New Delhi: The Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, the farmers’ organisation affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), has said that the Union government must discourage the cultivation of palm oil and reduce imports of cheap palm oil.
The thrust should be on the cultivation of mustard which, it said, is an indigenous, water-efficient crop healthier than palm oil. It said that for the Atmanirbhar Bharat programme to succeed in the edible oil industry, more reliance must be placed on Indian oil seeds in water-deficient areas.
The statements were made at the BKS’s national convention in Bhopal between 25 and 27 February.
At its first convention after the repeal of the three controversial farm laws in November last year, the BKS also expressed concern over the central government’s planned outlay of Rs 11,000 crore for promoting palm oil cultivation in Northeast and South India. The move would be disastrous for the cultivation of local oil seeds, the BKS said.
BKS president Badri Narayan Choudhary told ThePrint, “Every year we import palm oil from Indonesia and Malaysia, which is a drain on the exchequer. It has a more chilling side effect on mustard cultivation and its price.”
“Mustard requires less water, is more healthy. We talk about oil security and Atmanirbhar Bharat…they won’t happen without restricting cheap refined palm oil import and supporting more mustard cultivation,” he added.
The RSS-affiliated organisation also demanded the immediate constitution of a committee for the implementation of the minimum support price (MSP), which Prime Minister Narendra Modi had promised in his speech last year while withdrawing the farm laws.
The first step towards increasing farmers’ income, it said, was to implement MSP.
Banning the blending of mustard oil
Choudhary said that cheap imported oil for domestic consumption has encouraged a slump in the cultivation of oil seeds and less price realisation for farmers.
“Allowing 20 per cent blending in mustard oil (with other edible oil) has resulted in less cultivation of the crop in many areas. After our agitation against the practice, the government banned the blending of mustard oil last year,” said Choudhary.
The ban, he claimed, has increased mustard cultivation by 30 per cent, and there has been better price realisation this year.
Citing an example of the government’s “wrong policy direction” he said, “The government’s proposed expenditure of Rs 11,000 crore for the cultivation of palm oil in South and Northeast India will be disastrous. Its intention is to cut its import cost, but it is illogical. “
“Traditional food patterns in the Northeast support the cultivation of bamboo, pineapple and mustard, but…the encouragement of palm oil would destroy traditional farming,” he said.
Choudhary also pointed out that palm oil cultivation has “destroyed tropical rain forests worldwide, amplified carbon dioxide emissions and damaged endangered seeds and their cultivation”.
Native to Africa, oil palms were brought to Southeast Asia during colonial times. Malaysia and Indonesia together produce 85 per cent of the world’s palm oil.
Experts have also cautioned that indiscriminate use of palm oil might be harmful to health, as it has a lower number of good fats. It is widely used for the cheap production of processed foods, from chips to pizza.
India imports around 15 lakh tonnes of refined palm oil and seventy lakh tonnes of crude palm oil, which together account for 60 per cent of the country’s total edible oil imports.
India imported edible oil worth Rs 1.17 lakh crore in 2021. Of that, Rs 69.174 crore was spent on palm oil.
The goverment’s National Mission on Oil Seeds and Oil Palm plans to increase palm oil cultivation to one million hectares by 2025-26 and to 1.7-1.8 million hectares by 2029-30.
‘MSP only way to protect small farmers’
At its first convention since the rollback of the controversial farm laws, the BKS urged the Central government to immediately set up a committee to implement MSP. It is the only way to ensure the protection of small and marginal farmers, it said.
Dinesh Kulkarni, organising general secretary of BKS, pointed out that Union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar had earlier said that the delay was due to the model code of conduct being in force for the ongoing assembly elections in five states.
“We are waiting for 10 March…The government should constitute the committee, and in a time-bound manner, should implement the MSP,” he told ThePrint.
‘Fertilisers increasing global warming’
Other than MSP and palm oil, the BKS also spoke about the cascading effect of chemical fertilisers on climate change.
“Pollution from vehicles and other sources contributes 40 per cent of global warming, but agriculture contributes 60 per cent. Chemical fertilisers are not only destroying the natural way of farming by increasing dependency on nitrogen, causing soil infertility and spiking the need for water, it is also producing more global warming,” said Choudhary.
“There is a different lobby working for the promotion of chemical fertilisers, but at one point we have to think of an alternative,” he added.
(Edited by Saikat Niyogi)