India predicts record grain harvest but experts say not enough

NEW DELHI, April 23, 2008 (AFP) – India has forecast a record grain harvest but experts warned Wednesday farm productivity would have to rise much faster to feed the nation of 1.1 billion people and avert a food security crisis. Food grain production in the crop year ended March 31, 2008 would total a record 227.32 million tonnes, up from 217.28 tonnes the previous year, with output of rice, wheat, pulses, oilseeds and other crops beating previous highs.

“This will be record production,” said Agriculture Secretary P.K. Mishra, crediting “well-distributed rain,” better seeds and “good temperatures.”

The 2008 wheat harvest would hit 76.78 million tonnes, up from 75.81 million tonnes in 2007. Rice output would also register a new high, climbing to 95.68 million tonnes from 93.6 million tonnes recorded the previous year.

Farm Minister Sharad Pawar said domestic wheat purchases were going better than expected and “as of now I don’t see a need to import wheat” after India bought wheat from abroad in 2006 for the first time in six years.

Short-term, sufficient grain stockpiles that could help cool inflation running at three-year highs of 7.41 percent spelled good news for the Congress-led government, which must face