|BOMBAY - India, the world's largest importer of edible oils, may allow imports of genetically modified (GMO) oilseeds to meet a domestic shortfall, the country's food minister said on Tuesday.|
But any decision on this would be taken keeping in mind the interests of local farmers, Sharad Pawar told an international oilseeds conference.
The country of more than one billion people, which has the world's fourth-largest vegetable oil and oilseeds economy, does not allow imports of GMO seeds. It also imposes a 30-percent duty on non-GMO seeds, which traders say is too high and not viable.
"In order to overcome the shortage of oilseeds and edible oils, there is a need to encourage imports of high oil content oilseeds and to import genetically modified oilseeds, while protecting the interests of Indian farmers," Pawar said/
The domestic oilseed crushing industry often faces a shortage of oilseeds because of low domestic production.
India imports some 40 percent of its annual needs of 11 million tonnes of edible oil. It imported 4.4 million tonnes of edible oil, mainly palm oil and soft oils, in the 2003/04 (November-October) oil year.
"Our effort is to have food security. We want our farmers to use best seeds and best technology. Overall production is increasing but I am not satisfied. The per hectare yield has to go up," Pawar said.
The minister said the government was concentrating on increasing oilseeds production during the next winter season, for which sowing starts in June.
"We have done a series of meetings with the officials of state governments to ensure enough supply of seeds, fertiliser and credit," Pawar said.
"Let's see. If the monsoon is good we will have better production next year."
India has 15,000 oil mills, 689 solvent extraction units and about 1,000 refineries, employing more than one million people.
India produced 25.14 million tonnes of oilseeds in the year to October 2004. The country grows oilseeds in two seasons, with winter sowing beginning in June and summer planting in October and November.
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE