Factors as innocuous as the humble grain-carrying sack to the mighty El Nino could have a varying impact on grain production and delivery this year, experts suggest.
Detailed presentations made at a recently-concluded 'Global Grain and Feed Forum' conference in Goa suggest that the occurrence of the El Nino phenomenon in June could to some extent rob India of its monsoon, but also note that poor quality sacks are also a significant fault-line in the grain-delivery chain, "leading to very high losses".
Vikas Bharadwaj of the Singapore-based BTG Pactual Commodities, in his presentation 'El Nino and its impact on grains and oilseeds', suggested that the phenomenon could trigger a downside in the production of soyabean and corn this year.
India's projected soya production in the coming year could be anywhere between 10.2, 9.9 and 8.2 million tonnes in case of a weak, moderate or strong El Nino, he said. In 2012-13 the country harvested a soyabean crop of 14.67 million tonnes.
"Similarly, the downside to corn production could be 23.1 to 22.5 million tonnes (going from) weak to moderate (impact)," he said. Production was 25 million tonnes in the previous year.
El Nino, translated as 'The Little One' in Spanish, refers to the periodic phenomenon of the Pacific Ocean warming up in a linear band, causing varying degrees of high temperatures, drought and dryness.
India last experienced the phenomenon in 2009 and the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) has already predicted below par rainfall this year.
"In six out of last eight El Nino summers, India had a below normal Indian Monsoon (countrywide average)," Bharadwaj said.
Amit Takkar, CEO (Grains) at Ruchi Soya Industries, called for "drought resistance practices and back-up plans in case of full blown El Nino".
Rajiv Yadav, vice-president (Grains and Oilseeds) at New Delhi's Noble Group, pointed to factors other than El Nino which could impact India's grain story, like the tension triggered in Ukraine by Russia, a currency issue emanating from Argentina and the Iraq crisis, to name just a few.
He also listed other factors which may not bode well:
"India's maize export story loses steam due to the fall in global prices. In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say that exports from India have come to a grinding halt. We are not competitive any more; we are also losing ground to Ukraine and Russia in wheat..." he said.
Thakkar had a more practical take on enhancing grain production in India as well as arresting losses through spillage.
While blaming logistical issues like bad storage facilities, handling by manual labour and losses in storage as some of the challenges facing the grain industry, he also pointed out that something as simple and basic as upgrading the quality of the grain sacks could also help.
"Bag quality leads to very high losses," he said.
Then, booming real estate prices, especially in semi-urban areas, were taking the charm away from agriculture, Thakkar contended.
"Reality and the boom in urbanization is making agriculture less attractive in semi-urban clusters," he said.