Exceeding target, the country is set to harvest a record 250 million tonnes of food grain this year, as efforts to push farm growth seem to be paying off, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Wednesday.

“Our farmers have done us proud again this year. ... but we still have a long way to go. ... We cannot afford to be complacent since demand for horticulture and animal products is increasing very rapidly and this will require some shift of area away from production of food grains.

“Therefore productivity in food grains has to go up handsomely,” he said at a workshop at the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

The workshop is part of an initiative by President Pratibha Patil for enhancing farm productivity, especially in rain-fed areas. A committee of Governors constituted by the President has already met twice regarding the issue.

Besides Ms. Patil, Wednesday’s meeting was attended by over 20 Governors, eight Union Ministers, five Chief Ministers and 37 Vice-Chancellors of agricultural universities.

The Prime Minister said food grain production will exceed the target by five million tonnes and cotton output at 34 million bales a new record as per latest estimates.

However, there was only one per cent growth rate in food production in the country, against two per cent required to meet India’s grain requirement by 2020-21, he said.

The Prime Minister also pointed out distortions arising from pricing and subsidy regimes resulting in soil degradation. He also expressed concern over volatility in prices of farm products. “There is a big gap between farm rate and retail prices that the consumers pay. There is also volatility with prices being low after harvest. We need to address all this by reforming agricultural marketing systems and investing in supply chains,” he said.

The Prime Minister stressed the need for private investment in marketing logistics as well as in agricultural research areas like extension activities.

Dr. Singh also called for special focus on rain-fed areas, where farm productivity continues to be low. Rain-fed farming continues to be a gamble with cases of distress being reported despite efforts, he said, adding that productivity in rain-fed areas must be improved.

The Prime Minister also observed that a thriving agricultural sector is necessary for food security and inclusive growth cannot be achieved in its true sense without providing livelihood security to farmers.

Referring to the suggestions made by the three core groups, constituted by the Prime Minister’s Office to look into agricultural issues, Dr. Singh said, “These groups have given their reports and Ministry of Food and Agriculture has examined them. I am told that most of the recommendations are acceptable and action on them has either already been taken or is underway.”

Agriculture and allied sectors have grown at an estimated rate of 3.5 per cent in the 11th Five Year Plan, compared to the growth rate of 2.4 per cent in the previous plan period, he added.

The food grain production in 2010-11 crop year (July-June) stood at 244.78 million tonnes.

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