Along with foodgrains edible oils were one area where the target of self-sufficiency was set long ago.
Though there is no need to import foodgrains now, the target has not been achieved in the case of edible oils and oil seeds. Grains, pulses and oils form the major part of the domestic food budget. The food inflation which was raging till recently had affected everybody but the case of oils seeds is different from others. The prices did not go too high, like in the case of others, but this may, strangely, turn out to be a problem. Consumption has been increasing steadily because of growth in population and the higher incomes of sections of people. Palm oil is now accepted in Indian kitchens and has become a major edible oil variety in the country. This brings the import of edible oils into focus.
Edible oil imports are set to increase this year and in the coming years, with 60 per cent of the domestic need of over 16 million tonnes to be met through imports. This will mean an outgo of about Rs 35,000 crore per year. The fall in the external value of the rupee makes the situation more difficult. It is not desirable to depend too much on imports in the case of essential commodities. The production of oil seeds should be increased to meet domestic demand. There was good progress in the area in the 1980s when the Oilseed Technology Mission, through various strategies and activities, had given a boost to oil seeds production in the country. It seemed that there would even be self-sufficiency but production could not keep pace with the rising demand due to lack of foresight. The success of those days can be replicated even now if there is will.
Farmers do not have the incentive to increase productivity and production because the prices they get are not too high. This is partly because of imports and partly because of the existence of middle men. Farmers are also not prompted to make use of good inputs and the best technology which are available. It is estimated that there will not be the need to import edible oils if oil seeds cultivation is effectively promoted in available land. If a mission is formed and necessary strategies implemented as earlier, the crippling dependence on imports will be a thing of the past.