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Updated: February 9, 2011 18:27 IST

Limited export of rice, sugar and onion to help farmers

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Minister of Agriculture and Food Processing Industries Sharad Pawar briefs the press in New Delhi on Wednesday.
Minister of Agriculture and Food Processing Industries Sharad Pawar briefs the press in New Delhi on Wednesday.

Buoyed by bumper production estimates this year, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar today favoured export of certain commodities like non-basmati rice, sugar and onion to protect the interests of the farming community.

“Generally we feel, we should take a total liberalised approach on export of certain items...Farmers are raising concern that prices of some commodities are going down,” Pawar told reporters here.

Citing onion case as an example, Pawar said farmers, who were crying over crashing onion prices, should be helped to recover at least their cultivation cost and for that “if limited export is allowed and I think that will resolve the farmers problem.”

Wholesale onion prices, which were as high as Rs 70/kg, have plummeted to below Rs 15/kg in Nashik in Maharasthra, one of the biggest grower of the bulb crop in India.

Pawar pointed out that the onion production would be less this year compared with last year, but still the output would be sufficient to meet the country’s requirement.

“A situation may arise that onion export could be allowed with some cap on quantity.”

Onion output is likely to be lower at 12.2 million tonnes in 2010-11, against 13.6 million tonnes last year, he added.

Asked if the government would allow export of rice and wheat after announcing a higher crop estimate, Pawar said, “We should take a view on export of certain varieties of non-basmati rice like “matta rice” and “sona masuri“.”

These varieties can fetch higher price in the global market, he said, adding that however, the final call on this issue would be taken by the panel of ministers.

Sharing sugarcane growers’ concerns on falling prices amid expected higher sugar output exceeding demand this year, Pawar said there was “apprehension that cane arrears might rise.”

Asked if the government will permit sugar export, he said, “Let Commerce Ministry and others assess the situation.

One has to see how we will be able to protect the interest of our own consumers first and after that if there is surplus availability, then one can think (of export).”

He said the international market was favourable for sugar export, fetching one very good price.

Retail sugar prices have dipped to Rs 30-32 per kg today from a high of almost Rs 50/kg in January last year.

The government has pegged sugar production to touch 24.5 million tonnes in the 2010-11 season (October—September), higher than the annual demand of 22 million tonnes.

Last year, the country’s production was only 19 million tonnes, which necessitated sugar imports to augment domestic supply.

On milk prices, Pawar said that the government has decided to import 25,000 tonnes of milk powder to augment domestic supply and contain prices.