By Vivek Puri
India has emerged as the largest importer of edible oil in the world. The country imported millions of tonnes of edible oil last year from October 2018 to November 2019, which is a record in itself. The nation’s dependence on imported oil is expected to reach alarming levels up to 60-65 per cent.
India continues to remain an oil deficit country and imports millions of tonnes of edible oil each year to meet the demand-supply gap, making it the world’s largest importer of edible oils.
Without a dedicated focus on and support for India’s own domestic oilseed production, it would be challenging to become self-reliant in the edible oil sector. There is an urgent need to have a vision and a plan for this industry. We need to learn from the oilseed producing countries and adopt their best practices, which in turn would enable us to work towards doubling farm incomes by 2022.
Mustard is one of the most important winter oilseed crops of country. The area under cultivation witnesses some fluctuations year-on-year and has been reported to have declined marginally by one per cent as compared to last year, although the yield has been reported to have increased marginally year-on-year. However, it is still lagging far, far behind the international standards.
During the eighties, the Oilseeds Technology Mission was launched to raise the productivity of oilseed crops, with a view to reducing the import bill, which was nearly 50 per cent of our domestic requirement at that time, and in a span of 10 years after its launch, India became almost self-sufficient in edible oils, in 1993-94, with only three per cent imports, 97 per cent of edible oils were produced within the country. However, over the years, the Oilseeds Technology Mission could not keep up with the times.
The government of India should formulate a favourable policy for the indigenous edible oils sector which benefits farmers, consumers and manufacturers equally. The objective underlying the creation of the commodity exchanges in India was to benefit farmers.
Unfortunately, since the majority of farmers do not transact through commodity exchanges, which was its prime objective, it has gone into the hands of speculators, which has artificially impacted the physical market. Hence, we require a regulator like SEBI, which can keep a watch on such malpractices.
For some time now, Puri Oil Mills Limited has been recommending the establishment of a Mustard Oil Development Board by the government. Largely, such a board can be modelled along the lines of the American Soybean Association or Spain’s International Olive Council that protects and promote the interests of olive and olive oil producers, or the Malaysian Palm Oil Board, established by the Malaysian government with the aim of promoting palm oil all over the world.
The proposed Mustard Oil Development Board can play a pivotal role through research and development by developing value added products like the soya industry has done by developing soya protein, soya milk and soya nuggets, among others. Similarly, it can ensure an integrated approach to the development of the mustard industry by enhancing value addition across mustard-based products.
To conclude, Mustard Oil is an integral part of Indian agriculture, cuisine and culture. Such is the sanctity of Indian mustard oil that even our ancient treatises, find a mention of mustard’s virtues as a valuable food crop and for its medicinal properties. The medical and scientific fraternity has been rediscovering the significant health benefits offered by mustard oil.
A series of studies have shown that it is the best edible oil for heart health in India, given the dietary habits, lifestyles and culinary practices prevalent across the country. Therefore, mustard seed and Indian mustard oil does not just have economic relevance but is also an integral part of India’s rich culinary heritage.
The Indian mustard oil industry hopes Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will take note of this in the Union Budget for 2020-21.
(Vivek Puri is Managing Director of Puri Oil Mills Limited, Promoter of P Mark mustard Oil since 1933)