5.84 lakh tonne, Kaithal at 5.49 lakh tonne, Jind at 5.48 lakh
tonne, Kurukshetra at 4.63 lakh tonne, Hisar at 3.45 lakh tonne, Faridabad at 2.76 lakh tonne, Panipat at 2.25 lakh tonne,
Sonipat at 2.03 lakh tonne, Ambala at 1.61 lakh tonne, Rohtak at 1.07 lakh tonne and Panchkula at 19,563 tonne. A major
factor that seems to have helped the procurement is the higher minimum support price of Rs 1,000 a quintal, extended by
the Centre this year. The higher support price, coupled with market fees, value-added tax and commission for arthiyas
(commission agents) especially in Punjab and Haryana, made it a tough task for the private trade to procure wheat from
these two states. The big private players sourced just 8% of their wheat from Punjab (0.76 lt) and Haryana (1.29).
Enquiries reveal that till May 21, FCI and state agencies procured 199.50 lakh tonne wheat, raising the expectations that
the 2001-02 record would be broken this time.

TNAU ventures into transgenic hill banana


Tamil Nadu Agriculture University (TNAU) is developing transgenic hill banana, which would be resistant to bunchy top virus
(BBTV). P Balasubramanian of the TNAU's centre for plant molecular biology said, "We are planning to engineer resistance
in the hill banana cultivar, Virupakshi against BBTV. A full-length 850bp replicase gene of BBTV from infected hill banana
was isolated in our laboratory. The isolated sequence showed a high homology to the already reported BBTV replicase gene
sequence from India in NCBI database. The isolated replicase gene may be cloned into RNA silencing (RNAi) vector, panda,
sourced from Nara Institute of Science and Technology, Japan. The silencing gene construct developed may be used in hill
banana transformation." Balasubramanian further said that that in addition to hill banana, TNAU was working on transgenic
transformation of the popular Cavendish banana cultivar, Robusta (AAA). So far an efficient regeneration protocol has been
standardised on Robusta. Successful regeneration of a diploid banana, Ney poovan (AB) has also become possible. Hill
bananas are perennial in nature and are found at an altitude of 2,000 to 5,000 feet above sea level in the region of well
distributed annual rainfall of 1,250-1,500 mm. Hill bananas are the ruling crop of the lower Pulneys hill ranges, Sirumalai
and Kolli hills of Tamil Nadu from the 1940s. BBTV has been the sole cause for reduction in hill banana cultivation from
18,000 hectare in 1970s to a mere 2,000 hectare at present.

India says no to farm, Nama proposals


India has rejected key proposals in the latest texts on agriculture and non-agricultural market access (Nama) released by
the World Trade Organisation (WTO) recently. The rejection essentially reflects concerns of developing countries and
implies that negotiators will have to work harder to achieve some consensus before a proposed ministerial meeting of WTO
members in June-end. Speaking to reporters today, Commerce Secretary Gopal K Pillai said the agriculture text proposals
on the special safeguard mechanism (SSM) were not acceptable to India. "The paper talks of a maximum of three to eight
products on which the SSM can be made applicable. Let there be no deal but India will not accept this," he said. A country
can use the SSM to impose up to 50 per cent additional import duty on farm products which have seen a surge in imports.
India wants that a 5-10 per cent surge in imports as well as a price dump of the same range because of imposts should be
allowed as SSM triggers. Pillai said India was comfortable with proposals on special products (selected farm goods with
lesser duty cuts) as well as reduction in trade-distorting subsidies, but these would need further discussion in the coming
weeks. The main bone of contention here is the farm subsidies given by the United States on which developing nations like
India want at least a 75 per cent cut. The present proposals call for a 66-73 per cent cut, which will translate into a subsidy
cap in the range of $13-16 billion. The number of square brackets (figures which are yet to be finalised) have come down
from 130 in the February text to around 30, which shows that a fair amount of ground has been covered. However, on
Nama, the square brackets have been increased from 15 to 97. "The chair has made a lot of simple issues complex. This
happened because there is an attempt to give selective care outs to developing countries. His is like a deliberate attempt to
break developing country groups like Nama-11," Pillai said. India feels the paper goes way beyond the agreed Hong Kong
mandate on many issues, which the country will oppose tooth and nail. One issue is providing different flexibilities (selected
industrial products with lesser duty cuts) to developing countries which agree to different levels of duty cuts. Effectively, a
developing country which effects a lesser duty cut will get more flexibilities. "All developing countries will have to get the
same level of flexibilities. This is what was agreed in the Hong Kong ministerial," Pillai said. Industry body FICCI and CII
expressed disappointment and concern on the draft texts.

Puri Oil Mills plans foray into biofuel sector


Edible oil maker Puri Oil Mills is developing the first botanical biofungicide from allylisothiocyanate (an extract of mustard
seed), in association with ITC. This biofungicide will help in preventing diseases in potato and vegetable crops. The
company, along with ITC, is now in the process of conducting collaborative field trials for the biofungicide in Uttar Pradesh,
Andhra Pradesh and Haryana, and this will be available across the shelf by 2010. Formulations of this mustard seed extract
are also being developed to make a mosquito repellant. Talking to media persons here today, Vivek Puri, managing director
of Puri Oil Mills, said it plans to set up a manufacturing plant of mustard oil in Gujarat in order to expand production
capacity. "The main motive of setting up this plant is sufficient availability of oilseeds in Gujarat. Moreover, it would also
help us in tapping the export opportunities," he said. The company has three manufacturing plants at Moga in Punjab,
Damtal in Himachal Pradesh and Bahadurgarh in Haryana with a monthly capacity of 1,500 metric tons. The company is
also planning to foray into biofuel sector as part of its strategy to extend its core competitiveness. Having recently
diversified into hydropower sector, the company is working on developing 15 MW of power in Himachal with a total project
size of Rs 100 crore. They are also producing canal-based power projects of 2.8 MW in Haryana which will be operational by
2009.

SBI in rural and semi-urban areas


The State Bank of India (SBI) is planning to embark on a massive expansion in rural and semi-urban areas. SBI, which
currently has nearly 7,000 branches in these centres, will add another 3,000 branches. In this year itself, the bank hopes to
kickstart with 1,000 branches. The bank has set a target of 33% growth in agri advances, amounting to Rs 13,400 crore, in
the current fiscal by issuing 1 crore SBI Tiny Cards by March 2010. Of this, 40 lakh cards will be issued in the current
financial year. Also, 1 lakh villages with no banks will be covered by 2010 and 40,000 such areas will be covered during the
current financial year. Moreover, the bank has been looking at additional credit linkage of 2 lakh self-help groups (SHGs)
during current fiscal. It has already credit linked more than 10 lakh SHGs up to March 2008. After taking a decision to
suspend further disbursement of tractor loans, the bank has said there was no slowdown on the agricultural loans and its
commitment to agri and rural development. SBI chairman OP Bhatt, while justifying the bank's decision to freeze tractor
loans, said that the government's scheme provides for debt relief in case of farm equipment loans to the extent of 25% if
the farmer brings in 75% of the loan outstanding. In the past year, SBI's NPAs in the agriculture sector have risen
significantly. We have pockets in the country where there are large overdues in tractor loans. It is our attempt to sensitise
our branches across the country to help farmers take advantage of the government's scheme and to reduce NPAs for the
bank. As and when this happens, the farmer would be eligible and the bank willing to lend them again for agricultural
activities." The agricultural advances of the bank have trebled during past four years as disbursements during the period
aggregated Rs 70,000 crore. The bank, for the first time in 2007- 08, surpassed the 18% bench-mark (18.37%) set by RBI
for agricultural advances.

Wheat procurement crosses 19.5 million tonnes


Wheat procurement has crossed 19.5 million tonnes in the current season till Thursday against the targeted 15 million
tonnes, owing to record production and higher minimum support price of the foodgrain. "Wheat procurement by
government agencies has crossed 19.55 million tonnes mark. The total wheat procurement last year was 11.13 million
tons," an official statement said. Punjab procured 97.02 lakh tonnes and Haryana contributed 51.62 lakh tonnes to the
central pool till May 15. Procurement in Uttar Pradesh stood at 18.31 lakh tonnes, Madhya Pradesh 16.03 lakh tonnes,
Rajasthan 8.14 lakh tonnes, Gujarat 2.56 lakh tonnes and Bihar 1.23 lakh tonnes. The total procurement in Uttarakhand,
Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh, Chandigarh and Delhi stood at 64,341 tons. Wheat output is estimated at
record 76.78 million tonnes in 2007-08 season against 75.81 million tonnes in the previous year.

Inflation verges on 8%
Earlier this week, Finance Minister P Chidambaram described inflation as the biggest challenge his government faced. A
sense of just how big the challenge really is can be had from the latest inflation data that show the wholesale price index-
based annual inflation rate moved up to an uncomfortable 7.83 per cent for the week ended May 3, an over 42-month high.
During the week, prices of items like edible oils, cement and iron and steel (which have seen government intervention)
declined, but its impact on the index was negated by an across-the-board increase in prices of food, manufactured products
and mineral oils (see chart). As disconcerting, especially for the policy establishment, is the revision to the inflation number
for the week ended March 8, 2008. From the earlier reported 5.92 per cent, the final inflation number announced today was
7.78 per cent, an astounding 186 basis points revision. The revision implies that inflation has consistently been on the
higher side than reported. Economists said as much, with Saugata Bhattacharya, vice-president, Axis Bank, saying the
inflation rate would have been well over 8 per cent. "At this rate of revision, it is likely that the actual inflation rate in mid-
March would have been 8.5 to 9 per cent, up from the provisional 7 to 7.44 per cent," he said. With further revisions
expected for the remaining three weeks of March, not only will headline inflation average be higher for 2007-08, but it will
also impact the numbers next year when the country will have slipped into election mode. For the time being, inflation is
not expected to moderate as commodity prices remain high and no significant upside seen in the supply side. "Pressure on
inflation will continue in coming weeks. The rate will clearly remain above 7.5 per cent for the next 2-3 months," said
Dharmakirti Joshi, principal economist, Crisil. An analysis by Business Standard suggests that for the week ended May 10,
for which data will be released next Friday, the inflation rate will range between 7.67 per cent and 8.05 per cent, depending
on how the index moves. Reacting to the data, Finance Minister P Chidambaram said he expected inflation would moderate.
"We are waiting for steel and cement price cuts to come into force. You have to be patient," he told reporters today, adding
the government reserved the right to take more administrative measures. The spot rupee reached a fresh 13-month low of
42.90 against the dollar following heavy purchase of the US currency by oil companies and banks but recovered to close at
42.51 in a volatile trading session. The rupee opened stronger at 42.60 after closing at 42.75 against the dollar on
Thursday due to strong sentiments in the global equity markets, dealers said. At these levels, exporters also started selling
dollars, fearing an appreciation and the spot rupee reached an intra-day high of 42.30 against the dollar. Oil importers then
rushed to buy dollars to make import payments.
3 states face food crisis over violence
The terrorist violence forcing the suspension of all operations of Northeast Frontier Railway on the Lumding-Badarpur
section has stalled the ongoing drive of pre-monsoon storage of foodgrains in the states of Tripura, Mizoram and Manipur,
besides southern Assam. The Northeast Frontier Railway sources said here on Saturday that normally they carry an average
of 50,000 tonnes of foodgrains every month but in view of perennial problem of flood in the region and possible threat of
food crisis in Mizoram because of "mautam", the railway was carrying 75000 tonnes of food grain of Food Corporation of
India to create a buffer stock. The "mautam", or famine, is feared in Mizoram because of rare bamboo flowering caused
after a long gap. The bamboo flowering causes outbreak of rodent population. This year, fear of food shortage is looming
large in some of the frontier states which have already noticed phenomenal growth of rodents devouring rice crops.
According to Mizoram food and supplies department, this year, the food shortage has affected about 6,30,000 people,
nearly 70 per cent of the 9,00,000 residents of Mizoram. If the ordeal continues for a long, the three frontier states may
have to face the crisis of foodgrains during the rainy season when all communications with the region get snapped. FCI
sources said that during this time they stock the foodgrains for these interior states which loses its communication links
during the rainy season which starts early in the Northeast. After a series of violent attacks by DHD rebels on railway
employees, the railways authorities have not only been forced to suspend their entire operations in between the Lumding
and Harangajao railway stations, but have also evacuated its personnel and their families. According to NF Railway
spokesman, there are 21 stations between these two places and about 170 families were evacuated by two special trains on
Thursday.

