As reliance on imported edible oil is growing, India needs to relook at ways to address it to improve domestic availability. Two thirds of the domestic demand is met by imported oil and this is considered very high.
Experts have suggested creating an oilseed development fund while looking at the possibility of permitting GM oilseeds to raise domestic availability. So far, government policies have focused on restricting imports and some tariff measures.
“The government is seriously concerned about stagnant oilseeds production and the rising import of edible oils to the tune of 15 million tonnes per annum, costing the exchequer over Rs 75,000 crore. To increase production of oilseeds from the current 30 million tonnes to over 47 million tonnes by 2024-25, the government plans to launch the national mission on edible oil programme in the next three months,” said Atul Chaturvedi, president of the Solvent Extractors Association (SEA) of India.
Sources in the industry, however, said that the Budget for 2020-21 may allocate funds for this mission.
According to data from SEA, India’s average oilseeds production in the last few years has been 28-30 million tonnes and production of edible oil is 7.5 to 8 million tonnes. Production and refining in India was also lower because of high imports.
In the current year, crude palm oil prices have increased almost 50 per cent in last six months in the international market. This has helped in the curtailment of imports.
However, till India improves productivity and production of seeds, reduction in import will be difficult. SEA’s proposal for capping imports at 15 million tonnes now and gradually reducing it over the years will be possible only if “GM seeds are permitted in India,” said the association.
Globally, many countries have allowed use of GM oilseeds and oil made from them are finding their way into India.
Soyabean oil imported from Argentina and rapeseed oil from Canada also include oil made from GM seeds.
Even without government permission, Indians consume edible oil made from GM seeds.
Tax concessions for companies supporting oilseeds farming and promoting oil palm cultivation are other major recommendations.
Palm oil is a major edible oil now and total potential area for oil palm cultivation in India is 1.9 million hectares. Area under oil palm is about 3 lakh hectares. Andhra Pradesh accounts for more than 55 per cent of the total coverage.
If the government exempts land identified as suitable for oil palm from the land ceiling Act, it will speed up expansion.
If the total potential area is brought under oil palm, domestic production of crude palm oil may touch around 6.7-7 million tonnes from 2.85 lakh tonnes now, according to SEA.