Wheat imports not necessary this year, says FCI chairman

Nov 21 | Updated: Nov 22 2005, 05:49am hrs
Indias largest grain procurement agency said on Monday that there was no need for the country to import wheat because of sufficient stocks and stable prices. Mr VK Malhotra, chairman of Food Corporation of India (FCI), said in an interview, The chances of wheat imports are nil. Stock levels do not support the idea of imports.

Traders have been expecting India, a wheat exporter in recent years, to import for the first time in six years because of lower procurement by grain agencies.

Mr Malhotra said government agencies had 8.1 million tonnes of wheat and 11.6 million tonnes of rice on Nov 18. If you take consumption of around 1.5 million tonnes of wheat a month, we will be left with at least 1 million tonne in April, he said.

India is expected to harvest a good wheat crop next year because of ample soil moisture after widespread monsoon rains in September. Sowing has started and wheat output will be good because we will benefit from the delayed rains in September, Mr Malhotra said.

Indias wheat crop is sown in November and December and harvesting begins in April in the main northern growing states of Punjab and Haryana. Harvesting for the early grown varieties in the central state of Madhya Pradesh begins in February.

FCI, Asias biggest food procurement and distribution agency, is hoping to buy about 19 million tonnes of wheat next year, up from about 15 million tonnes it bought this year and compared with an annual average of 16 to 17 million tonnes.

The agency supplies about three million tonnes of grains a month to needy states. It buys about a quarter of Indias total wheat production, while farmers retain half the output for consumption, re-sowing and trading in exchange of other commodities. The remainder is sold in the open market.

The farm ministry has pegged 2005 wheat production at 72.1 million tonnes, close to the output a year ago but lower than initial estimates of 75 million tonnes, following some crop damage caused by untimely rains and hailstorms. Mr Malhotra said wheat prices were stable and there was no panic.

The prices of wheat products like bread and biscuits have also not gone up, he said. If there was a shortage of wheat it would have reflected in prices somewhere.