Sweet sorghum: ‘The smart crop’


The hardy sweet sorghum plant could be the miracle crop that provides cheap animal feed and fuel without straining the
world’s food supply or harming the environment, said scientists working on a pilot farming project in India. “We consider
sweet sorghum an ideal ‘smart crop’ because it produces food as well as fuel,” William Dar, director general of the non-
profit International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (Icrisat) said in a statement. Sweet sorghum
(Sorghum bicolour) is the world’s fifth largest grain crop after rice, corn, wheat and barley. It grows in dry conditions,
tolerates heat, salt and water logging, making it an ideal crop for semi-arid areas where many of the world’s poor live,
Icrisat agronomist Mark Winslow said in an interview. The plant grows to a height of 2.6-4m and looks like corn. Its stalks
are crushed yielding sweet juice that is fermented and distilled to obtain bioethanol, a clean burning fuel with a high octane
rating. It has high positive energy balance, producing about eight units of energy for every unit of energy invested in its
cultivation and production, roughly equivalent to sugar cane and about four times greater than the energy produced by
corn. Sweet sorghum requires little or no irrigation, limiting the use of fuel-burning water pumps that emit carbon dioxide,
the main greenhouse gas contributing to climate change, Winslow said. “With proper management, smallholder farmers can
improve their incomes by 20% compared with alternative crops in dry areas in India,” said Dar. In partnership with Rusni
Distilleries and some 791 farmers in Andhra Pradesh, Icrisat helped to build and operate the world’s first commercial
bioethanol plant, which began operations in June. Sweet sorghum in India costs $1.74 (Rs74.64) to produce a gallon (3.78
litres) of ethanol, compared with $2.19 for sugar cane and $2.12 for corn, the research institute said. Similar public-private
farmer partnership projects are also under way in the Philippines, Mexico, Mozambique and Kenya, as countries search for
alternative fuels, India based Icrisat added. The US and European Union are also very interested in making biofuel from
sweet sorghum, Winslow said. The US department of agriculture is sponsoring an international conference in Houston,
Texas, in August to examine the plant’s potential. In addition to ethanol, “I think (sorghum) is going to be one of the two
big crops in the tropics” that supply biofuel such as ethanol, the demand for which “far exceeds the supply” on the world
market, Winslow said. “It’s a win-win situation for developing nations since it allows them to save money they now spend
on oil imports and invest it in sweet sorghum-ethanol production in dry areas.”

Growing giant veggies in zero gravity


Scientists have said that vegetables grown in zero-gravity conditions in space can grow up to huge sizes, which could help
solve the world’s food crisis. According to a report in the Telegraph, it is thought that the near zero gravity conditions in
space result in super-sized fruit and vegetables with a higher vitamin content. This was also observed when Chinese
researchers fired off a batch of 2,000 seeds into space in 2006 on the Shijian 8 satellite. After germination, the best
specimens were selected for further breeding. On their return, they were cultivated in giant Chinese hothouses producing
oversized specimens, along with a host of other fruit and vegetables, like pumpkins, two-foot long cucumbers, 6.3 kg
aubergines, and chilli plants which resemble small trees. Also struggling for space in giant hothouses at the Guandong
Academy of Agricultural Sciences are 9.5kg tomatoes and enormous watermelons. A total of 22 provinces are taking part in
the programme, coordinated by the China Academy of Sciences, and China says its giant fruit and vegetables have already
been sold to Japan, Thailand and Singapore. There has also been interest from European agricultural firms. According to
researcher Lo Zhigang, “Conventional agricultural development has taken us as far as we can go and demand for food from
a growing population is endless.” “Space seeds offer the opportunity to grow fruit and vegetables bigger and faster,” he
added. Crucially, the plants are said to produce harvests, which are ten to 20% higher than normal — offering a rich source
of food. Though it is not fully understood that how does sending seeds into space produces such enormous fruits, it is
thought cosmic radiation, micro-gravity and magnetic fields may play a part. Food prices have risen across the world in
recent times. This has been attributed to the droughts in large parts of Australia and the diversion of agricultural land for
growing biofuel plants.

Bangladesh tells its people to eat potatoes


Potatoes are not high on the menu for Bangladesh’s 140 million people, but a surge in rice and wheat prices has prompted
the government to popularize the humble spud as a substitute food. “Think potato, grow potato and eat potato,” was the
main slogan of a three-day potato festival in Dhaka last week. Bangladesh’s government is waging a campaign to convince
millions of Bangladeshis to embrace potatoes as a staple food due to record-high rice and wheat prices and an unusually
good crop of potatoes that will need to be eaten quickly before they rot. Rice price has doubled over the past year and 1kg
of the commodity now costs 40 taka (about Rs25), almost half the daily wage of a factory worker. Wheat costs 44 taka for
1kg, up 150%. By contrast, 1kg of potatoes sells at 13 taka in Dhaka, and far less in the countryside. Although an excellent
carbohydrate substitute to rice, it is hard to convince Asians, who often don’t regard a meal to be complete without a bowl
of rice, to switch to spuds. “Potato cannot replace rice as the main staple, but I think they will soon realize it can be a very
good substitute at a reasonably low cost,” said Nazrul Islam, director of Agriculture Information Service. Potatoes are
regarded as a safe crop in Bangladesh as they are planted in October and harvested by the end of February when the land
is dry and before annual floods ravage the country. Potatoes are now Bangladesh’s second biggest crop after rice.
Consumption has risen from an average of 7kg per capita in 1991 to 24kg in 2007, according to agriculture officials.
Bangladesh’s government, which recently ordered 500,000 troops to eat potatoes, hopes potato consumption will jump
drastically as experts say it is unlikely rice prices will return to previous lows. This year, Bangladesh produced its biggest
ever potato crop of more than 8 million tonnes (mt), 3mt more than last year. Officials say Bangladesh can preserve only
2.2mt of potato in 300 existing cold storages. “It means we will have about 3mt left,” said Harunur Rashid, managing
director of Canteen Stores Department, a supermarket chain run by the army that organized the potato festival. “This is
huge, we have to consume it".

Bayer launches BLB resistant hybrid rice


Seed firm Bayer BioScience, an arm of the Bayer Cropscience Group, has launched a new generation of hybrid rice--Arize
Dhani, which can resist bacterial leaf blight (BLB). BLB is one of the most serious rice diseases in India. According to an
estimate, BLB causes about 20-60% yield loss in the kharif season in India. About seven million hectares are affected by
BLB in India. The disease can impact the rice plant in any of its growing stages and cause visible wilting of seedlings,
yellowing and drying of the leaves and leading to yield loss. The seed variety is being introduced in Chhattisgarh, West
Bengal, Assam, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh where BLB is a major problem.

Assam scientists develop two new varieties of rice


Even as the world spins into a global food crisis, here's some good news from Assam. Scientists in the Assam Agricultural
University have come up with two new varieties of rice that are not only high-yielding and disease-resistant, but also take a
shorter duration than most other common varieties, enabling farmers to find time for other crops as well. The two new
varieties — NBR-2 and NBR-3— both belonging to the "Boro" family developed by the Regional Agricultural Research
Station (RARS) of AAU at Silongoni in Nagaon, have already received national recognition during a recent all-India
coordinated trial, on the basis of which the Union Agriculture Ministry is expected to soon notify the two as recommended
varieties for cultivation on a larger scale. "The two new varieties are not just high-yielding, disease-resistant and cold-
bearing, but also take less seed-to-seed duration— certainly a good news when an imminent food shortage is looming large
across the globe," said Bhubaneshwar Barman, chief scientist at the RARS, to whose team goes the credit of developing the
two new varieties. Assam, which had become a rice-surplus state for the first time in 50 years during 2000-01 with a record
output of 39.98 lakh metric tonnes, has dangerously slipped down in the subsequent years due to a number of reasons
ranging from a drought-like situation to devastating floods. "While both the varieties that we have developed have higher
grain yield compared to earlier varieties, both are also semi-dwarf, with the average height of NBR-2 ranging between 86
and 88 cms, while that of NBR-3 is 92 to 95 cms," Barman said, pointing out that the height factor would also save a lot of
grain from destruction during strong storms when taller plants tend to bend down. And both varieties also have a lesser
sterility rate. While NBR-2 has a sterility rate as low as 8 per cent, that of NBR-3 is just about 10 per cent. "This is much
below the accepted norm of 20 per cent and thus would under any circumstance yield anywhere between 63 and 67
quintals per hectare," the AAU scientist said. While popular high-yielding varieties—Joymati, Ranjit, Bahadur, Jyotiprasad
and Bishnuprasad (all developed by AAU scientists in the past)— had an average seed-to-seed time-frame of a little over
180 days, NBR-2 and NBR-3 have already proved to be over 160 to 165 days, giving the average farmer at least 20 extra
days in a year during which he can earn more through rabi crops, Barman said. Assam right now has a net area of about 25
lakh hectares (combining both winter and autumn rice), of which Boro varieties account for a net area of 3.2 lakh hectares.
Of the remaining area, roughly 18 lakh hectares come under "sali" rice, while the rest is covered by "ahu" rice, with a
sprinkling of organic "joha"— an aromatic rice— here and there that has already attracted buyers from abroad.
India records 2-fold jump in soyameal exports
Soyameal exports in April 2008 more than doubled at 5.5 lakh tonnes, against 2.31 lakh tonnes a year ago, helped by
robust export demand coupled with better soyabean crop in 2007-08 season. "There has been substantial increase in
exports during last month because of large crop during 2007-08 and good export demand," Indore-based Soyabean
Processors' Association of India (Sopa) coordinator Rajesh Agrawal told PTI. He, however, noted that exports would decline
from this month onwards till September as the availability of soyabean would be lower.

