Stop the grain damage

167Official data released by Government reveals that the amount of food grains wasted in Food Corporation of India (FCI) godowns in the state has increased by an astonishing 10 times over the last two years. Brazenly, as much as 1,94,502 metric tonnes of food grain worth crores of rupees are wasted in India due to a variety of reasons between 2005 and March 2013. The Food Corporation of India (FCI) has given this information in reply to an RTI query sought by a earnest activist Om Prakash Sharma.  The reply provides details of the region-wise and commodity wise stock accrued as non issuable (damaged food grains) for each of the years separately for the 23 regions in the country. A whooping damaged stock which sums to 95,075 MT in 2005-06 came down to 3,148 MT in 2012-13. The wastage was at 25,353 MT in 2006-07, 4,426 MT in 2007-08, and 20,114 MT in 2008-09, the report said.

The FCI report further states that northern region — UP, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Delhi — the damage incurred was seven lakh tonnes and the PSU spent Rs 87.15 crore to prevent the loss besides spending over Rs 60 lakh to dispose the damaged food grain. Punjab with a total damage stock of 98,200 MT recorded 50 per cent of the total damages, while Maharashtra recorded a total of 20,067 MT of damaged stock, accounting for 10 per cent of the total loss, the report added.

If wastage of food grains is not enough, India, the world’s second largest producer of fruits and vegetables, is throwing away fresh produce worth Rs 13,300 crore every year because of the country’s lack of adequate cold storage facilities and refrigerated transport, according to another official report from government.

Without improvements in “cold chain” infrastructure, from farm harvest to table, India’s food problems will remain vast and is likely to grow without preventive measures.

China faced the similar situation ten years back. But, due measures were followed to curtail damage. Controlled Atmosphere Storage and Cold Chain have brought down the money loss due to transportation and natural disasters. A lot of measures are taken right from growing, pre-harvest, to post harvest, cold chain, sorting and grading and commercialization of fruit and vegetable.

After 65 years of independence if we lack vision about the most profound question of storage of food grains, how the hell, can we resolve inflation? It is so obvious that this waste to a great extent is deliberate to create artificial scarcity of the stock and inflate the price.

The Public Distribution System (PDS) is the key element of the Government’s food security system in India. It is an instrument for ensuring availability of certain essential commodities at easily affordable prices especially for the poor. The Government, via the Food Corporation of India (FCI), procures and stocks food grains which are released every month for distribution through the PDS network across the country.

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A news item in April 2010 in Hindustan Times published the FCI’s godowns in the Gandhinagar locality of Jaipur were found storing cartons of liquor for Rajasthan State Breweries Corporation while wheat grains were left in the sun for want of space. Even the platform at the Gandhinagar railway station is stacked with wheat bags, reports said time during the year, thus merging the stocks meant for normal distribution and buffer stocks. FCI of course denied the charge.

Isn’t it a paradox – when millions of young and old people die because of hunger and malnutrition in this country, such wastage of food still cannot be controlled? Are those responsible for this loss so helpless??  Why can’t we put a logical end to wastage of food years after years?  We are paying taxes without a murmur – why???

We Indians look up to the new Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi in adopting an integrated and holistic approach to stop the blatant wastage of food grains and vegetables. In a nation where food is worshipped – we need some honest steps to be taken in plugging the loopholes without delay.

The agro sector needs immediate actions in place: India already has a record 80 million tonnes of grain stocks. A part of this must be divested in small markets all over India – this will curb prices to some extent. To prevent wastage, cold chains must be built across India. Make suitable changes in the APMC Act since it deliberates buying in the hands of a few middlemen. Yes, let’s not forget cold chains will need power, so rural electrification is a must. Let’s take measurable and possible steps now.

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