Friday, April, 12,2024

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YELLOW REVOLUTION NEED OF THE HOUR

With Edible Oil imports reaching a whopping 165 lakh mts last year it would come as a surprise to everyone that India was reasonably Self Sufficient in edible oils in Nineties of the last century. Our import of edible oil was a minuscule 3.0 lakh tons. However, our obsession with Wheat and Rice after the launch of Green Revolution has resulted in India becoming surplus in these commodities at the cost of Oilseeds.

SKEWED THINKINGLOST DECADES

About two decades back I had an interesting conversation with a very Senior Govt. functionary on the step motherly treatment meted out to the Oilseed sector. His reply summed up the fundamental reasons of thinking in the policy making circles of the time. He said the private sector has done such a wonderful job of maintaining the supply chain of edible oils that they feel the need for Oilseed development thrust does not exist. Years of low commodity prices had lulled decision makers into complacency, and this got reflected in deciding priorities.

This skewed thinking resulted in Indian dependence on imports growing to almost 60-65% of our consumption seriously compromising our Edible Oil security. The import bill has now ballooned to almost Rs.1.4 lakh crore and rising year after year. Food Security in our view does not mean only wheat and rice security as you require both pulses and edible oils to complete a meal.

The fallacy of neglecting Oilseed Sector over the years hit us below the belt when Covid struck. With Indonesia banning Palm oil exports to protect their domestic market, edible oil prices in India went through the roof. The situation really became alarming and edible oil prices almost touched Rs 200/ per kgs. Oilseed prices rose alarmingly, and Soya beans were traded at Rs 10000/per kgs sending alarm bells in decision making quarters.

GOVERNMENT STEPS

The current regime headed by Modiji understood the writing on the wall and swung into action to limit the fallout and ensure common man is not affected much. The pace of decision making and doing immediate course correction was exemplary. I have been in Edible oil and oilseed business for more than four decades but have never seen such proactive approach by the government functionaries. It may not be out of place to recount some of the actions which provided succour in those harrowing times during Covid and post Covid. Sometimes one wonders if the normal pace of government decision making had happened, we would have been witness to untold human misery.

  • The then Food Secretary and his team burnt a lot of mid night oil to ensure supply remained unaffected. Zoom meetings with key industry players were held practically every second day and problems sorted out at breakneck speed. Honestly speaking it was a novel experience to speak to Secretary, JT. Secretary level officers on a regular basis as opposed to running from pillar to post to get an appointment. Welcome winds of change.
  • Even though dependence on imports is very high Edible oil discharge and clearance at ports used to take 10/15 days resulting in disrupting supply chain. Prompt action from Govt ensured clearances within two days.
  • Edible oil import duties were slashed across the board. l Edible Oil Manufacturers were requested to lower their prices and our Association -SEA pushed the industry to rise in this need of the hour by lowering prices. Industry responded proactively and promptly.
  • Indonesia was dealt with diplomatically and they had to withdraw the ban within a short time and their concerned Minister came running to India to mend fences. Message to the world was clear -

DO NOT MESS WITH INDIA

  • Geo Political tensions in the Black Sea area also disrupted Sunflower oil supplies. Proactive action in opening imports from Russia ensured minimal dislocation.
  • Hon Prime Minister even called a Zoom meeting of prominent players to get suggestions to tackle the situation on a long term basis. This writer was also one of the speakers and gave suggestions which can go a long way in addressing issue of Atmanirbharta in Edible oil/Oilseeds.

All these measures had the desired effect and the spiralling prices were brought down to manageable levels.

MOVING TOWARDS ATMANIRBHARTA

Ever since our Honourable Prime Minister gave the clarion call the buzzword in Policy making circles is Atmanirbharta. No wonder we see action towards improving Oilseed production in the country.

  • Massive investment for promoting Palm in India was announced with initial outlay of 11000 crores.
  • National mission on Oilseed has been put on fast track. Our Honourable Finance Minister announced the start of Oilseed Mission during her Interim Budget speech which reflects the seriousness with which this problem is now getting addressed.
  • Apex Industry Association, SEA, launched Mustard Mission aggressively and with Govt support we are seeing massive jump in Mustard production in our country. Few years back the production used to hover around 7.0 million tons and now it is touching 12.0 million tons. To say Mustard has been our saviour would not be out of place.
  • One of the biggest problem facing Oilseed Sector has been woefully low productivity. Ironically over years NGOs and activists had stymied efforts to introduce GM Oilseeds which may have the potential of increasing yields. It is to credit Govt that they have given affidavit in SC that opposing GM in oilseeds is tantamount to being anti nat’l.

Under our dynamic and action-oriented leadership we are bound to see strong and effective action at the ground level in coming years. Time for never ending debates is long over and concrete action under National Mission on Oilseeds is need of the hour to have Game Changing impact on Oilseed production in our country. If we continue to dither (unlikely under present regime) we will permanently remain at the mercy of Exporting Countries and our bargaining capacity would be seriously compromised.

THE VIEWS EXPRESSED BY THE AUTHOR ARE PERSONAL

Atul Chaturvedi The writer is Chairman, Asian Palm Oil Alliance

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