Banks to swap moneylenders’ loans to farmers


In a bid to bring farmers out of their dependence on local usurious moneylenders, in step with its stated intent of financial
inclusion, the government on Thursday mandated all public sector banks to take over loans given by moneylenders to
farmers through a novel debt swap arrangement, extend more concessional loans to poor artisans and focus on lending to
the organic farming sector. After a three-hour long meeting with heads of state-run banks, finance minister P Chidambaram
told reporters that the banks must try and extinguish the advances given by moneylenders by structuring a debt swap
arrangement with them. To ensure that PSBs bring more farmers under the banking net through such an arrangement and
simultaneously free them from the clutches of moneylenders, the government also wants them to capture more accurately
the number of such moneylenders’ loans that are swapped for bank loans. “Though it will be a difficult task, we will make
all efforts to bring more farmers into the banking net. However, since the bank is taking on the farmer’s liability, we will
have to look into the prevalent practices, the purpose of the loan and whether the farmer has a stable stream of income to
repay the loan,” said Punjab National Bank CMD KC Chakrabarty. With the minister not elaborating on how these debt
swaps could work, the onus is on banks to evolve suitable products. Bank of India’s executive director KR Kamath said,
“Our debt swap products will be very simple. If it is a production credit, we will replace it with a crop loan. If it is any other
kind of debt, we will structure it in a way that the repayment will be phased out in easy installments suiting the farmer’s
income. The interest rate we charge will be much lesser than that is being charged by money lenders.” Union Bank of India
CMD MV Nair said the bank ‘will structure a product for debt swap from money lenders for such loans up to Rs 50,000 and
free the farmers from money lenders.’ “We expect that it will benefit many farmers as most of such loans fall under this
loan amount bracket,” he said. On low interest loans (with interest rate of 4%) to poor artisans, Chidambaram said banks
should realise that though these are loss-making loans, those that come under it like barbers, washermen, cobblers,
blacksmiths and goldsmiths form an integral part of the urban and rural economies. Therefore, banks must lend more to
such artisans, he said. In a bid to encourage organic farming, Chidambaram said the banks must lend more to farmers in
the sector and also to the producers of inputs for such farming.

Banks to swap moneylenders’ loans to farmers


In a bid to bring farmers out of their dependence on local usurious moneylenders, in step with its stated intent of financial
inclusion, the government on Thursday mandated all public sector banks to take over loans given by moneylenders to
farmers through a novel debt swap arrangement, extend more concessional loans to poor artisans and focus on lending to
the organic farming sector. After a three-hour long meeting with heads of state-run banks, finance minister P Chidambaram
told reporters that the banks must try and extinguish the advances given by moneylenders by structuring a debt swap
arrangement with them. To ensure that PSBs bring more farmers under the banking net through such an arrangement and
simultaneously free them from the clutches of moneylenders, the government also wants them to capture more accurately
the number of such moneylenders’ loans that are swapped for bank loans. “Though it will be a difficult task, we will make
all efforts to bring more farmers into the banking net. However, since the bank is taking on the farmer’s liability, we will
have to look into the prevalent practices, the purpose of the loan and whether the farmer has a stable stream of income to
repay the loan,” said Punjab National Bank CMD KC Chakrabarty. With the minister not elaborating on how these debt
swaps could work, the onus is on banks to evolve suitable products. Bank of India’s executive director KR Kamath said,
“Our debt swap products will be very simple. If it is a production credit, we will replace it with a crop loan. If it is any other
kind of debt, we will structure it in a way that the repayment will be phased out in easy installments suiting the farmer’s
income. The interest rate we charge will be much lesser than that is being charged by money lenders.” Union Bank of India
CMD MV Nair said the bank ‘will structure a product for debt swap from money lenders for such loans up to Rs 50,000 and
free the farmers from money lenders.’ “We expect that it will benefit many farmers as most of such loans fall under this
loan amount bracket,” he said. On low interest loans (with interest rate of 4%) to poor artisans, Chidambaram said banks
should realise that though these are loss-making loans, those that come under it like barbers, washermen, cobblers,
blacksmiths and goldsmiths form an integral part of the urban and rural economies. Therefore, banks must lend more to
such artisans, he said. In a bid to encourage organic farming, Chidambaram said the banks must lend more to farmers in
the sector and also to the producers of inputs for such farming.

Higher pay for plantation research scientist


In a major bid to boost production and productivity in the plantation sector, the Department of Commerce has initiated a
serious exercise to confer higher salaries on scientists working in plantation research bodies. This is to ensure the efficacy
of commercialisation of laboratory ideas into practice and cash in on the current global boom in commodity prices. Official
sources told Business Line here that the department has drawn up a Cabinet note spelling out in great detail how the
various research institutes of the Commodity Boards could be put on par with the research institutes currently working
under the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR), veritably in every respect. The proposal is to declare the Rubber
Research Institute of India (RRII) under the Rubber Board, Kottayam; Central Coffee Research Institute (CCRI), Balehanur
under the Coffee Board, Bangalore; Indian Cardamom Research Institute (ICRI), Myladumpara; Biotechnology Laboratory
and Quality Evaluation Laboratory of the Spices Board, Cochin; and Research Division of Tea Board, Kolkata on par with
ICAR Research Institutes in every respect. The idea is to make the research outfit a hub for integrated development of the
plantation sector by providing the requisite pay and perks to scientists involved in the task. The sources point out that a
single clone of rubber, viz., RRII 105 of the RRII, remains the highest yielding clone in the world. Largescale cultivation of
this flagship clone has rendered India number one in the world in so far as productivity of natural rubber goes, despite
adverse agro-climatic conditions in comparison to Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. The recent clones, namely RRII 414
and RRII 430, have 20 per cent more production potential than RRII 105. The success of the Indian natural rubber
plantation industry was no way less significant than the green revolution, they said. Similarly, the sources said, the CCRI
had been in the vanguard in adopting various eco-friendly integrated pest management and integrated disease
management strategies for coffee production. A new variety released on December 18, 2007, viz ‘Chandragiri’, which has
been evolved from original stock of ‘Sarchimor’ by CCRI, shows about 95 per cent resistance to the disease in the field. The
move to beef up the various Commodity Board research institutes through better salary and other perks stems from the
initiative of the Minister of State for Commerce, Mr. Jairam Ramesh, soon after he took charge a couple of years ago, the
sources said, adding that the Flexible Complementing Scheme (FCS) applicable to the scientists of the Commodity Boards
had not brought the desired results. When contacted, Mr. Ramesh said: “In the era of liberalisation, privatisation and
globalisation (LPG), it has been seen that the young scientists are leaving government jobs due to better opportunities in
the private sector. Hence it is crucial to attract and retain brilliant young scientists in the R&D institutes of the Commodity
Boards for scaling new peaks in the plantation sector. “This is also part of our effort to make the plantation sector research-
driven rather than subsidy-driven. We need to strengthen science and technology for tea, coffee, spices and cashew. One
good success story we have is rubber but this needs to be replicated in other commercial crops too”. Mr. Ramesh said he
got overwhelming support from scientists Dr M.S. Swaminathan and Dr C.N.R. Rao, Chairman, Science Advisory Council to
the Prime Minister, for the move to upgrade the payscale of scientists in the plantation industry. There was anomaly in the
salary and service conditions of scientists working in plantation crops compared with those working in institutes under ICAR
and CSIR, the sources said. Therefore, the department was seeking through a note to the Cabinet the need to adopt four-
tier pay scale for the scientists of the Commodity Boards and also to adopt the Recruitment Rules of the scientists of the
ICAR research institutes in the various plantation research institutes.

Thailand moots five-nation rice cartel in Asia


Prime Minister of Thailand Samak Sundaravej said on Wednesday that his government would try to create a cartel of rice-
producing countries in partnership with Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos. “We don’t aspire to be like Opec, but we
hope to be just a group of five to help each other in trading rice on the world market,” Samak was quoted as saying in The
Nation newspaper. Governments in Thailand, the world's largest rice exporter, have for many years toyed with the idea of
using their dominant market position to influence the price of rice in the same way that the Organization of Petroleum
Exporting Countries, or Opec, tries to set crude oil prices. The plan appears to be in a nascent stage. “I think it’s time to do
it, probably within the term of this administration,” Noppadon Pattama, Thailand’s foreign minister, said on Wednesday.
But, if successful, a cartel could have far-reaching consequences on the rice market, sustaining prices at their current
historic highs and worsening a food crisis that is hurting Asia’s poorest consumers. The price of Thai B-grade rice, a
benchmark variety, has nearly tripled in recent months and is now hovering at about $1,000 (Rs40,500) a tonne.
Maintaining rice prices would please large-scale rice farmers and traders in countries such as Thailand and Vietnam, but it
would anger places such as the Philippines, Singapore and Hong Kong, which rely heavily on imported rice. Plans for the
cartel were front page news in the Philippines on Thursday. The current ruling coalition in Thailand received the backbone of
its support from rural areas, and Samak appears eager to capitalize on the rice price increase. Thai rice farmers now “have
an opportunity”, he said in a recent interview. Unlike corn, wheat and other grains that are widely traded globally, only a
small number of countries export rice. The largest rice producers, China, India and Indonesia, consume most of their rice
crop domestically. Thanks to a vast, fertile delta, which allows farmers to harvest three or four times a year, Thailand
exports about 10 million tonnes annually, twice as much as Vietnam, the second largest rice exporter, and three times what
the US exports. Rice prices rose sharply in March and April after many exporting countries, including Brazil, Egypt, India
and Vietnam, announced that they were restricting exports to ensure domestic supplies.

Govt to mull extension of loan waiver scheme


After first rejecting the demand made by AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi to extend farmer loan waiver scheme,
Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar seems to be doing a rethink. A major controversy had erupted after Pawar firmly
rejected suggestion mooted by Rahul and a section of the Congress leaders had thought the NCP leader was trying to
humiliate Rahul. Rahul had taken the plight of farmers in a big way during his visit to Bundelkhand and it was expected that
under his pressure the Government would extend some welfare scheme to the local farmers. On the extension of the loan
waiver scheme as demanded by Congress MP Rahul Gandhi and the Left parties, Pawar said on such things decision would
be taken after observing the implementation of the existing announcement. "We have to find some solution for the specific
needs of drought-prone Bundelkhand region in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh and some areas of Vidarbha as well as
Kerala," he said replying to debate on the functioning of his Ministry in Rajya Sabha. Sources said Pawar has called a
meeting of secretaries on Tuesday to discuss extending some welfare measures for the farmers of these regions. Pawar
attributed the rise in consumer good prices to increased purchasing capacity of people benefiting from the Centre's
development schemes.

Govt to give subsidised edible oil through PDS


The families covered under below poverty line and Antoday Anna Yojana categories are likely to get edible oils at cheaper
rate from ration shops from first week of June. “We will roll out the subsidised edible oil scheme from June,” a senior
government official said. Under the scheme, the government would provide one litre of imported edible oils such as RBD
palmolein and refined soya oil per month to BPL and AAY categories, he added. The government, battling high inflation
rate, on April 16 announced a Rs 15 per kg subsidy on edible oils through PDS to contain rising prices.

RIL to sow Rs 1K cr in agri goods terminals


Reliance Industries Ltd , the Adani group, ITC and MCDX are planning huge back-end operations to create captive
agricultural bases, either for their own retail outlets or for supplying to others, it is learnt. RIL has firmed up plans to set up
terminal Markets in nine Indian cities with an initial investment of around Rs 1,000 crore. Confirming this, a senior RIL
executive said the company was looking at Chandigarh, Mumbai, Pune, Jaipur, Bangalore and Hyderabad in the first phase
to set up the terminal Markets. Sources also added that all these Markets would be able to handle fruits, vegetables,
flowers, aromatic products and herbs, besides poultry and meat. The Rs 10,000-crore Adani Enterprises, one of India’s
largest trading houses, is now diversifying into a wide range of areas. These include energy, real estate and the agri-
businesses. Building a terminal will obviously support its activities. On it part, Kolkata-based ITC will also be expanding its
presence in agriculture and retail. The company intends to increase the number of Wills Lifestyle stores from 250 to 400 by
the end of FY09. The other player in the terminal market fray, MCDX, is a national level commodity exchange that will be
handling large quantities of trade in farm produce. Terminal Markets have been introduced to leave farmers with multiple
choices for selling produce and help meet the key needs of stakeholders. The government has decided to set up seven
modern terminal Markets with public-private partnerships. The first such market will be set up in Chandigarh. Bids will be
invited to build the terminal Markets. According to the RIL executive, the present marketing system is characterised by a
long, fragmented supply chain and high wastage. The system also does not provide producers a fair share of the consumer
prices. Terminal Markets will try and reverse the trend and will help cut down the number of middlemen. Therefore, such
Markets offer more benefits than the conventional supply chain.

