| CHENNAI, India
CHENNAI, India Aug 18 Corn yields in India,
Asia's second-largest grower, could double over the next decade,
a top industry official said, possibly compensating growing
domestic animal feed demand and maintaining the country's
position as a cheap supplier to Asian customers.
India's corn acreage is the fifth highest in the world at
more than eight million hectares, but its yields are among the
lowest -- ranging from 1 to 4.5 tonnes a hectare, compared with
about an average 10 tonnes in the United States.
But even such low numbers are an improvement from the turn
of the century when India was a net importer of corn. Use of
high yield seeds has boosted output, helping meet the domestic
demand and leaving 2-3 million tonnes currently for exports.
"There is tremendous room for improvement and given the
focus on the crop, yields could go up 6-8 tonnes (a hectare) in
the next 10 years," Hardeep Grewal, Asia Pacific head of corn
marketing for Syngenta, the world's largest agrochemicals firm,
"It's possible because the technology is there and we have
seen that the adoption rate in the primary corn growing areas is
very high," he said on the sidelines of a conference on food
security organised by Syngenta.
Corn is grown in most Indian states, particularly in Andhra
Pradesh and Karnataka in the south and Bihar and Uttar Pradesh
in the north. About half of India's corn area remains under
traditional cultivation methods and produces only about one
tonne per hectare.
Of the remaining area which uses higher-yielding seeds, the
productivity from the winter-sown crop spread over only two
million hectares is the highest at about 4.5 tonnes a hectare,
and that from the summer-sown crop is at between 2.5 and 3
tonnes a hectare, Grewal said.
"So one fourth of the corn area in India is supplying one
half of the total production ... (that) shows you that Indian
small farmers are adopting technologies very quickly when they
are in the market economy, when they have the ability to access
good quality seeds, when they have the ability to sell their
grains and they have the ability to get access to agronomic
information," Grewal said.
RISING DOMESTIC DEMAND
But a combination of hurdles such as poor access to credit,
to agronomical information and to markets has kept productivity
low and prevented Indian farmers from taking advantage of
growing global demand for corn, a key ingredient in both poultry
and cattle feed.
"Farmers are planting hybrids but relatively low value
hybrids. They will adopt higher value hybrids as they get access
to finances -- it would be microcredit, it would be inputs and
again the infrastructure has to be where they are able to sell
their grain to local grain centres," Grewal said.
"But that will still take time because that will require
heavy investments from the government or the private sector."
India's corn demand currently stands at about 15-16 million
tonnes, pushed largely by animal feed sales as an expanding
population of rich Indians consume more animal protein.
It takes about three kg of corn to produce one kg of
chicken, which is eaten more widely in predominantly Hindu India
than beef or pork.
According to the Associated Chamber of Commerce and Industry
of India (ASSOCHAM), the country could consume 30 million tonnes
of corn by 2020, more than 50 percent to be claimed by the
"As India looks into the next 15 years at its protein
requirements, for animal protein, particularly for poultry and
eggs, the demand for animal feed will go up, the demand for corn
will go up," Grewal said.
"It's vital productivity is increased. I think where the
government plays a key role is in the current hybrid areas where
they are getting four tonnes (a hectare). Do we help those
farmers to get eight tonnes? Absolutely yes. We've got the
combination of solutions, we have the technologies," he said.
India's share of world corn trade of around 90 million
tonnes is small, but the nation is a significant supplier to
buyers such as Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia that seek small
parcels for prompt shipment.
A recent ASSOCHAM report said boosting corn yields quickly
would enable India to maintain its exports and even grow them,
despite higher domestic demand which is rising about six percent
And with growing competition among crops it may not be
possible to grow corn in more areas of India, which makes it
important to boost productivity, it said.
The country could sell more than three million tonnes of
corn in 2010/11, a two-fold jump from a year ago, after a good
monsoon last year, USDA data said.
"Clearly how India boosts its corn yields will determine
whether it can become a bigger player in the market," Grewal
said, adding Indian supplies had a price and freight advantage
in the Asian region.
"The industry has good hybrids. What needs to be done is for
the technology to reach the farmers. The potential is great."
(Editing by Jo Winterbottom)