Recently, there have been reports of price crashes and distress sales in case of farm produce, such as tomatoes, mangoes, and garlic. In some cases, farmers have dumped their produce on roads. Produce such as fruits and vegetables are perishable and therefore have a short shelf life. Further, due to inadequate storage facilities and poor food processing infrastructure farmers have limited options but to sell the produce at prevailing market prices. This can lead to distress sales or roadside discards (in some cases to avoid additional cost of transportation).
Food processing allows raw food to be stored, marketed, or preserved for consumption later. For instance, raw agricultural produce such as fruits may be processed into juices, jams, and pickles. Activities such as waxing (for preservation), packaging, labelling, or ripening of produce also form part of the food processing industry.
Between 2001-02 and 2016-17, production of food grains grew annually at 1.7% on average. Production of horticulture crops surpassed food grains with an average growth rate of 4.8%. While production has been increasing over the years, surplus produce tends to go waste at various stages such as procurement, storage, and processing due to lack of infrastructure such as cold storages and food processing units.
Source: Horticulture Statistics at a Glance 2017, Union Budget 2018-19; PRS.
Losses high among perishables such as fruits and vegetables
Crop losses ranged between 7-16% among fruits and around 5% among cereals in 2015. The highest losses were witnessed in case of guava, followed by mango, which are perishable fruits. Perishables such as fruits and vegetables are more prone to losses as compared to cereals. Such crop losses can occur during operations such as harvesting, thrashing, grading, drying, packaging, transportation, and storage depending upon the commodity.
It was estimated that the annual value of harvest and post-harvest losses of major agricultural products at the national level was Rs 92,651 crore in 2015. The Standing Committee on Agriculture (2017) stated that such wastage can be reduced with adequate food processing facilities.
Sources: Annual Report 2016-17, Ministry of Food Processing Industries; PRS.
Inadequate food processing infrastructure
As previously discussed, perishables such as fruits and vegetables are more prone to damages as compared to cereals. Due to inadequate processing facilities in close proximity, farmers may be unable to hold their produce for a long time. Hence, they may be forced to sell their produce soon after harvest, irrespective of the prevailing market situations. Expert committees have recommended that agri-logistics such as cold chain infrastructure and market linkages should be strengthened.
Cold chain infrastructure: Cold chain infrastructure includes processing units, cold storages, and refrigerated vans. As of 2014, out of a required cold storage capacity of 35 million metric tonnes (MT), almost 90% (31.8 million MT) of the capacity was available (see Table 1). However, cold storage needs to be coupled with logistical support to facilitate smooth transfer of harvested value from farms to distant locations. This includes: (i) pack-houses for packaging and preparing fresh produce for long distance transport, (ii) refrigerated transport such as reefer vehicles, and (iii) ripening chambers to ripen raw produce before marketing. For instance, bananas which are harvested raw may be ripened in these chambers before being marketed.
While there are sufficient cold storages, there are wide gaps in the availability of other associated infrastructure. This implies that even though almost 90% (32 million tonnes) of cold storage capacity is available, only 15% of the required refrigerated transport exists. Further, the shortfall in the availability of infrastructure necessary for safe handling of farm produce, like pack-houses and ripening chambers, is over 90%.
Table 1: Gaps in cold chain infrastructure (2014)
(in million MT)
To minimise post-harvest losses, the Standing Committee (2017) recommended that a country-wide integrated cold chain infrastructure network at block and district levels should be created. It further recommended that a Cold Chain Coordination and Monitoring Committee should be constituted at the district-level. The Standing Committee also recommended that farmers need to be trained in value addition activities such as sorting, grading, and pre-cooling harvested produce through facilities such as freezers and ripening chambers.
Between 2008 and 2017, 238 cold chain projects were sanctioned under the Scheme for Integrated Cold Chain and Value Addition Infrastructure. Grants worth Rs 1,775 crore were approved for these projects. Of this amount, Rs 964 crore (54%) has been released as of January 2018. Consequently, out of the total projects sanctioned, 114 (48%) are completed. The remaining 124 projects are currently under implementation.
Transport Facilities: Currently, majority of food grains and certain quantities of tea, potato, and onion are transported through railways. The Committee on Doubling Farmers Income had recommended that railways needs to upgrade its logistics to facilitate the transport of fresh produce directly to export hubs. This includes creation of adjoining facilities for loading and unloading, and distribution to road transport.
Mega Food Parks: The Mega Food Parks scheme was launched in 2008. It seeks to facilitate setting up of food processing units. These units are to be located at a central processing centre with infrastructure required for processing, packaging, quality control labs, and trade facilitation centres.
As of March 2018, out of the 42 projects approved, 10 were operational. The Standing Committee on Agriculture noted certain reasons for delay in implementation of projects under the scheme. These include: (i) difficulty in getting loans from banks for the project, (ii) delay in obtaining clearances from the state governments and agencies for roads, power, and water at the project site, (iii) lack of special incentives for setting up food processing units in Mega Food Parks, and (iv) unwillingness of the co-promoters in contributing their share of equity.
Further, the Standing Committee stated that as the scheme requires a minimum area of 50 acres, it does not to promote smaller or individual food processing and preservation units. It recommended that smaller agro-processing clusters near production areas must be promoted. The Committee on Doubling Farmers Income recommended establishment of processing and value addition units at strategic places. This includes rural or production areas for pulses, millets, fruits, vegetables, dairy, fisheries, and poultry in public private-partnership mode.
The Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) has decided to conduct an off-cycle meeting today to discuss the failure to meet the inflation target under Section 45ZN of the Reserve Bank of India Act, 1934. As per the Reserve Bank of India Act (RBI), 1934, MPC is required to meet at least four times each year, to discuss the macroeconomic issues in the country, and take policy decisions to address those. This is the second time MPC has conducted an off-cycle meeting in 2022-23. The meeting is scheduled in light of inflation being consistently high for nine consecutive months.
In this blog, we discuss what the inflation targeting framework is, examine retail and wholesale prices, and the divergence between them.
What is the inflation targeting framework, and what happens if inflation is persistently high?
In 2016, Parliament amended the RBI Act, 1934 to change the monetary policy, and introduce an inflation targeting framework. This framework prioritises price stability to achieve sustainable GDP growth. Price stability allows investors to confidently invest their money for productive activities, without worrying about it losing value. Price stability also maintains the purchasing power of consumers, i.e., the ability to purchase a good (or service) with a given amount of money.
As per the new framework, the central government, in consultation with RBI sets: (i) an inflation target, and (ii) an upper and lower tolerance level for retail inflation. The target has been set at 4%, with an upper tolerance limit of 6% and a lower tolerance limit of 2%. The upper and lower limits indicate that although it is desirable for inflation to be close to 4%, deviation between these limits is acceptable. The target and bands are revised every five years. In March 2021, the existing targets were carried forward.
Retail inflation has been above 6% for the past nine months, and it has been above 4% from October 2019 onwards (See Figure 1).
Figure 1: Consumer price index (year-on-year; in percentage)
Sources: Database on Indian Economy, Reserve Bank of India; PRS.
If inflation is above or below the prescribed limits for three quarters, RBI must submit a report to the central government explaining why prices have been rising (or falling) persistently, what will be done to correct that, and an estimate as to when the target will be achieved.
The MPC uses tools such as interest rates to control the level of inflation in the economy. One such rate is the policy repo rate, which is the rate at which RBI lends money to banks. An increase in the policy repo rate makes borrowing money more costly, and hence is expected to control inflation by reducing the money supply. MPC increased this rate from 4% in April 2022 to 4.4% in May 2022, to 4.9% in June 2022, to 5.4% in August 2022, and to 5.9% in September 2022.
Breaking down the Consumer Price Index and the Wholesale Price Index
Consumer Price Index (CPI) measures the general prices of goods and services such as food, clothing, and fuel over time. Retail inflation is calculated as the change in the CPI over a period of time. Goods and services such as petrol, food products, health, and education are considered for its calculation, which are assigned different weights (See Table 1). Between February 2022 and August 2022, the average annual inflation was 6.9%. The rise in prices of subcomponents of the CPI during this period is indicated in Table 2.
Table 1: Assigned weights for the calculation of CPI
Sources: MOSPI; PRS.
Table 2: Average inflation of some CPI components
Sources: Database on Indian Economy, RBI; PRS.
CPI is not the only index that measures inflation in an economy. The Wholesale Price Index (WPI) measures the wholesale prices of goods. A change in wholesale prices reflects wholesale inflation. Table 3 indicates the weights assigned to goods for calculating the WPI. Manufactured goods include metals, chemicals, food products, and textiles.
Primary articles (23%) include food articles, and crude petroleum and natural gas. Fuel and power (12%) include mineral oils, electricity, and coal. WPI has remained above 10% from April 2021 onwards. It reached an all-time high of 17% in May 2022. This was driven by the inflation in metals, kerosene and petroleum coke, fruits and vegetables, and palm oil.
Table 3:Assigned weights for the
Sources: Ministry of Commerce and Industry; PRS.
Why has WPI inflation been consistently above CPI inflation?
Movements in the WPI have an impact on the CPI. For almost a year and half, CPI inflation has remained below WPI inflation. However, as per the design of the indices, it is expected that CPI would remain above WPI, and that any increase in WPI would reflect in the CPI after a time lag. This is because retail prices include taxes (as a percentage of price), while wholesale prices do not. Additionally, some of the goods in WPI act as inputs in the goods considered in CPI. An increase in input prices would lead to higher retail prices after a time lag.
We discuss possible reasons for why CPI has remained below WPI for a year and a half.
Figure 2: Consumer Price Index and Wholesale Price Index
Sources: Database on Indian Economy, Reserve Bank of India; PRS.
Composition of indices
As indicated in Table 2 and 3, the composition of the two indices varies. For instance, prices of manufacture of basic metals, chemicals, and machinery grew at an average rate of 13% between February 2021 and September 2022. They contribute 7% to the WPI. These are input goods for producing final goods and services such as automobiles, which are included in the CPI. The rise in prices of transport vehicles, communication devices, fuel for transport, and housing (CPI components) rose by 6% during this period.
The Ministry of Finance has observed that wholesale prices did not feed into retail prices (from March 2021 onwards) as wholesalers absorbed the rising input costs and did not pass them on to retailers. In August 2022, it noted that as retail prices are rising now, the pass-through may occur.