Urgent need to tackle food crisis


While the worst of the global credit crisis may be over, as some observers suggest, there may be another crisis looming.
The first crisis was a case of men in suits paying the price for their greed. The latter is potentially more serious: Millions of
the world's poor could end up literally dying of hunger if food prices continue to soar. Social unrest could also intensify. It is
bad enough that oil prices have reached almost $120 per barrel, which has the effect of raising many other prices.
Alarmingly, the same speculators who helped lift oil prices to today's giddy heights may have turned their attention to more
basic soft commodities. Rising Prices As early as last December, China had already started to impose export taxes and
quotas on a range of grains and flour. Last week, major wheat exporter Kazakhstan suspended overseas shipments, and
Indonesia stopped its farmers from selling its rice abroad. India has done likewise. Little wonder then that the price of this
basic Asian staple has reached record levels. In the past month alone, it has risen by more than a quarter; over the course
of this past year, it has more than doubled. Despite all the growth stories we've heard about the emerging market
economies of the world, their low-cost structures leave their workers highly vulnerable to sharply rising food prices. In
India, for example, it is estimated that one-in-four people still have to make do with the equivalent of less than $1 a day. A
serious threat rising demand - particularly from fast-growing emerging economies - is no doubt a major reason why food
prices are going up. Misguided subsidies for ethanol production - which effectively comes out of the food market - are
another. But there are at least two other key causes: The fast-falling US dollar, and speculative funds that are more than
ready to bet on a potentially big price move. The two feed on each other. Commodities are priced in US dollars. So every
time it sinks further, this provides the excuse to mark oil and food prices higher. To soften the blow for their poor, countries
such as China have allowed their currencies to appreciate faster against the US dollar this year. But, in doing so, they are
also adding to the upside pressure on commodity prices. It would seem that this upward spiral cannot be short-circuited
unless we see a turnaround in the US dollar's fortunes. But with that nowhere in sight, it is time economic policymakers pull
out all the stops to prevent the food crisis from spreading and deepening, as was done in the case of the credit crisis.
Tax sops for women retailers in agriculture
If all goes as per plan, India's countryside may soon see women-managed fair price shops, women kisan haats for direct
marketing and retail by women as well as financial and tax incentives for women retailers. What's more, prior consent of
affected women may be required in case of land acquisition for development or commercial projects. These are among the
many measures proposed in the draft national policy on women in agriculture, prepared by the National Commission for
Women (NCW). Calling for a full policy on women in agriculture, the draft, alluding to the report of the MS Swaminathan-
headed National Commission on Farmers, states that though "problems of women in agriculture cannot and should not be
separated from the general concerns in the farm sector, specific problems of women in this sector need to be tackled,
especially as there has been increased feminisation of agriculture. Women make up for 40% of the agricultural workforce in
India , and their number is rising. At present, 53% of all male workers and 75% all women workers are in agriculture, and
about 20% of rural households are de facto headed by women for reasons like widowhood, desertion or male-outmigration,
says the draft. The NCS has called for a policy that ensures women's access to and control over resources like, land, water,
forest, seeds fodder, fuel etc. At a time when global food shortage looms large, the policy draft feels women are the worst-
hit. Safeguarding food security and providing affordable foodgrains is, therefore, essential to eliminate malnutrition among
women and children in rural areas, it adds. The draft also calls for pattas for land titles as well as land rights for women,
especially single women-headed households, and rural credit for women in allied sectors at an interest rate of 4%,
irrespective of the size of landholding. Privatisation of commons, like forest and water, is leading to reduced access to
natural resources. This means that women have to spend more time on daily chores like fetching water and collecting fuel
and fodder.

Will consider all proposals on loan waiver scheme:


A day after Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar rejected the possibility of expanding Rs 60,000 crore farm loan waiver
scheme, as sought by Congress president Sonia Gandhi and AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi, the Congress on Tuesday
said the issue was under consideration of the Finance Ministry and all suggestions would be taken into account in the final
Budgetary allocations. "All constructive suggestions, with Rahul Gandhi's being one of them, are there to be considered in
the final passage of the Budgetary grants," said AICC spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi at a press briefing here, adding
the issue was "certainly something which falls in the focus of the Finance Ministry". Pawar had on Monday said the
Government was not in a position to take new responsibilities "till the present commitments are implemented". His
statement has come in the backdrop of suggestions from Sonia and Rahul to revisit the cut-off of two hectares. The Amethi
MP had suggested that the Government consider making the land ceiling variable according to land productivity. "There is
no question of A rejecting B's proposal. The provisional allocation and the final allocation are money allocations that are
obviously done in the final allocations. That process is happening in Parliament in grants to the Ministry and each and every
legitimate demand and legitimate request, each and every perspective is mentioned, debated and taken into account,"
Singhvi said. He said as far as further expansion was concerned, all suggestions would be taken into account while making
the final allocations in the Budget. "We fully stand behind proper implementation of the Rs 60,000 crore allocations, which
is precisely what the Agriculture Minister was talking about," Singhvi said.

Record foodgrain production expected


Conference of the State Ministers of Agriculture / Agriculture Marketing on development of Agriculture, was held at National
Agriculture Science Centre, Pusa Complex, New Delhi ,on 23rd of April 2008. The event was chaired by Mr. Sharad Power,
Hon'ble Minister of Agriculture Govt of India. A thread bare discussion was held on the subjects like, Progress of Rabi 2007-
08 & plan for Kharif 2008, National Food security Mission, Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana, Agricultural Marketing, Issues
relating to implementation of National Agricultural Insurance Scheme & Weather Based Crop Insurance Scheme, Extension
and availability of Fertilizers for the current Kharif 2008 season, among others. At the beginning of the conference Centre
made a strong appeal to the States to make the best use of the initiatives taken in the recent years not only to ensure food
security but also to turn India into an exporter of food and agricultural produce. Inaugurating the Conference Agriculture
and Food Minister, Shri Sharad Pawar called upon the State Ministers to give high priority to better water use efficiency,
ensuring availability of quality seed and fertilizers, improving marketing infrastructure, introducing market reforms and
disseminating new technology through the extension network. The Minister informed that the food grain production in
2007-08 has reached a record 227.32 million tones and record production has been achieved in a number of crops. He
expressed the hope that given a normal monsoon as forecast by the IMD, the production of food grains would see further
rise in the coming Kharif season. Among the states, Haryana claimed of record food production so also Gujrat which also
spoke about the success of Krishi Rath in enhancing the agricultural production in the state.. West Bengal spoke of the
introduction of Agri clinic in state of WB to provide all possible help to the farmers & also of the introduction of Farmers
pension in the state. In his concluding speech, Mr Kanti Lal Bhuria, Hon'ble minister of State for Agriculture , Govt of India,
said that the suggestions which has come out of this conference would go a long way in changing the face of Agriculture in
India.
FM, bank chiefs to discuss rates, debt waiver
Public sector bank (PSB) chiefs will have a lot to discuss when they meet Finance Minister P Chidambaram on May 1 to get
a broad direction from the government, the majority shareholder in 28 PSBs, for the strategy they should adopt in 2008-
09. High on the agenda will be a discussion on implementation of the Rs 60,314-crore farm loan waiver scheme by June 30.
The second important issue will be impact of the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI’s) latest monetary measures and interest
rates. RBI’s decision to raise the cash reserve ratio by 50 basis points is likely to dash any hopes of moderation in interest
rates in the slack season (April-June) due to pressure on margin and profitability. Also, there is a strong possibility that the
finance ministry may ask PSBs not to raise interest rates to ensure that economic growth is not impacted in 2008-09. As
this is the first meeting of the state-run bank chiefs in the new financial year, the performance of the banks against the
targets fixed in the Statement of Intent of annual goals for 2007-08 will also be reviewed. A fresh exercise will also be
undertaken for finalising the statement of intent on deposits, advances, farm loans, and profit for 2008-09. The financial
services department has already got a feedback from all the public sector banks in the second week of April on issues
relating to farm credit. The implementation of the debt waiver scheme for farmers announced in the Budget 2008-09 will be
an important priority for banks this year. Banks, regional rural banks and cooperatives have already submitted data
regarding overdue loans as on December 31, 2007 to the RBI and the government. Lenders are awaiting a scheme of
implementation from the government in this regard.

Govt asks Nafed to buy potatoes


The government has asked agriculture cooperative Nafed to purchase potato in Uttar Pradesh, which has seen a bumper
crop leading to sharp fall in its prices. Referring to the situation in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal where there has been
bumper crop of potato, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar said in Parliament that NAFED has been asked to do market
intervention and purchase the crop in UP. The Nafed could intervene even in West Bengal if the state so desired, Pawar
said. According to sources, Nafed has been asked to purchase 50000 tonnes at Rs 2.50 per kg. While the state government
has agreed to purchase 50 per cent of the crop, the Centre would purchase 25 per cent. However, sources said Nafed would
start the procurement once it is decided who would purchase the remaining 25 per cent. There is the problem of storing the
crop as almost all the cold storages in UP are already full with potatoes, sources said adding that Nafed will have to shift
the commodity to other states in case it procures from UP. “Nafed has to either bring the UP potatoes to Delhi or Bihar for
storage or sale,” a source said. Potato prices have fallen to Rs 5-6 a kg in retail markets due to higher production in Uttar
Pradesh, Gujarat and West Bengal.

Reliance, Marks & Spencer join hands


MUKESH AMBANI hit a big connection in London's high street on Friday as his Reliance Industries Ltd roped in British retail
giant Marks & Spencer for a joint venture that would sell premium garments and lift the Ambanis' relatively eclipsed textile
business. The retail tie-up is for a single brand collaboration allowed under current government rules, while a separate
game is being played out on the hypermarket side of the game involving multi-product discount chains like Big Bazaar. The
agreement with Reliance Retail, a unit of RIL, is subject to approval by the Foreign Investment Promotion Board. M&S is
slated to take a 51 per cent stake in a company called Marks & Spencer Reliance India Pvt. Ltd. The brief would be to make
Marks & Spencer, which has 875 stores spread across 40 countries with 8.75 billion pounds in sales, build a presence in
India with 50 stores planned over five years. The venture with Reliance, involving a total investment of around 29 million
pounds (Rs. 230 crore) will have the right to operate M&S stores in India selling items such apparel as well as homeware.
Ambani said the venture will offer a "delightful experience" to Indian consumers. Marks&Spencer's plans to grow its
international business to 15-20 per cent of group revenues within the next five years. It employs over 75,000 people.
"India is a very exciting opportunity for Marks & Spencer and a market where there is the potential for M&S to become a
major retail brand," said Sir Stuart Rose, Chief Executive, Marks & Spencer. Reliance Retail Limited (RRL), a subsidiary of
Reliance Industries Limited opened its first retail store in November 2006 and currently operates over 500 stores in over 49
cities.

