malawi and more food for thought

Punjab State, with only 1.5 per cent geographical area of India, produces 21 per cent of wheat, 10 per cent rice and 12 per cent of cotton in the country. Now the cropping intensity of Punjab is more than 186 per cent, and the State, which has earned the name of ‘‘Food basket of country and granary of India’’ has been pooling 40-50 per cent of rice and 50-70 per cent of wheat for the last two decades, and compared to the world, it produces 1 per cent of rice, 2 per cent of wheat, and 2 per cent of cotton of the total world production.
that's from the national portal of india. the statistic not recorded in that paragraph is that the population of punjab is 24,358,999, or around 2.2 percent of india's population. does 2.2 percent of india consume 21 percent of the wheat and and 10 percent of the rice produced in the country? most of the wheat produced in the country is consumed within the country- which means punjab produces around 3-5 times more wheat than it requires. and perhaps as much as 9-10 times more rice than it actually needs. if you feel wheat and rice consumers need to be segregated- even then, we'd see that punjab produces 3-5 times more wheat than it requires, and anywhere between 10-20 times the rice it consumes. those are rough estimates, but one does get the picture that punjab is doing well in agriculture. perhaps, as well as malawi.

one would think all indian states should follow the example of punjab (or malawi). punjab produces such huge surpluses- most of its agricultural output is exported. i mean, sold to consumers in other states- either through through the government of india's pds or through private traders. what would happen to punjab's farmers if any of the other states in the country decide to follow malawi's example? if, say, rajasthan and madhya pradesh step up border restrictions and duties? try to discourage imports and subsidize local agriculture a lot more? close down all pds outlets in those states?

why should any state follow malawi's example and stop imports from punjab? the central government (and the punjab government) subsidizes both the production and wide distribution of food products from punjab across the country, especially in deficit states like madhya pradesh and rajasthan- why should those states give up subsidized lunches (like dweep argues in this post that i referred to in an earlier post)? two reasons:

one, subsidized lunches don't mean free lunches. the madhya pradeshis need money to buy those lunches. and to earn money, they need work. those who need these subsidized lunches the most aren't educated, skilled workers- so, where can they find the work? on farms, of course. and how can farmers offer them any work if they themselves have been deprived of sustainable livelihood because of cheap grain from punjab flooding the fair price shops and stores in madhya pradesh?

two, subsidized lunches may not mean the cheapest lunches. or the kind of lunches you prefer. look at this line (which is the last line in the paragraph i'd quoted from the national portal of india earlier):
Whereas, it consumes 8 per cent of total fertilizer consumption. In Punjab, per hectare consumption of fertilizer is 177 kg as compared to 90 kg at national level.
not just fertilizers, punjabi farmers invest a lot in higher labour costs, machinery, seed, pesticides etc., add to these, the cost of water sourced from canals running from large dams, or pumped up from tubewells. add to these, the cost of credit needed to make all those investments and foot those expenditures. add to these the financial costs- the cost of central government funds that are invested in buying wheat from punjabi farmers, storing it and transporting it to madhya pradeshi stores. add to these the cost of subsidies- those paid for by the central government and the punjab government to facilitate the supply of cheap inputs to the punjabi farmers and those paid for by the central government and the madhya pradesh government to keep the prices low for the madhya pradeshi consumers.

so, while the madhya pradeshi consumer is buying the subsidized lunches, he's also paying for the subsidies- either through taxes or through lower investment in development in madhya pradesh (wouldn't the government budget for development and infrastructure go down if the subsidy bill goes up?). now, we return to the original question- are subsidized lunches truly the cheapest lunches available?

there's also the question of whether they are the kind of lunches you prefer. vandana shiva says, at the beginning of the last century, the british had found at least 37 different varieties of wheat being grown in the country- there could actually have been many more. perhaps, if you travel through northern and other parts of india where wheat is a staple element in every day diet, you'd find a different variety of wheat being consumed after every 4-5 districts. if they'd a choice, wouldn't the madhya pradeshis prefer something they're used to, food grown in their own neighbourhood?

is it possible for madhya pradesh to step up its foodgrain production to completely meet all its needs? in theory, yes. on a larger level, india had done it earlier. from the mid-sixties, it'd reduced its dependence on imports, developed high-yield seeds, distributed them at little or no cost to farmers, supplied subsidized fertilizer, increased access to irrigation and credit.

