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Procurement of grain is not a problem but preservation is.
Green revolution of the 1960’s made India a food surplus country. The states of Punjab, Haryana and Western UP were especially benefitted by green revolution and since then these states have been contributing majority of their produce towards the central pool of wheat and rice maintained by the Food Corporation of India, to ensure price stability, for catering to PDS and to cater to exigencies.
Procurement of food grain is the process whereby govt. agencies (of both central and state governments) purchase the produce (wheat and rice) from the market and then this purchased grain is distributed all over the country as per the needs and demands of the states.
Procurement is done by the designated staff of the purchase agencies of the govt. as and when the produce arrives in the market. Every year govt. declares MSP (Minimum Support Price) of the food grain that is to be purchased and all the produce is lifted from the market at that price. Hence there is no problem in the procurement of grain and the process goes on smoothly till the last grain is purchased and lifted from the market.
However the problem starts right after the grains are purchased. This problem is that of storage and preservation. Scientific storage and preservation techniques are costly and it requires huge investment to create the necessary infrastructure. Therefore majority (around 60 %) of the purchased grains are kept in the open plinths (unscientific storage) and this reduces the life of the grain to a great extent.
Wheat stocks in the open have continuous exposure to moisture, making them vulnerable to fungal attacks. Grains start turning black. Unbearable stench emanates from these stocks. Monsoon season makes it worse. Since these open godowns are located along national and state highways, they remain drenched in rain and flood waters not only for days but at times weeks together.
Wooden plinths on which stacks of wheat bags are piled get saturated with water and the excess moisture by capillary action moves up to the food grains, making them highly vulnerable to attack by insects, pests and rodents. The rotten stocks are then either sold to poultry or cattle feed manufacturers or supplied to wheat flour mills for processing (for non- human use).
The chairman of the Food Corporation of India (FCI), Siraj Hussain, admits that food worth Rs 50,000 crore is wasted every year. This comes roughly to 20 per cent of the total food produced by the country. Though this figure includes food that is lost in processing, packaging, transportation and even marketing, yet a substantial portion of it is lost as rotten because of antiquated storage techniques.
Though about one-third of India’s population is underfed, yet a huge amount of grain gets wasted due to poor storage facilities. “It is unfortunate that we waste grain when our countrymen sleep on an empty stomach,” said Dr MS Swaminathan, former Director-General of the Indian Council for Agriculture Research, while delivering a talk on "Shaping our agriculture future in an era of climate change" at Punjab Agriculture University, Ludhiana
Dr Swaminathan suggested that silos be built for long-term storage to prevent deterioration and rotting of foodgrain on account of delays in transferring the same to consumption states. Silos are used in various countries to scientifically store food grains. They have automated temperature control mechanisms which help in keeping the grains healthy for years and hence prevent their wastage.
While normal life of wheat stored in the open is six months, grains stored in godowns can best last for two years. This is a huge difference. By using scientific storage techniques the life of the grain increases drastically. This not only helps in optimum utilization of the food but also saves the government agencies from huge losses that result from the produce becoming unfit for human consumption.
In the past three years, a little has been done to increase the food grain storage space in the two states. While Haryana has added only five lakh metric tonnes of new storage space, Punjab has added 12 lakh metric tonnes of new storage space till March this year. This is woefully less than the required space, and not even in consonance with the increase in crop production each year.
However some steps have been taken by both govt. and private agencies to address to this problem of unscientific storage of food grains. NABARD has started Warehousing (Refinance) Scheme, 2012. Under this initiative, the NABARD extends financial support to banks at a concessional rate of eight per cent for setting up warehousing facilities in the state. The scheme was launched in September last year and financial support of Rs 245 crore has been extended to the banks in Punjab.
Lately some private agencies have also shown keen interest in setting up scientific storage facilities. One recent initiative has been taken by LT Foods which has developed a silo with 50,000 MT capacity in Amritsar.
More of such efforts are required by the govt. in collaboration with interested private parties to develop closed godowns and silos on PPP model for the benefit of the country.
From the above discussion it is clear that scientific storage of the food grains in the silos or in closed godowns is only solution to this problem. Considering the amount of food grains that become unfit for human consumption every year, some quick measures need to be taken and a major policy initiative is required so that instead of rotting in the open, these grains feed millions of poor, starving and malnourished people of this country.