Hind Unilever will source agri-products from farme


Hindustan Unilever Ltd will be sourcing farm products for its leading foods brand Kisan from farmers across rural India, as
part of its social initiatives to mark the completion of 75 years of its corporate existence in India. Addressing shareholders
at the company’s 75th annual general meeting here on Friday, Mr. Harish Manwani, Chairman, said the company was
initiating several programmes to enhance livelihood. “Kissan is targeting to source agricultural raw materials from primary
producers. Now what makes it really special is that we intend to pass on the economic benefits of this backward integration
back to the farmers,” he said. The company also intends to enhance the livelihoods of 75,000 women across rural India in
2008. “We plan to partner with NGOs to augment their efforts by bringing in technical and managerial expertise in this
area. The other leg is Project Shakti, our rural distribution initiative. It has made a big difference already to 45,000 women
across 15 States by providing them sustainable livelihoods. Our target is to cover one lakh villages across India by 2010,”
he said. It has identified five key platforms to drive its sustainable strategy and as part of this it would work in the areas of
health and nutrition, women empowerment and focus on water conservation and cutting greenhouse gases. On the
environment front, Mr. Manwani said the company embraced Unilever’s target of 25 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide
from energy in manufacturing operations for every tonne of production by 2012. It recently developed a new process of
manufacturing soap based on plough share mixer technology, which eliminates the need for steam in soap making. “This
technology cuts carbon emissions by 15,000 tonnes per year,” the Chairman pointed out. Unilever, now a $ 55-billion global
company, plans to increase its business from the Developing and Emerging (D&E) market like India from the present level
of 44 per cent of its total business to 50 per cent by 2010.

Herbal market likely to reach Rs 14,500 crore by 2


Indian herbal market is registering an extremely significant growth and is likely to reach Rs 14,500 crore by 2012 and the
exports to Rs 9,000 crore with a CAGR of 20% and 25% respectively, according to findings of the associated chambers of
commerce and industry of India (Assocham). Chamber study on 'herbal industry biz potential' has revealed that currently,
the Indian herbal market export size is estimated at Rs.7000 crore and over Rs 3600 crore of herbal raw materials and
medicines. Assocham has organised an international herbal expo in Delhi on Friday in which 50 international buyers will be
participating. The reasons cited for the herbal industry experimental growth comprises setting up of herbal farm clusters by
the government for improving quality of drugs and promotion of exports, doubling the cultivation of medicinal plants by
converting existing farmland, continuous focus for R&D on product and process development and effective marketing of
herbal products, the study said. The study also revealed that out of 700 plant species commonly used in India, only 20%
were earlier being cultivated on commercial scale and 90% of medicinal plant used by the industries are collected from the
wild. On the whole, India is stated to have 45,000 plant species (nearly 20% of the global species) in the Indian sub-
continent. Out of these, about 4,500 species of both higher and lower plant groups are of medicinal value. The study,
however, said that the major hurdle for cultivating medicinal and aromatic plants as a sustainable agricultural profession
was the lack of organised and regulated Markets in India. The regulated production on scientific lines, effective enforcement
of licensing system and setting up of export promotion zones (EPZ) in select states will push up exports of herbal material
and medicines. Apart from that, the Indian herbal drug exporters face the stringent quality norms imposed by the EU
through the traditional herbal medicinal products directive (THMPD), food supplement Directive (FSD) and these directives
also encouraged the high quality products and subsequently, the unorganised sectors sub-standard products rejected by
them. India followed by China is the largest producer of medicinal plants, having more than 40% of global diversity. The
states which are major producer of herbal plants having the highest medicinal value include Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana,
Tamil Nadu, Andhra and the Himalayan Range. According to Assocham estimates, over 70% of the plant collections involve
destructive harvesting because of the use of parts like roots, bark, wood, stem and the whole plant in case of herbs. This
poses a definite threat to the genetic stocks and to the diversity of medicinal plants if biodiversity is not sustainably used.

Ducks, not chicken, cause of bird flu outbreaks: S


Endless paddy fields and large duck populations — not the number of chickens raised — is the major factors behind
outbreaks of highly pathogenic bird flu in Southeast Asian countries, a report has said. In an interesting study called
‘Mapping H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza risk in southeast Asia: Ducks, rice and people’, published in the April issue
of the ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)’, experts from Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)
looked at the series of H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza in Thailand and Vietnam between 2004 and 2005. What the
scientists found was a strong link between duck grazing patterns and rice cropping intensity. Ducks feed mainly on leftover
rice grains in harvested paddy fields, so free-ranging ducks in both countries are moved to different sites in line with rice
harvest patterns. These peaks in congregation of ducks indicate periods in which there is an increase in the chances for
virus release and exposure and rice paddies often become a temporary habitat for wild bird species. Initiated and
coordinated by FAO senior veterinary officer Jan Slingenbergh, the researchers applied a modelling technique to establish
how different factors contributed to spread of the virus, including the numbers of ducks, geese and chickens, human
population size, rice cultivation and local geography. Defining this pattern was made possible through the use of satellite
mapping of rice paddy agriculture over time, cropping intensity and duck grazing locations. The intersections among these,
together with the chronology of disease outbreaks, helped the scientist’s pinpoint critical situations in time when bird flu
risk was greatest. Slingenbergh said, “We now know much better where and when to expect H5N1 flare-ups, and this helps
to target prevention and control. In addition, with virus persistence becoming increasingly confined to areas with intensive
rice-duck agriculture, evolution of the H5N1 virus may become easier to predict.”

Rain damages Rs 2,000 crore cash crops


Rain-related crop damages in cash-crop rich Kerala have crossed Rs 2,000 crore, according to official estimates. Except
rubber and cardamom, all crops, including pepper and coffee, have taken a tough battering from the summer rain. Going
strictly by the central relief norms, the state has drawn up a relief memorandum totaling about Rs 222 crore. "The actual
losses would be ten times of this and a separate memoradum detailing this would be also filed," Kerala revenue minister KP
Rajendran said. In Wayanad, which accounts for a substantial share of country's coffee plantations, harvesting was
affected. About one-tenth of the crop was abandoned in the bush. Because of continuous rains, beans could not be dried,
according to K Moidu, president, Wayanad Coffee Growers Association. Pepper vines normally call for summer heat to
mature to an optimum yield. In the last fiscal, pepper exports are close to 32,000 tonne (provisional figures), when the
rains put an end to the price-realisation picnic. In Wayanad alone, there were crop damages to the tune of Rs 115 crore,
according to early estimates, Rajendran said. For rubber, the summer rains give a new fillip to latex production, jacking up
per tree output in the season-end. Similarly, cardamom growers, resigned to a fall in production in the last fiscal, got a
pleasant surprise from the summer rains. This is expected to give a better crop in next February.

Govt to import more pulses


IN ORDER to boost the domestic supply, state- owned trading firm MMTC floated a tender on Tuesday to import 69,000
tonne of pulses. The bids would close on April 2 and the decision on the tender would be taken by April 9, the company said
on its website. “The company would import 57,000 tonne of yellow peas and 6,000 tonne each of pigeon peas ( arhar) and
black matpe ( urad),” it said. Pigeon peas and black matpe would be of Myanmar origin and the bidder should quote for a
minimum quantity of 2,000 tonne. The consignment of these two pulses would reach during April- May at ports in Mumbai,
Kolkata and Chennai. With respect to yellow peas, 22,000 tonne would be imported from France and will be delivered in
July- August while 35,000 tons from Canada will reach in September- November, the firm said.

Brazil eyes investment opportunities in India


Pending the ratification of India-Mercosur Preferenial Trade Agreement, Brazil is desirous of boosting its trade with India.
“India-Mercosur PTA is under consideration for ratification by the member countries of the Mercosur group. After the India-
Mercosur PTA comes into force, our trade prospects with India will increase. But in the meantime Brazil would like to boost
bilateral trade with India,” said the Brazilian minister of development, industry and foreign trade, Miguel Jorge, who was in
India last week. He clarified that Brazil alone cannot sign a free trade agreement (FTA) with India. It is the Mercosur group
as a whole has to take a decision on signing of a FTA with India. “Let us hope that our proposed PTA with India may finally
lead to a India-Mercosur FTA in the future,” he said. Brazil has decided to make its exports of soybean oil and products
cheaper by reducing its taxes and levies on production. Soybean oil is one of the major item exported by Brazil to India
apart from copper and iron and steel manufactured products. “In the backdrop of the rising global prices, we are thinking of
reducing our taxes and levies on the production of soybean products for maintaining our exports,” said Jorge. India imports
both refined soybean oil and degummed soybean oil. In 2006-07 (oil year November-October) India imported about 11,120
tonne refined soybean oil and 1,33,22,920 tonne degummed soybean oil. Imports of refined soybean oil was higher in
2005-06, 2004-05 and 2003-04 being respectively at 20,457 tonne, 25,003 tonne and 15,324 tonne. Similarly imports of
degummed soybean oil was higher in 2005-06 and 2004-05 being respectively at 17,03,360 tonne and 20,01,745 tonne.
Soybean oil is a small part of the total vegetable oils import of around 4 to 5 million tonne, it has the potentiality to rise in
near future. India has already allowed imports of soybean oil extracted from genetically modified (GM) seeds without being
labeled, despite strong opposition from the anti-GM lobby. Owing to a surge in demand, international prices of edible oils
continued to exhibit a sharp and steady upward trend in recent months. For instance, the international price of crude palm
oil (FoB Malaysia) increased from $770 per tonne in the last week of August, 2007 to about $1,220 a tonne in the last week
of February, 2008. During the same period, the international price of sunflower oil (CIF Rotterdam) increased from $947 to
$1695 a tonne—an increase of about 79%. India has made tariff cuts on a range of vegetable oils from time to time
keeping in pace with the rising prices. It has also maintained a low tariff value for imports of vegetable oils. The duty on
soybean oil is already low due to the low WTO bound tariff rate at 45% . According to the Solvent Extractors Association of
India in the last four months, global prices have substantially increased and practically doubled in last one year. However
this has had no impact on flow of imported vegetable oil into India. Jorge said, “We would like to boost trade and
investment opportunities between two our two countries. India and Brazil are among the top 10 economies and we are both
fighting in the WTO in the interests of the developing world.” Jorge led recently a strong business delegation to India. Asia
represents 20% of Brazilian foreign trade, about $43.7 billion and the region is responsible for the recent surge in Brazilian
exports. India represents only 1% of Brazilian trade flow. “In 2007 on a year-on-year basis, our bilateral trade with India
increased by 30% amounting to $3.1 billion. We need to accelerate trade so that the target of $10 billion is reached by
2010,” Jorge said. In 2007, Brazil’s exports to India were valued at $957.9 million and India's exports to Brazil was valued
at $2,164.9 million. Diesel was responsible for 50% of India’s exports to Brazil.

New hope for Doha round


The UPA Government should not rush to cobble together an accord on the Doha Round just to accommodate the schedule
of the US Presidential elections. Reports indicating that New Delhi has begun preparing for a WTO ministerial meeting in
May have once again raised the hope that there may be soon be a successful resolution of the ongoing Doha Round
negotiations. While this is true, a note of caution must be sounded, namely, that the UPA Government should not show
undue haste in helping to cobble together an accord just for the sake of accommodating the schedule of the US Presidential
elections. New Delhi is said to have taken seriously the WTO Director-General, Mr. Pascal Lamy’s suggestion that since
there is no point in continuing with the negotiations as one gets closer to the US poll process; they would have to be
suspended around the middle of the year. According to him, a Ministerial meeting held before the suspension would not
only imply political acceptance by the WTO member-state of the progress made before the talks are suspended but would
also make it difficult for the next US Administration to ignore what has been achieved at the negotiating table.
Schematically, this makes good sense, but the more important point is to truly agree on a body of accords that could then
be formalised, in a manner of speaking, by the proposed Ministerial. To say the least, the prospect of such an agreement is
bleak. In fact, just a couple of weeks ago, the Union Commerce Minister, Mr. Kamal Nath, made it clear that there were
around 150 points of discord in the farm negotiations, which had to be reduced to not more than 50 before a ministerial
could be held. The scale of the disagreement, as indicated by the Commerce Minister, is the result of intense bargaining
spread over nearly six years, which makes the expectation of two-thirds of the troublesome points being settled in the
course of another five or six weeks unrealistic. This is the danger the Doha Round is facing today, one that could derail the
WTO from the good work it is currently doing (mainly in the dispute-settlement sphere) and also ‘defang’ it vis-À-vis future
trade liberalisation programmes. The Commerce Minister has time and again emphasised that the content of any agreement
is much more important than meeting schedules, a point reiterated by the EU Trade Commissioner as a principle earlier this
month when he said vis-À-vis the India-EU trade talks that both New Delhi and Brussels wanted to “deliver what is best for
both of us and not the fastest”. Much is being expected of the revised agriculture and non-agriculture market access
(NAMA) drafts, which will be released shortly, as also of the services negotiations (of crucial importance to New Delhi),
which have finally got under way. The ground realities, however, point to hurdles which will be difficult to cross in so short
a time.

