New Delhi, Oct 9 (IANS) Foreign investment in multi-brand retail was welcome and would benefit both farmers and consumers, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar said Tuesday.
FDI in retail "should benefit all stakeholders across the entire value and supply chain", Pawar said while addressing the Economic Editors Conference here.
Farmers would benefit with significant reduction in post-harvest losses and get better prices for their crops, while consumers would gain from lower prices, greater choice and higher quality of produce, the minister said.
Pawar, chief of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), an ally of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA), had supported the government's decision of allowing 49 percent FDI in multi-brand retail earlier as well.
The government has faced stiff opposition from political parties, including erstwhile ally Trinamool Congress, over the decision. The Trinamool, which has 19 MPs in the Lok Sabha, quit the UPA last month over the government's economic policies. UPA's allies Samajwadi Party, DMK and Janata Dal-Secular joined a nationwide strike against the FDI move.
The minister also said that foodgrain production had been marginally affected by the deficient rainfall this year.
"The total production of foodgrains is estimated to be lower by 1.68 million tonnes than the average production of 118.86 million tonnes. However, this amounts to a decline of only 1.4 percent from the average production," Pawar said.
Foodgrain production last year was a record 257.44 million tonnes.
He added that the widespread rains that occurred in August-September and the late withdrawal of the monsoon were good for the rabi crop as the moisture content in soil had increased.
"The late rains and moisture content in soil will help us recoup the losses of kharif in the coming rabi season," the minister said.
India had achieved average growth rate of 3.3 percent in agriculture during the 11th Plan (2007-12), which was better than the earlier times, and aimed to push growth rate to four percent in the 12th Plan, the minister said.
Pawar also said that India has become the second largest exporter in the world of agriculture produce - exporting 10 million tonnes of rice, 2.5 million tonnes of wheat and sugar and 40 lakh bales of cotton. "India is the second largest exporter of rice after China."
He advocated that India should switch from a "see-saw" policy on agricultural exports to a long-term export-import policy.
"Whenever there is a shortfall, we stop exports in order to resolve supplies for domestic consumption," Pawar said.
"But now the time has come for a continuing long term export-import policy," Pawar said, adding that there had been no ban on export of any agricultural product for the last one year.
"We want to continue this," he added.
The country also has a buffer of around 70 million tonnes of foodgrain stocks, against a requirement of 21.2 million tonnes, he said.
India's agriculture exports increased from Rs.1.20 lakh crore in 2010-11 to Rs.1.87 lakh crore in 2011-12, registering a growth of more than 50 percent during the year, he said.
On the huge quantity of foodgrains that go waste due to non-availability of proper storage facility, he said the government has launched a new Bhandar scheme in villages with an outlay of Rs.750 crore.
"We have also invited the private sector to build godowns, which the Food Corporation of India will pay for. We have got good response to the scheme. The godowns will be for 40,000 tonne storage capacity," he added.
Discussing farmer's suicides, Pawar said the numbers had been decreasing over the years. In Maharashtra, the numbers came down from 1,035 in 2006 to 118 cases so far this year, he said, adding that the reasons behind the suicides ranged from poor remuneration prices to crop failure.