Page last updated at 15:41 GMT, Friday, 21 August 2009 16:41 UK

India to import food amid drought

Farmer in Gauhati, India, 17 August 2009
This monsoon season has brought 29% less rainfall than normal

India will import food to make up for shortages caused by a drought thought to be affecting 700 million people, the finance minister has said.

The minister, Pranab Mukherjee, did not specify what would be imported and when, saying he wanted to avoid speculation on prices.

The drought is affecting almost half of India's districts.

Food prices have risen by 10% after poor monsoon rains hit sowing. Monsoon rains are critical to India's farmers.

'Grim situation'

Mr Mukherjee said any commodity that was in short supply would be imported to boost domestic stocks.

He said details of the imports were not being revealed, though reports said lentils, edible oils and other staples might be among the foods to be brought in.

The summer rains are crucial to crops such as rice, soybean, sugarcane and cotton.

Concern is also growing in India that international prices of many items such as sugar are increasing in anticipation of its need to import, the BBC's Sanjoy Majumder reports from the capital, Delhi.

The farm minister, Sharad Pawar, said the government would take action to ensure prices remained stable.

He added: "[The] situation is grim, not just for the crop sowing and the crop health but also for sustaining animal health, providing drinking water, livelihood and food, particularly for the small and marginal farmers and landless labourers."

Up to 70% of Indians are dependent on farm incomes, and about 60% of India's farms depend on rains.

Irrigation networks are dismissed by critics as inadequate.

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