The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sharp drop in foodgrain output

New Delhi, Feb. 27: Rain and regulations seem to have been the undoing of the agricultural scenario of the country in the year 2002-03. Pointing to the wrath of the rain god, the Economic Survey for 2002-3 said the 13.6 per cent fall in foodgrain output to 183.2 million tonnes, the lowest level since 1996-97.

The percentage of districts with normal or excess rainfall taken into account to see the monsoon performance (June-September) shows the lowest since 1997 — only 44 districts, as against 68 last year.

The drop in production, owing to the drought scenario is mainly due to the decline in kharif production from 111.5 million tonne last year to 90.3 million tonne this year, showing a decline of 10.09 per cent.

Rabi foodgrain output is also likely to drop to 92.9 million tonne compared with last year’s 100.5 million tonne, a drop of 7.5 per cent, the Survey said, adding that the effect of drought on oilseeds is expected to be severe and production may fall to 15.4 million tonne from last year’s 20.5 million tonne.

Again attributing it to the drought, the Survey has said agriculture and allied sector growth is likely to register a negative 3.1 per cent in the current year. This would adversely affect the current’s GDP growth rate which is likely to fall to 4.4 per cent compared with 5.6 per cent last year.

Factoring in the 30 million tonne fall in the year-on-year foodgrain output, the Survey has asked the government to take immediate remedial steps to substantially raise irrigation potential and overhaul the regulatory mechanism in agriculture.

The Survey has said that it is essential to amend the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act to enable producers to directly access new markets. Prescribing urgent action on the part of states, the Survey said it would lead to the much required diversification in agriculture.

At present, under the APMC Act, state governments alone are empowered to initiate the process of setting up markets for agri-products within a defined area.

Prescribing the route for modern food laws in tune with the global standards, the Survey has asked the food processing industries to face global competition in international trade in the post-WTO era. The tone was clear: archaic regulations have to give way to market-driven ones.

The Survey has pointed out that it is time to rethink whether the country can afford irrigation through field flooding, which is often wasteful, and has prescribed to evaluate more economic methods of irrigation.

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