Dena Bank to write off Rs 200-cr agri loans


Targeting a business growth of 24 per cent in the next fiscal, state-owned Dena Bank will write off Rs 200 crore under the
loan waiver package announced in the Union Budget. ''Dena Bank will write off about Rs 200 crore worth agriculture loans,''
the bank's Chairman and Managing Director, Mr. P.L. Gairola, told reporters here. The Government had announced a Rs
60,000-crore loan waiver package for farmers which have to be implemented by June-end this year while the banks would
be provided adequate liquidity in the next three years. ''We expect a 24 per cent topline growth in business in the next
fiscal. The bank has also targeted a 50 per cent rise in the customer base from about 95 lakh at present,'' he said. He said
in the next fiscal, the bank would set focus on agriculture, SME, retail and corporate segments which have been the key
growth-drivers in the current fiscal. Besides, a 22 per cent growth is expected in advances while the deposits would rise by
22 per cent, he said. At present, Dena Bank has a deposit base of Rs 32,000 crore while advances stood at Rs 23,000
crore. The bank has launched Dena International Gold Debit card and Internet banking services. The gold card debit card
will enable customers to withdraw up to Rs 1.5 lakh per day in the point of sales terminals across the world and up to Rs
50,000 from the ATMs, Mr. Gairola said.

Insurance scheme for paddy crop soon


To benefit the farmers of Punjab and Haryana, the Agriculture Insurance Company of India will be launching “varsha bima”
for paddy crop in the two states. According to company officials, the scheme will be launched on a pilot basis in select
districts of the two states in June when the sowing season for paddy crop begins. This move follows the disillusionment of
the farmers in these states, where the crop insurance on paddy was not available till date. It may be noted that a wheat
insurance scheme is available to the farmers while the National Agriculture Insurance Scheme (NAIS) was available for
crops like bajra, maize and arhar in Haryana. This scheme was not available to farmers in Punjab as the guarantee is
against yield. Since the yield in the state is assured, there was no need to extend the scheme. The NAIS is available to
farmers in Himachal Pradesh (for maize, potato and paddy) and in Jammu and Kashmir (wheat, potato and mustard). Since
the major crops, whose yield is assured, are not covered in this scheme, farmers are suffering losses. Banks, too, failed to
insure farmers for crop damage/failure. The data available from the AICI shows that only 15-20 per cent of the banks in
Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir, are insuring the farmers who have availed loans from them. Of the
185 nodal banks of Haryana, only 29 banks have been submitting proposals for crop insurance to the AICI. In Himachal
Pradesh, only 11 of the 125 nodal banks have been submitting the proposals for farmers having availed loans from them
while in Jammu and Kashmir, only eight of the 36 nodal banks are offering assistance to farmers under this scheme.
Officials in AICI regional office here said they had been repeatedly sending reminders to all regional banks, urging them to
insure all farmers who have availed seasonal agricultural operations loans (SAOL), as it was mandatory under this national
scheme. It may be noted that the NAIS is also applicable to those farmers who have not availed any loan under SAOL.
These farmers can approach the bank branch located nearest to their land, and get the crop insurance done. But due to
lack of awareness not many farmers are availing this insurance cover.

Fertilizer tab up from Rs 31k cr to 90k cr in 2 we


What is the anticipated fertilizer bill for 2008-09? Barely two weeks after the Budget was presented, you might think there
would be a simple answer to this question. But, it turns out that there are at least four different figures being quoted by
UPA’s ministers in Parliament. When finance minister P Chidambaram presented the Budget, the figure mentioned in the
documents was Rs 30,986.34 crore. On March 13, minister of state for chemicals and fertilizers B K Handique in his reply to
a question in Lok Sabha said the fertilizer subsidy for 2008-09 was estimated to be Rs 60,649.36 crore. A day later, his
cabinet minister, Ram Vilas Paswan, while replying to a question in the Rajya Sabha on March 14, said the subsidy for the
coming year is likely to increase to Rs 75,000 crore. Finally, on Tuesday, minister of state for commerce Jairam Ramesh
told the Lok Sabha that the estimated bill for 2008-09 was Rs 90,000 crore. But while a soaring fertilizer subsidy bill can
put the government’s fiscal management under pressure, it is not necessarily bad news in political terms. Ramesh made
the point in Lok Sabha when he said the Rs 90,000 crore fertilizer subsidy only underlined UPA’s commitment to farmers.
He added that a Rs 1,200 crore subsidy for sulphate of potash for tobacco farmers was not an issue. While it has been
argued that massive subsidies may curb government ability to efficiently allocate resources, even for politically important
flagship schemes, this is not an immediate issue. For a poll-bound government, floating bonds or simply deferring hard
decisions will make more sense than fiscal prudence. In Planning Commission meetings, Chidambaram has often argued
that subsidies are badly targeted, reward inefficiency and constrain the government when it is faced with demands like
increasing support prices. But arguments that make economic sense are not the order of the day. The FM himself has led
the way with the Budget’s Rs 60,000 crore farm bonanza. In recent days, Paswan’s figure came in the context of an
explanation for the rise in subsidy on urea, which he said was mainly because of the gap between domestic production and
demand, necessitating imports of the commodity. Ramesh was speaking in response to a calling attention motion and said
his ministry had proposed to the fertilizer ministry that sulphate of potash should also be covered under the fertilizer
subsidy scheme. Despite the fact that the subsidy bill was already likely to be Rs 90,000 crore in 2008-09, the proposal had
been accepted and would be put to the Cabinet for its approval, he said. Interestingly, Paswan’s response to the Rajya
Sabha question had also mentioned that the fertilizer subsidy bill for the current year, 2007-08, was estimated to be Rs
45,000 crore. Yet, the revised estimates presented in the Budget by Chidambaram was only Rs 30,501.01 crore, up from
the Rs 22,451.01 crore provided in the budget for 2007-08. All of this raises questions about what the real subsidy bill is. If
it is indeed Rs 90,000 crore, the latest figure quoted, that would mean the Budget would have to provide an extra Rs
60,000 crore over what has been provided for. The government has to give subsidies on fertilizers as it sells them at below
the prices at which it either buys from private producers or imports. In the case of urea, the government buys it at an
average cost of Rs 15 per kg, but sells it to the farmer at Rs 4.83 per kg. Similarly, DAP is bought by the government at an
average cost of Rs 25 per kg but is sold to the farmer at Rs 9.3 per kg. The bill has been increasing sharply in recent years
and if the latest figures being thrown about are any indication, it appears that it is all set to balloon very sharply in the
coming year. Loan waiver: Govt takes relook after Sonia, Rahul pitch

Annual wastage of agricultural food items worth Rs


The country loses more than Rs 58,000 crore worth of agricultural food items due to lack of post harvesting infrastructure
such as cold chains, transportation, and storage facilities. According to the Union minister for food processing Subodh Kant
Sahai, the wastage of food items could be stopped through promoting food processing industries, developing cold chains
infrastructure, and filling the gaps in the supply chain system. “Wastage of food items occurs at various stages of handling
after harvesting due to fragmented land holding,” Sahai told Rajya Sabha on Tuesday. Food processing industries had
entrusted Rabo India Finance to prepared a report on food wastage. Officials said that losses due to lack of infrastructure
would be reduced substantially with the growth of the food processing industry. The food processing sector has witnessed
an annual growth from 7% during 2003-4 to 13.14% during 2006-7. The Ministry of food processing plans to triple the size
of the processed food sector by increasing the level of processing of perishables from 6% to 20%, the value addition from
20% to 35%, and increase the share in global food trade from 1.5% to 3% by 2015. “Financial assistance to states for
promotion of the food processing sector has increased from Rs 88.13 crore during 2004-5 to Rs 211.98 crore during 2006-
7,” Sahai said. According to the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), post-harvest losses of selected fruits and vegetables
are about 25% to 30%. Even marginal reductions in these losses are bound to give better returns.

Govt expense on food subsidy to go up by 3.55%


The Government's expenditure on food subsidy will go up by 3.55 per cent in 2008-09, according to the budget estimate
approved by the Finance Ministry. The Food Ministry, which controls the public distribution system through which wheat,
rice and kerosene are supplied to people at subsidised rates, has been allocated Rs 32,666 crore to pay the difference
between actual price and the PDS rates of foodgrain and other items. According to the Demands for Grants of the Ministry
of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, which was presented before the Parliament on Tuesday, the total food
subsidy for the next fiscal will be to the tune of Rs 32,666 crore. In 2007-08, the budget estimates for food subsidy was
pegged at Rs 25,696 crore, but it was later revised to Rs 31,545 crore. The food subsidy bill of the Government was Rs
24,013 crore in 2006-07. With rising level of food subsidies, the Government has been considering various measures to
minimise its impact on the exchequer. The Government had last month decided to cap at 85 lakh tons allocation of wheat
and rice to states for distribution to Above Poverty Line (APL) families through the PDS during 2008-09 financial year.
States have been given the choice to decide the scale of issue to the beneficiaries within the allocation. The Centre
currently supplies 35 kg of rice and wheat per family every month to those covered under Below Poverty Line (BPL) and
Antyodaya Anna Yojna (AAY) schemes at cheaper rates than market price.
Reserve Bank clears air over loan waiver package
MORE than two weeks after the government announced a jumbo loan waiver of Rs 60,000 crore for farmers during the
Budget, details of it are slowly trickling in with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) giving a complete lowdown about this
scheme to banks. For instance, it’s now certain that farmers who’ve taken loans (investment credit for agriculture) to invest
in tractors or farm mechanisation and used the loans for developing allied activities like poultry, dairy or fishery will also be
eligible for the loan waiver scheme, albeit with riders. They will get only a partial benefit and not be eligible for the entire
loan waiver. Before the banking regulator came up with this bit of detail, there was widespread speculation on who would
be eligible for the Rs 60,000-crore loan waiver scheme. Bankers told ET that the RBI explanation now comes in handy.
Before the RBI communiqué on March 7, 2008, it was widely speculated that only small and marginal farmers, who had
taken loans before March 31, 2007 and have their overdues on December 31, 2007 and which remained unpaid until
February 29, 2008, would be eligible for the loan waiver package. Accordingly, farmers with short term crop loan overdues
on December 31, 2007, would have their entire loan waived. Now, it’s clear that other farmers who had taken investment
credit or who are involved with allied activities would not be eligible for entire loan waiver. Nevertheless, in their case,
merely the installments overdue as on December 31, 2007 would be waived, not the entire outstanding amount. The
banking regulator has asked banks to collate details accordingly and submit that strictly by March 14, 2008. The National
Bank for Agriculture & Rural Development has communicated these intricate details to regional rural banks and cooperative
agriculture credit agencies. The regulator has asked us to maintain the details state-wise as well as region wise. They have
also prescribed a format for furnishing the data, a senior executive with public sector bank said. The cooperative sector, on
the other hand, is a bit tense. It may be difficult for us to get the details in such a short time. The cooperative sector is vast
and over 95% of our loans are given to agriculture. Collating these details in just about seven days would be difficult, a
banker with cooperative sector said.

