Agriculture a major thrust in 11th Plan period: Pranab

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Kolkata, Feb 3: External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee while predicting a 10 per cent growth in the 11th Five Year Plan said the major thrust will be on agriculture with an initiative to record a four per cent growth.

''We need food security and for that agricultural productivity is our foremost challenge. In the last five years, agriculture has grown at an average of two per cent per annum. We will have to achieve four per cent growth as targeted in the 11th plan,'' he said. ''By assisting growth in yields and productivity we will entail creation of better infrastructure in irrigation facilities including cold chains and development of commodity exchanges and forward markets,'' he said.

''Simultaneously, the population pressure on land has to be eased by tapping the potential available for moving into agro-based food processing, for which I see enough scope through public-private partnerships,'' he said.

He also talked about short span exchange of technologies between the different states for boosting the agro industry in the country.

He also made brief statements about importing wheat without going into the details of the import and remained non-committal.

Breaking through stagnation, wheat production has gone up to 75 million tonne from 65 million tonne earlier. There has also been substantial improvement in the production of other crops such as sugarcane and cotton.

But even then, high-priced imports of wheat has been considered to boost our buffer stocks for emergency. That does not mean there is not enough wheat to meet the domestic demand. Over 60 per cent of the people buy wheat from the open market.

''The strengthening of economic activity in recent years has been supported by increase in domestic investment rates from less than 23 per cent of GDP in 2001-02 to more than 33 per cent in 2005-06,'' he said.

''Domestic saving rates have also improved from 23.5 per cent to 32.4 per cent during the same period. We have also successfully managed to keep the average inflation rate benign and contained it well below five per cent.

Exports have been growing at an average rate of 24 per cent during the last five years. Our current foreign exchange reserves of around 275 billion dollars exceed the country's external debt, reflecting improved external sector sustainability of the economy,'' he exhorted.

Then he went on to add, ''Since I am in Kolkata, I would like to take the opportunity of highlighting some aspects of our foreign policy that have a particular hearing on this region. Now that the Nathula border in Sikkim has opened to trade, the entire Eastern and North Eastern hinterland can benefit from increased trade relations with China.'' ''Our business and diplomatic ties in each others' countries will also be enhanced by the presence of consulates in Guangzhou and Kolkata. The metro is uniquely placed to reap higher benefits arising out of the improved trade and investment ties that we are building with the ASEAN region. West Bengal has an important role to play in realising the objectives of our Look East Policy,'' he said.

Through West Bengal, India shares international boundaries with three countries in South Asia and this can speed up industrial and trade relations with these countries. This is one of the fastest growing states in India and is strategically located to attract foreign investment.


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