As the Union Government works out the exact details of the farm loan waiver announced in the Budget, the first concern has been raised by Punjab, which incidentally contributes 50 per cent of the tota

FOOD MANAGEMENT: Foodgrain stock at 19.2 MT on January 1 this year is 4% lower than the buffer norm of 20 MT. The Economic Survey 2007-08 points to the lower than normative foodgrain stocks for the third consecutive year, caused mainly by the decline in procurement of wheat and rice and their increased offtake under the targeted public distribution system. The foodgrain stock stood at 19.2 million tonnes (MT) as on January 1, 2008, comprising 11.5 million tonnes of rice and 7.7 MT of wheat, respectively. This stock is 4 per cent lower than the buffer norm of 20 MT. Last year, only wheat stock was short of buffer norm. While wheat stock of 7.7 MT is 500,000 tonnes lower than the required norm, the rice stock stood at 11.5 MT, that is 300,000 tonnes lower than the norm. According to the survey, the main reason behind the decline in stocks was due to lower procurement in both wheat and rice. The survey attributes the decline in wheat procurement to low production, lower market arrivals, high market ruling prices, negative market sentiments due to low stocks in the central pool, and aggressive purchase by the private traders. It acknowledges that the increase in government procurement price by Rs 150 a quintal during the 2007-08 marketing season helped wheat procurement to a small extent. The procurement rose by 20.65 per cent to 11.1 MT but the government had to contract imports of 1.8 MT at high rates to meet the consumption requirement. This was the second consecutive year of wheat import. However, rice procurement also fell marginally to 26.3 MT during 2006-07 from 26.7 MT during 2005-06. However, in the ongoing 2007-08 season, procurement till December has been marginally better than the previous season's corresponding purchase. The increase in paddy procurement price by Rs 125 a quintal has helped rice availability in the central pool this year. The regulation of rice export by putting a price cap has also contributed. The offtake of both wheat and rice increased marginally in the April-December period of 2007-08. Wheat offtake during the period was 8.2 MT (against 7.7 MT in the previous year's corresponding period) while the rice offtake was 16.7 MT (versus 15.9 MT in the year before).

Food grain production in 2007-08 is estimated at a record level of 219.32 million tonnes as per the second advance estimate. This is higher than the 217.28 million tonnes for 2006-07. This was stated by Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar at a National Conference on Agriculture for Kharif Campaign here on Tuesday. Mr. Pawar said the rice production was estimated at 94.08 million tonnes, compared to 93.35 million tonnes the previous year. The production of coarse cereals was estimated at 36.09 million tonnes. The cotton production stood at 233.81 lakh bales in 2007-08, which, he termed a record. For 4 p.c. growth Pointing out that the government aimed at achieving 4 per cent growth in agriculture, Mr. Pawar said resource constraint would not be allowed to stand in the way of achieving this target. Necessary funds would be provided to States for all agricultural schemes. The target for agricultural growth in the XI Plan was fixed at 4 per cent per annum. To achieve this target, action on several areas was required. This included bringing technology to farmers, improving efficiency of investments, increasing systems support and rationalising subsidy, besides protecting food security concerns and fostering inclusiveness through group approach by which the poor would get better access to land, credit and skill, Mr. Pawar said. Directive to States The Minister asked the State governments to work out an action plan for implementing the National Policy for Farmers, keeping in view the grass roots level requirements. On maximising kharif output, he asked the States to popularise hybrid rice technology through demonstrations and availability of quality seeds.

Halfway between the northern coast of Norway and the North Pole in an archipelago called Svalbard, three enormous caverns have been blasted 130 m into the permafrost. Called the doomsday vault, it will be a Noah's Ark of food in the event of a global catastrophe. Among the world's 45,000 most important seeds stored in this Svalbard Global Seed Vault, there will be quite a bit of India too. Seeds of sorghum, pearl millet, chickpea, pigeonpea, groundnut and six small millets will be transferred by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) from its headquarters in Patencheru, near Hyderabad to this location, 1000 km from the Arctic. William Dar, Director General of ICRISAT, is at Svalbard for the opening celebrations tomorrow. He will join European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Nobel Peace Prize-winning environmentalist Wangari Mathai in this global initiative. Norway is footing the $8.9-million bill for building the Arctic archipelago where, ironically, no crops grow. Secured behind an airlock door, the three airtight chambers can house duplicates of samples from the world's more than 1,400 existing seed banks. The Norwegian archipelago was selected for its inhospitable climate as well as its remote location. The seeds of wheat, maize, oats and other crops will be stored at a constant temperature of minus 18 degrees Celsius, and even if the freezer system fails, the permafrost will ensure that temperatures never rise above 3.5 degrees Celsius below freezing. This project is important as some of the world's biodiversity has already disappeared, with gene vaults in both Iraq and Afghanistan destroyed by war and a seed bank in the Philippines annihilated by a typhoon. Seed banks have begun contributing: potato seeds from Peru; 30,000 samples of different beans from Colombia; 47,000 seed samples of wheat and 10,000 types of maize from Mexico and thousands of rice varieties from Philippines. Pakistan and Kenya, both wracked by serious unrest, have sent seed collections too. By the time of the inauguration on Tuesday, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault will hold some 250,000 samples, which will remain the property of their countries of origin. According to Dar, ICRISAT's participation adds a special significance to the project

Surely car owners who get cheap petrol and rich farmers who get free water and power can't be aam? With the general elections due next year, there are obvious pressures on the finance minister to provide goodies for the aam aadmi. There are calls to abandon, or at least postpone by a few years, the fiscal deficit ceilings prescribed by the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act, so that funds are not a constraint. (If most of us believe that many politicians are corrupt, they reciprocate by believing that the best way to get the vote is by bribing the voter.) Given the concern about the aam aadmi in the bleeding hearts of our political masters, I have often wondered who exactly this aam aadmi is

Given the way world prices for food, energy and other industrial goods are moving, the potential implications on the price situation at home is of great import and cause for concern, says Saumitra Chaudhuri THISis a strange year, most likely it will get stranger. There are so many conflicting signals as to where the world economy is headed that market movements are seized of great volatility. Eminent voices see a major US recession down the road; some among them are yet willing to see an "if' about it. Other street signs

AIZAWL, Feb 20

ON FEBRUARY 25, when state finance minister Vajubhai Vala rises to present his record 13th budget, there will be two words that can be read from between the lines of his elaborate speech. Thank You.

Due to efforts undertaken by Madhya Pradesh government, 148-kg per hectare increase has been registered in farm productivity in the state during the last four years.

The global food crisis could continue to wash up at Indian shores as well, with the World Development Report 2008, released on Friday, predicting that cereal production would have to increase by 50% by 2030 to meet the escalating worldwide demand. The increasing shift towards bio fuel, its warned, could only add to the crisis.