'Procurement & distribution under new Act will not be substantially higher than ongoing PDS'
India made it clear at the just-concluded Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) meeting of the Committee on World Food Security in Rome that the procurement of foodgrains and distribution under the new Food Security Act will not be substantially higher than the ongoing public distribution system, indicating that it will not contribute to international price distortions.
India had to make its position clear in the wake of some of the World Trade Organisation countries questioning the huge stocks that the country is holding to provide subsidised foodgrains under the new legislation. Procuring at a minimum support price from farmers and selling at subsidised rates to 67 per cent population (as provided for in the Act) will distort international trade, countries like the United States, Canada and Pakistan fear. WTO members are meeting in Bali in December for a Ministerial meeting where the issue will be discussed.
On his return from the meeting, Minister of State (Independent) for Food and Public Distribution K.V. Thomas told journalists here on Saturday that he explained that with higher production of foodgrains, India had contributed to world trade by exporting 100 lakh tonnes of rice, 50 lakh tonnes of wheat and 25 lakh tonnes of sugar this year. “India has enough foodgrains till 2014 for internal consumption as well as to provide to countries that need foodgrains,” he said.
Shift in approach
“We also explained that the Food Act is a shift from a welfare-based to a rights-based approach in providing food security to the poor and protecting human dignity. This is a new turn in our view, we told FAO members.”
India backs the G-33 proposal that wants subsidies, which are a part of the procurement of foodgrains for public stockholding for poor and marginal farmers, not to be regarded as a prohibited subsidy by the WTO. The Agreement on Agriculture allows “market distorting subsidies” up to a limit of 10 per cent of the total production. Some developing countries, including India, are demanding that this limit be raised.
The Minister said that in his separate meeting with FAO chief Jose Graziano da Silva, he was assured of the food body’s “support and cooperation in sending the right signal” about the food law. The law enables provision of subsidised foodgrains to 67 per cent population.
Mr. Silva said the FAO was eager to help India publicise the legislation and raise its voice in the international arena. He drew comparisons with the Brazil’s Zero Hunger programme. Several initiatives in the Indian Food Act such as women empowerment and reforms of the public distribution system were similar to Brazil’s programme.
In her meeting with Mr. Thomas, Executive Director of World Food Programme Ertharin Cousin said that they were keenly observing the implementation of the Act. She mentioned the targeting and distributional problems in urban centres where the WFP could work with the government.
Role of India
Both the officials also discussed with Mr. Thomas the role India could play in addressing issues of poverty and hunger in the least developed countries.
The Indian delegation included Union Food Secretary Sudhir Kumar and Minister (Agriculture) in Indian Embassy in Rome Vimlendra Sharan.