is it practically possible? no, in my view. madhya pradesh produces around 6.5 to 7 million tonnes of wheat every year. punjab produces around 14-15 million tonnes. punjab consumes around 4.5-5 million tonnes of wheat every year. i am not sure about the consumption figures in madhya pradesh- but it has a population of 60 million, which is around two and a half times punjab's population, so i think it's reasonable to assume that it consumes twice as much wheat as punjab. which would mean around 9 to 10 million tonnes. which means madhya pradesh has to increase its production by anywhere between 2.5-3.5 million tonnes a year- or by 35-50% a year, approximately. its growth in wheat production for over a decade, by the way, has been less than half a percent a year. at that rate of production, it would reach the target of 9-10 million tonnes in another, say, 70-100 years. and would still remain a deficit state because its population would definitely have increased by more than 50% by then.

if madhya pradesh continues to maintain trade and other ties with the rest of india its goal of reaching self-sufficiency in wheat would never be met. why? because the governmment of india has given away the contract of producing a large portion of the country's wheat requirements, which includes a large portion of madhya pradesh's requirements, to punjab and a couple of other states. one needs to go back to the malawi example to understand this better.

a note: madhya pradesh isn't a food deficit state. it's a food deficit state only if we assume that wheat is the only staple cereal consumed in the state. but there are other wheat deficit (and rice deficit states) states in the country which would fit the description of the deficit state illustrated in my example - because punjab with only a small fraction of the country's wheat (and rice) consuming population has cornered a large share of the market for wheat (and rice). it's very tough for new producers to take away any market share from the punjabi farmers (the government of india ensures that by buying more than two-thirds of wheat and rice produced in punjab).


praveen said...

[I'm sorry for being vague… I don't know the statistics]

If Madhya Pradesh doesn't produce sufficient food (wheat or rice) I think it might be producing "something else" in surplus. And that "something else" might provide employment for the illiterates too. So doesn't subsidized meals help these people at least?

kuffir said...


i remember one of your earlier comments on one of my posts was about food security- food security and the policies which supposedly promote it are the main focus of this post. and not employment, etc.,

but that said, what you raise is an important issue- is employment in madhya pradesh affected by overproduction of wheat in punjab? my answer is yes. wheat, like, is not just another crop- it is a staple crop and consititutes around 30%, roughly, of the daily requirements of wheat consumers. so the 'value' attached to it is greater. 1) if madhya pradesh doesn't produce enough wheat for its people it means that the cost of food security at the national level is food insecurity at the state level 2)the returns from producing wheat are more than the returns from producing most other crops- which means it employs more people than any other crop. punjab used to produce more wheat by employing more labour, usually drawn from bihar, eastern u.p., (and now more machinery)- which means that labour that could've been employed in producing more wheat in madhya pradesh is being rendered jobless..

kuffir said...

'wheat, like, is not just another crop'

i mean: 'wheat, like paddy,...'

praveen said...

Thanks for the explanation sir.

PS: I'm not making any point earlier, I'm trying to clear my doubt (like a student asking a teacher a Q in the class :)

kuffir said...


thanks for the comments. but, aren't you being too formal? please drop the 'sir' etc., and i'm very much a student myself on these issues.

praveen said...

> thanks for the comments. but,
> aren't you being too formal?

Yeah, I'm wittingly being so :-) That's because I'm afraid I might be disturbing you by my novice comments.

Now that you have assured I'll stop it :-) kani meru em chestro cheppandi..

kuffir said...

nothing much really..but meeru emi chestaro cheppandi. do you blog?

praveen said...

> nothing much really.
i want to know about the remaining little :-) you can buzz me at nvdpraveen@gmail if you don't want to reply here ;-)

I'm doing my amie (engineering) in computer science. As it is a correspondence course I also work full time in IT..mainly for my food. i always wanted to write civils (but still don't know how to proceed). I found your blog searching related stuff. That's a brief "about-me".

kuffir said...

if you're interested in the civils..why don't you check:

he got through last year..

praveen said...

Thank you. (Actually I already know cosmicvoices, I landed here from there :-)

I haven't buzz'ed him yet as I think OT's are busy and don't have time for this kind of questions. But I have asked him now :-))

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