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India has enough food to feed poor if there’s a prolonged coronavirus shutdown


By Siddhartha Singh and Pratik Parija


India will have enough grain stockpiles to feed its poor for at least a year-and-a-half as reserves are likely to further balloon after record harvests in the South Asian nation that has been locked down to check the spread of the coronavirus.

There will be no food shortage in the second-most populous country, D.V. Prasad, chairman of state-run Food Corp. of India, a government agency at the heart of the world’s largest public food distribution program, said in an interview.

It will have 100 million tons in warehouses across India by the end of April, compared with an annual requirement of 50 million to 60 million tons under various welfare programs for the poor. India is likely to produce record 292 million tons of food grains in 2019-20.

“There is absolutely no need to worry as far as the availability of wheat and rice is concerned in any part of the country,” Prasad said. Still, fair price shops in many states don’t have the capacity to hold stocks equal to several months of their needs, he said. Food minister Ram Vilas Paswan said last week that the beneficiaries of the Public Distribution System can buy six months of their quota of subsidized grain immediately.

India, like other countries, is trying to curb the spread of the deadly virus by locking down provinces, stopping trains, flights and bus services, while ensuring supplies of staple commodities. America’s top food firms are rushing to meet a spike in demand as panic buying sets in, while sales of items such as cereals and pasta have surged in Russia. In Australia, hoarders were shamed as the nation’s biggest supermarket chain tightened buying limits.

There are concerns that consumers in India may rush to hoard essential commodities and prices may surge as the country of 1.3 billion people locked down cities to break the chain of transmission of the virus. Authorities have sealed many districts, while all passenger and commuter trains are suspended until at least March 31.

The states may need to buy 30 million tons of wheat and rice from the federal government to meet their requirement for six months, Prasad said. Reserves maintained by the federal government may climb further after the arrival of the new wheat crop by April from about 64 million tons at present, he added.

State governments can draw food grains for three months from Food Corporation on credit, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said via Twitter Monday. This will ensure that the states do not face any cash constraint in distributing food to those in need.

The country’s food grain output is set to climb in 2019-20 from 285.2 million a year earlier, according to the farm ministry. The rice harvest is seen at all-time high of 117.47 million tons, while wheat production may rise to an historic high of 106.21 million tons.

China is also trying to ensure food supplies. The country has raised the government purchase price of Indica rice to encourage planting of two crops a year on the same piece of land to boost production in southern growing areas.



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