HDFC readies plan to lend against agri land


AFTER the Rs 60,000-crore debt waiver for the farmers in the Union Budget, banks are chalking out new strategies to
streamline the process of agriculture loans. HDFC has put up a proposal before five or six state governments, including
Punjab and Karnataka, to allow mortgage against agriculture property. It is fixing up parameters like fertility of the soil,
quality of produce and financial record of farmers for providing loans. If it gets the governmental nod for the proposal,
farmers having at least 7 acres of land would be eligible for this scheme. HDFC joint managing director Renu Sud Karnad
says, “We have asked for their permission. We are looking at states where the land is more fertile, like in case of Punjab.
Around 72% of India lives in rural areas and we see this as a huge potential. With these new initiatives, I think we should
be able to fund almost 20% of the rural farmers.” On the other hand, agri experts opine that this will not be of any help to
the small and micro farmers as they have very small land holdings. Indian Society of Agriculture Economics president SS
Johl said”Still I feel, banks should be made to follow some conditions. Like - a house and at least five acre property of the
farmer should not be mortgaged by any bank. Rate of interest should be the prime lending rate, in addition to maximum of
4% on it. If the repayment is double the capital borrowed, it should be considered as money paid back to the bank by the
borrower. If banks agree to this, the state government should not have any problem in allowing them to mortgage the
agriculture property of farmers.” HDFC senior general manager Madhumita Ganguli says, “We have to understand that we
are running the institution on public money. It would be too early to comment on this as we are deciding the parameters.”
The stagnation in productivity and rising cost of inputs like fertilizers, installation of submersible pumps, diesel, pesticide
and insecticides have crippled farmers. Many farmers (65% as per NSSO survey in 2003 and 89% as per Punjab Farmers
Commission Report) are under debt. The total debt of Punjab farmers is estimated at Rs 21,064 crore in 2006. This debt
has now increased to Rs 26,000 crore of which, almost 50% of the amount (Rs 12,000 crore) has been borrowed from
commission agents and local moneylenders.

Yield doubles as Punjab ryots adopt Pak method


Adopting the Pakistani pattern of maize cultivation has proved a boon for Punjab state farmers as they have doubled their
crop production after switching over to neighbouring country's style of sowing. In Pakistan, farmers sow the crop from east
to west with the heaps at a distance of 24-27 inches and the plant distance of about 7-8 inch, as the technical belief is that
if south slope gets maximum sunlight then the production is better, a farmer of the state said while explaining the detail of
Pakistani method of cultivation. The idea of new pattern of cultivation came in the mind of farmer Pawanjot Singh of Doaba
region of the state when he went to Pakistan in June 2004 and learnt the method of growing maize that had made the
Pakistani farmers ahead of their Indian counterparts in the crop's production. After noting down the technical details of the
pattern, Pawantjot, a BSc Graduate, implemented the technique in his fields and has registered almost the double produce
last year. He said that in the traditional method of cultivating maize, farmers do not take care of direction of the sowing the
seeds but in Pakistan the farmers were very particular as far as direction was concerned. Another farmer of the region,
Hardev Singh Sangha, who adopted the same pattern, claimed that new technique virtually proved "magic" for him as his
harvest of the maize crop has increased from 15 quintal per hectare to about plus 30 quintal per hectare in the last two
years. "In Pakistan, farmers sow the crop from East to west with the heaps at the distance of 24-27 inches and the plant
distance of about 7-8 inch, as the technically believe that if south slope gets maximum sunlight then the produce is better
which produces the desirable effects," he said while explaining the technical detail of Pakistani method of cultivation.

Budget announces Rs. 60,000 crore farm debt waiver


The 2008 Budget provided breather to the farming community by announcing the Rs 60,000 crore debt waiver Agricultural
loans given by scheduled commercial banks, regional rural banks and cooperative credit institutions up to March 31, 2007
and over-due as of December 31 that year will be covered under the waiver scheme to address the problem of
indebtedness of farmers. The loan waiver scheme is expected to benefit three crore small and medium farmers. According
to industry sources, the banks have reasons to be happy as there was an implicit hint that they would get reimbursed
accordingly. In that scenario, the move will help the banks to get rid of bad debt. The farmers can also take fresh loans
post the settlement of the older ones which will give a fillip to agri credit space that has already touched Rs 2,40,000 cr in
07-08. However, there are downsides to this scheme. While the waiver has spelled magic for the farmers of Punjab,
Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and to some extent Karnataka, the farmers of Vidharbha region which is a major suicide belt are
not delighted. The root cause is the source of loan for these farmers. 50% of the farmers in this region have taken loan
from private money lenders because they are not entertained by they are not entertained by scheduled banks to suicide.
Moreover, the 2 hectare ceiling on land holding for loan waiver is acting as a deterrent because most farmers in this region
do not fall under that category.

FM proposes Rs. 644 crore for NAIS


Finance Minister proposed to provide Rs 644 crore for the National Agricultural Insurance Scheme (NAIS) for 2008-09.
"Pending a decision on an alternative crop insurance scheme that is acceptable to the farmers as well as viable to the
insurer, the NAIS will be continued in its present form for Kharif and Rabi 2008-09," Chidambaram said. In addition, he said
the Weather-Based Crop Insurance scheme being implemented on a pilot basis in select areas of five states would continue.
In 2008-09, a sum of Rs 50 crore has been provided for the scheme.

Rs.40 crore announced for Special Purpose Tea Fund


The Finance Minister announced an allocation of Rs 40 crore in 2008-09 for the Special Purpose Tea Fund (SPTF) set up last
year for re-plantation and rejuvenation and proposed similar support to other plantation crops such as cardamom (Rs 10.68
crore), rubber (Rs 19.41 crore) and coffee (Rs 18 crore). SPTF aims at improving the age profile of tea plantations and
helps in raising yield, lowering production cost and improving quality, which leads to higher price realisation for the tea
industry. In order to promote research on the plantation sector, Chidambaram has proposed to make a one-time grant of
Rs five crore to the Thiruvananthapuram-based Centre for Development Studies. A special centenary grant of Rs 20 crore
was announced for Tea Research Association. A crop insurance scheme for tea, rubber, tobacco, chili, ginger, turmeric,
pepper and cardamom will be introduced next year, Finance Minister P Chidambaram on Friday said in his Budget speech in
the Parliament.

Indian agriculture is next big global opportunity:


The agriculture sector in India is one of the big gest equity opportunities across the world, predicts US investment bank
Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., which expects privatization in the sector to power growth. India, according to the
investment bank, will emerge as Asia's breadbasket, even as the crunch for food in the continent continues to rise. "It is
one of the world's most amazing themes," said Paul Schulte, chief Asia equity strategist at Lehman. Lehman has upgraded
India weightage in the Asian equity portfolio and downgraded China. According to its global economic and market outlook
report released on Monday, India has the best credit profile in Asia, though its market capitalization is high. Aggregate
balance sheet of Indian companies is the healthiest in the continent, added Schulte.

Godrej, Malaysian firm tie up for palm oil


GODREJ INDUSTRIES today announced a joint venture with Malaysian IJM Plantations for developing palm plantations and
oil production in India. The group has drawn up plans to expand its operations several folds in India. While Malaysia is the
largest producer of palm oil in the world, India is one of the largest importers. The Malaysian planting material is not
allowed to be imported into India unless it is through a joint venture. Godrej Industries already has palm oil operations all
across the country IJM, the Malaysian company will hold 51 per cent in the joint venture. Godrej Industries chairman Adi
Godrej told Hindustan Times: 'We have plans to expand our palm oil operations several folds in the next five to seven
years. The Malaysian planting material is the best in the world but so far we have been using the central Amercian variety
so far. This joint venture gives us access to the best." He added that the company's oil palm assets in Karnataka will be put
into the joint venture while the other assets of the group in other places of India will not be put under this joint venture.
Godrej added: "This will also expand the market in India." The joint venture will a1so set up its own mills and distribute
palm planting material to farmers with buy-back arrangements for fruit bunches.
Sugar industry seeks special status for ethanol
As the government is becoming proactive in promoting bio-fuel programme in the country, the sugar industry is eagerly
waiting for a reduction in excise duty on molasses, which is currently high at Rs 750 a tonne. The sugar industry has also
sought for placing ethanol in the "special category of goods" under clause 5A of the Central Sales Tax Act, so that the state
governments will not impose local taxes on this commodity. At present, there is a provision for mandatory doping of auto-
fuel with 5% ethanol throughout the country, with the exception of the northeastern region and hilly areas. All states
except West Bengal and Tamil Nadu have implemented the 5% mandatory doping programme. The government has plans
to increase ethanol doping to 10% from October 2008. The government has also allowed the sugar mills to deploy
appropriate technology to source ethanol directly from sugarcane juice instead of following the molasses route, which is
costlier. Molasses, a byproduct of the industry, is processed into ethanol. Speaking to FE, the director-general of Indian
Sugar Mills Association (ISMA), SL Jain said, "At present, the excise duty on molasses is Rs 750 a tonne which is about
three times the price of molasses, being in the range of Rs 200 to Rs 350 a tonne in different parts of the country. The
issue of reduction in excise duty on molasses and placing ethanol in the special category of goods under clause 5A of the
Central Sales Tax Act is pending before the group of ministers (GoM) headed by the Union agriculture minister, Sharad
Pawar. As the GoM could not decide on this issue so far, we expect the finance minister, P Chidambaram, appreciating the
urgency of the situation, would address the problem in the forthcoming Union Budget." Jain also alleged that there were
also problems of deliberate delays in lifting of ethanol by the oil companies.

MCX seeks core project-like tax sop for agri infra


In order to provide the agriculture sector with a much-needed boost, the government must give tax incentives to rural
infrastructure projects in the sector, a top commodity exchange said on Friday. “As there are tax incentives for
infrastructure projects, similar incentives should be extended to projects associated with development of rural agriculture
infrastructures such as warehousing, cold storage and others,” Multi Commodity Exchange’s (MCX) deputy managing
director Joseph Massey told FE. The government had amended Income Tax act, 1961 in 2005 to provide all infrastructure
projects a five-year tax holiday. Massey said better infrastructure was not only critical in the supply chain of the agricultural
commodities, it also boost rural Economy. “Global experience indicate that growth of commodity futures has helped reduce
supply chain, cut marketing costs, reduce wastages and boost investments in commodity related infrastructures etc,” he
said. On the forthcoming Budget, Massey said government must ensure uniform value added taxes (VAT) structure across
all states, which would support farmers, traders and consumers. “We hope that futures trading band on wheat and rice
would be revoked by the government as it does not help anyone,” he said. MCX has urged the banks to provide advance
against commodities whose future prices have been already agreed in by the participants in the futures platform at a
concessional rates. “The futures trading ban on wheat and rice must be revoked as it is not serving any purpose,” Massey
added.

Bharti may drop Wal Mart Tag


The Wal-Mart brand may not come to India anytime soon. Bharti Retail, with which the US retail giant has tied up for its
India entry, may not sue the Walmart name for its front end retail stores. Mike T Duke, vice chairman, Wal-Mart Stores Inc,
dropped enough hints about it when he said, “Three fourths of our international business earnings are under 52 local
brands across the globe. We want to be seen as local retailers serving the needs of the local people in an area. However,
Rajan Bharti Mittal, managing director, Bharti Enterprises, said the final rollout plans of the retail and cash and carry stores
would be made in April, and brand names for the retail and cash and carry stores would be announced then. Mittal did not
confirm whether the stores would sport the Walmart Name. Sources say the forced closure of Reliance Retails in UP might
have prompted Bharti to rework its branding strategy, and drop the Wal-Mart name to avoid any negative brand
perception. Duke said the international business division of Wal-Mart clocked a turnover of $90million in the fiscal year
ended January 31

Pepsico to buy 30,000 tn potato from Bengal


Pepsico India plans to procure at least 30,000 tonnes of potato from West Bengal by 2010 for its foods business, up from
12,000 tonnes current procurement. Currently, the company caters to 1,800 farmers through contract farming in West
Bengal. Pepsico is also conducting trials to grow oats in Rajasthan, Punjab, and Karnataka to make quaker oats, a breakfast
product, which is currently imported from Australia, the report added.

Min: $150 mn investment in Indian organic farming


Organic farming in India is set to get a major boost with investments of over $150 million coming into the sector, Food
Processing Industries Minister Subodh Kant Sahai has said. "There is a plan to develop organic farming in India with
investments going up to 100 million euros in 23 states with partial support from the government," Sahai said at the Indian
pavilion at Biofach 2008, the event that highlights immense potential in the organic food sector, in Germany. Sahai said his
ministry was also seriously considering the proposal from the industry to set up organic food parks in the country along
with streamlining the agro-infrastructure with modernised facilities like cold chains. "The world can now take a close look at
the new transformation sweeping Indian agriculture. The current global demand by the consumer to organic food has
opened up new opportunities for trade and investments," Sahai said. He asserted that India would be a leading source for
organic products in the near future. "The demand for speciality food like organic products, nutraceuticals and convenience
products is expected to multiply in line with changing life styles," he said. As India has been implementing the national
programme for organic production (NPOP) since 2001, the country has established a credible quality assurance system to
meet the consumer expectations, he said. "With the commitment shown by the Indian farmers and exporters, India was
able to meet the EU, Swiss and the US requirements of product standards and certification," Sahai added. NPOP aims at
promoting organic agriculture, creating demand for organic products and improving environment conditions in the country.
The minister said India had framed domestic standards for organic products, largely based on the NPOP standards. "It was
necessary in the light of growing domestic demand for organic products," he said. Sahai added that the retail marketing
was taking an organised shape in India, while imported foodstuff was swiftly and steadily foraying into the Indian market.
"The countries wishing to export organic products to India will need to comply with the Indian regulations. The products
need to be certified by the Indian accredited certification bodies.

Govt scripts design for crop improvement


India is working on a “national crop designing strategy” to improve nutrition, yield and insect resistance levels of a wide
range of key crops. It plans to do this not through the use of genetically modified, or GM crops, but by identifying the right
parents for future generations of the crop. Over the next four months, a committee headed by Deepak Pental, a geneticist
and vice-chancellor, University of Delhi, will prepare a report on this, which will also identify experts who can create better
crops. This will be done by picking parents with the required genetic make up, a process called marker assisted selection
(or MAS). MAS doesn’t involve isolating and inserting genes from other organisms into crops and thus obviates the need for
time-consuming ethical clearances and “fears surrounding inserting genes into crops,” said M.K. Bhan, secretary,
department of biotechnology. “Of course, in situations where there’s no way out but to insert a gene, we will use it,” he
added. India is concerned about the slow growth of agriculture and wants to double agricultural growth which was 2% in
the 9th Plan and early years of the 10th Plan to 4% in the 11th Plan (2007-12), during which the projected allocation for
agriculture and irrigation is pegged at Rs121,550 crore, more than double of what was actually spent between 2002 and
2007. The national crop designing strategy covers rice, wheat, chickpea, pigeon-pea, black gram and cotton. MAS presents
a better option to the technique of “crossing” where specific traits in plants are amplified by repeatedly crossing individual
plants that show some of these traits. But it’s time-consuming, and in some cases, a trait can be suitably expressed only
after hundreds of crossings. Through a technique called gene sequencing, scientists have been able to identify all the genes
that make up certain crops and importantly markers—stray pieces of DNA—that tag along with certain genes. It’s much
easier looking for a marker than a gene. “We just look for the markers and with that we can achieve desired traits within 10
crossings at times,” said R.R. Sinha, an adviser at the department of biotechnology. On Wednesday, the government
announced the creation of the first indigenously developed seed variety using MAS: a hybrid variety of maize called FQH
4567 that has 40% higher protein content than current maize varieties. Sangeeta Singh contributed to this story. Top

IFFCO, Airtel to set up Kisan Sanchar in Rajasthan


INDIAN farmers’ Fertilizer Cooperative Limited (IFFCO) has joined hands with the leading telecom service operator Airtel to
set up IFFCO Kisan Sanchar Limited in Rajasthan. The company would provide communication services to farmers in the
rural areas of the state with the help of Rajasthan cooperative department. Under this scheme, the cooperative department
would provide mobile handsets to farmers at concessional price through its outlets in the rural areas. These handsets would
be loaded with green sim cards which would flash daily updates on agricultural practices and weather forecast, free of cost.
The cooperative department has appointed Gram Seva Sahkari Samiti as the nodal agency to distribute the subsidised
handsets, SIM cards and recharge coupons to the farmers. Airtel Rajasthan Circle Head Raghunath Mandawa said that the
company would be setting up mobile towers, PCOs and internet kiosks to cover the entire state. We already have our
services in 31,000 villages of the state and soon we would be adding 10,000 villages on our network. The tariff plan of this
scheme would be 50 paise per minute for the farmers and the messages would be in Hindi language,” he said. Rajasthan
cooperative minister Nathu Singh Gurjar told ET that Rajasthan is the pioneering state to use IT & telecommunication as
means to disseminate information about latest farm practices. “We would flash sms to farmers on daily updates related to
commodity prices of the nearest mandi, local weather forecast, usage of quality seeds, fertilizers and information related to
animal and plant diseases. We are planning to launch vocation training programmes for girls in rural areas of the state.
Apart from that, we are also entering the retail sector in a big way to ensure best bargains for farmers as well as the
customers. The cooperative department is looking at improving the rural life of the state,” he said.
Struggling to procure enough, govt moots better pl
Trying to avoid confusing signals and expensive wheat imports, the Indian government is trying to plan better and avoid a
demand-supply imbalance in food grains. The cabinet committee on prices has come up with a wish list that includes asking
states to raise procurement of wheat in the coming season, negotiate better deals with other countries for import of wheat
and edible oils, review duties on edible oils and revisit buffer norms on wheat and edible oils. Any shortfall in food grain
procurement leads to inflationary pressures. In May, which is the peak month of the wheat procurement season, food price
inflation, measured by the wholesale price index, ruled at over 10%. In comparison, the overall inflation rate was 5.27%. A
note from the cabinet committee on prices, reviewed by Mint, suggests that state governments play a key role in ensuring
higher procurement and also check the tendency of food grains being sold at prices below the minimum support prices. The
note also talks of the possibility of local procurement of food grains to be distributed under welfare schemes directly by
state governments. All procurement is currently done by the Food Corporation of India, a Central procurement agency. This
year, the Indian government could procure only 11.1 million tonnes (mt) of wheat for the central pool, whereas total
production touched 75mt. At least 90% of procurement came from Punjab and Haryana although Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan
and Madhya Pradesh also produce wheat in larger quantities. The note further says that a rational formula be devised
obliging the principal food grain producing states to contribute to the Central pool. “We have to strengthen the
administrative machinery for procurement in states such as Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan for wheat in the
coming year,” Sharad Pawar, minister for agriculture, food and public distribution had said on the sidelines of the National
Development Council meeting, the high level meeting of Centre and states, in December. The note also says that the
government should explore the best commercial options for buying wheat in the international market. While the cabinet had
given a mandate for importing up to 5mt of wheat in 2007-08 because of high international prices, the government could
import only 1.8mt since July. “One way to ensure better import prices is that we hedge. The government is contemplating
going in for hedging options up to 1mt of wheat in 2008-09,” said a senior food ministry official who did not want to be
named. The government also wants to play safe in the case of edible oils and the note suggests duties on edible oils be
reviewed. “India imports palm oil from Indonesia and Malaysia, and looking at the domestic demand the government is
working on a strategy of bringing down customs duties of refined and crude palm oil to 50% and 40%,” said an official at
the agriculture ministry who also didn’t want to be named. The official also said due to high demand and rising prices of
edible oil, the duties on refined palm oil were revised downward in July from 60% to 52%. “Going by the sowing and
acreage trends in wheat, the industry is expecting wheat production to hover around 70mt, which means the government
will have to take fresh stock of situation in March when the crop is ready for harvest,” said S. Raghuraman, head of trade
research at Agriwatch. In edible oils, he said, the situation is even trickier because lowering of import duties does not help
much as there is global shortage. Meanwhile, the cabinet committee on economic affairs is likely to decide on Thursday the
continuation of duty free wheat imports for building buffer stock for the public distribution system.

Subhiksha to launch multiple stores in Kolkata


India's largest retail chain Subhiksha is likely to launch multiple stores at the same time in Kolkata from the middle of
February as it has finalised the roll out plan for the city. Constrained by 'physical snags', R Subramanian-owned Subhiksha
has delayed the roll out plan by at least a year. The retail major, with the bachat mera adhikar slogan, will be offering 9-
10% discount in all of its city outlets. The Kolkata market for food and groceries is estimated at more than Rs 300 crore.

‘Tailor schemes to benefit small farmers’


While stressing the need for achieving convergence and synergy among the various agriculture-related programmes, Dr
M.S. Swaminathan, Chairman of the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, said “this should be in relation to the delivery
so the small and marginal farmers benefit from it.” Dr Swaminathan was here to deliver the Shri G.K. Sundaram
Endowment Lecture organised by the South India Cotton Association. He said the growth rate of the Indian agriculture
sector declined from 3.69 per cent during the mid-90s to 1.65 per cent per annum in the last decade. “The net sown area,
gross cropped area, irrigated area, fertilizer usage, electricity consumption — all declined, including the growth rate in
terms of trade for agriculture. Small and marginal farmer households accounting for 84 per cent of all farmer households
are mostly under debt,” he said, recapping the agriculture scenario. According to him, the economic viability of farming
could be improved by substantially increasing the net income of farmers, ensuring agricultural progress, providing
opportunities (in adequate measure) for non-farm employment and initiating measures to attract and retain youth in
farming. Highlighting the need for converting calamities into opportunities, he said the Special Agricultural Zones should
aim to bring about a small farm management revolution. “Introduction of an integrated package of technology, services,
techno-infrastructure and producer-oriented trade with the help of farmers’ organisations and gram sabhas, and
introduction of common service centres to support decentralised production would go a long way in increasing farmers’
income,” he said.

US to India: Progress on N-deal whenever you are r


WASHINGTON: The US on Thursday said it will move forward on the civilian nuclear deal whenever India is ready as it
"understands" that New Delhi needs to work through the political process in the country.
Oops, did Aamir say too much?
The friction between Aamir Khan and Amitabh Bachchan reaches a new stage. Two days ago, Aamir called up Bachchan's
office to seek an appointment with Big B. Aamir spoke to Bachchan's secretary, Rosy Singh and told her to arrange a
meeting between the two. However, Bachchan is yet to revert. Aamir's close friend, who called up to give the news, said,
"Aamir told Rosy that he would like to meet Bachchan as soon as possible. Rosy told him that Bachchan is busy shooting for
the next few hours and she would get back to him."

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