Food Grain Storage Problem in India

“A grain saved is a grain produced”


Poor Food grain storage and resultant food wastage has been a persistent problem in India

Extent of the Problem:

  • According to Food Corporation of India (FCI) reply to an RTI activist in 2014 as much as 1.95 Lakh MT of food grains was wasted in India between 2005 and March 2013.
  • In the damaged stock, around 84% was rice and 14% wheat.
  • Punjab accounted for nearly 50% of the damages followed by Maharashtra (10% of the total loss)
  • According to a report by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, nearly 60000 tons of food grains godowns have got damaged and become useless for human consumption between 2013-2017-18
  • According to FAO, produce worth $14 billion is damaged annually. It is a paradox that millions go hungry in India everyday while food goes to waste.

Food Grain Management in India:

  • FCI is the only government agency entrusted with movement of food grains from the procuring states to consuming states through a network of storage infrastructure owned or hired by FCI in the whole of India.
  • These food grains are distributed by the state governments through TPDS and other welfare schemes (OWS).
  • The food grains are also disposed of in the open market through sale under open market sales scheme (OMSS) to suppress any inflationary tendencies and generating storage space in the states
  • Operational stock: Four months requirement of food grains for issue under TPDS and OWS
  • Buffer Stock: the surplus over the operational stock is treated as buffer stock

Storage Management:

  • Due to increasing procurement of food grains from 2008-09 onwards, FCI has had to depend on hired space made available from Central Warehousing Corporation (CWC), State Warehousing Corporations(SWC), and private parties.

Commercial Methods of Storage:

  1. Covered Storage:

The most popular storage system in India followed by the FCI, CWC and SWCs is bag (jute bags) storage in warehouses. The grain is packed in jute bags and stacked inside covered structures called warehouses or godowns.

  1. Cover and Plinth (CAP) Method:

In this method food grains are stored in the open with adequate precautions such as rat and damp proof plinths, use of dunnage and covering of stacks with specially fabricated polythene covers etc.

  1. Silos: These are tall tower like structures used to store grains. In these structures, the grains in bulk are unloaded on the conveyor belts and, through mechanical operations, are carried to the storage structure. There are four silos- in Kolkata, Chennai, Mumbai and Hapur-Ghaziabad.
  2. . Silo bag technique: For bulk storage of food grains at procurement sites silo bags are used. These bags are made of HDPE and protect grains from rain, UV rays, atmospheric humidity and dust etc.

Issues and Challenges:

  1. Poor farm storage facilities:

The storage facilities at farm levels are poor often leading to damage by pests and insects. The storage facilities are also not suitable for long-time storage of grains

  1. Imbalances in availability of storage capacity:

There has been an increase in storage capacity of FCI over the past years. The CAG report 2013 revealed serious imbalances in availability of storage capacity and huge shortage of storage space in consuming states. According to the report, out of the total storage space available with FCI, 64% was located in the large procurement states like Punjab, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

  1. Storage of grains in open space:
  • During procurement season, due to lack of proper CAP storage facilities, stocks are simply dumped open spaces and much of these stock gets damaged because of seepage of water from the ground in the absence of proper plinth or height of ground or due to floods and rains.
  1. Poor infrastructure of Storage facilities:
  • The warehouses lack adequate ambience such as proper temperature and moisture which greatly affects the quality of grains and leads to damage and wastage of the produce. The grains get infested with moulds and insects due to lack of safe and scientific storage practices.
  • For example, 2013 CAG report stated that inadequate safe and scientific storage practices resulted in excessive damages to food grains in the central pool maintained by SGAs in Punjab and Haryana.

Associated Health issues:

  • According to a WHO paper, disease causing mycotoxins are found in mouldy grain/foods. These release Aflatoxins which have serious health implications and are cancer-causing
  1. Non-adherence to the principle of principle of First-In-First-Out (FIFO)
  • Improper estimates resulting in extra procurement is a major issue which strains storage capacity
  • Failure to ensure early disposal of damaged stock led to blockage of storage space and also cause damage to existing stock.
  • According to CAG report, 2013 brought a total of 126 LMT of food grains pertaining to crop years 2008-09 to 2011-11 was lying in the central pool even in March 2012.
  1. Issues with FCI:
  • Non adherence of safe and scientific storage methods
  • Poor and reckless management
  • Delay in getting approval for want of disposal approvals for damaged stock from FCI
  • undue delay in obtaining of various clearances for land allotments by state government

Important Supreme Court Judgement

PUCL Vs UOI & ORS, 2010

SC Observation- “In a country where admittedly people are starving, it is a crime to waste even a single grain…all out efforts must be made that not a single grain is wasted….”

Committee and Recommendations:

High-level Committee headed by Shanta Kumar, 2014

The Committee made following recommendations on stocking and movement related issue:

  1. FCI should outsource its stocking operations to various agencies such as Central Warehousing Corporation, State Warehousing Corporation, private Sector under Private Entrepreneur Guarantee (PEG) scheme, and even state governments that are building silos through private sector on state lands
  2. Better mechanization in all silos as well as conventional storages
  3. Covered and plinth (CAP) storage should be gradually phased out with no grain stocks remaining in CAP for more than 3 months. Silo bag technology and conventional storages where ever possible should replace CAP
  4. Movement of grains needs to be gradually containerized which will help reduce transit losses

Government Initiatives for Augmenting Grain Storage Capacity:

  1. National Policy on Handling and Storage of Food Grains, 2000
  • It aims to reduce storage and transit losses at farm and commercial level and to modernize the system of handling, storage and transportation of food grains.
  1. Gramin Bhandaran Yojna
  • Under the scheme subsidy is provided for construction/ renovation of rural godowns. The scheme aims to create scientific storage capacity in rural areas to meet the requirements of farmers for storing farm produce.
  1. Private Entrepreneurs Guarantee (PEG) Scheme
  • The scheme promotes construction of godowns through Private Entrepreneurs with Guaranteed utilization by the FCI
  1. Recent Initiatives:
  • The Government is planning to take steps to utilize vacant government land with railways and other government agencies. A joint venture between CWC and Indian Railways has resulted in a Rail-side Warehousing Company Ltd. which is constructing godowns at selective railheads
  • Pilot projects for rice silos have been undertaken by FCI at Kaimur and Buxar in Bihar to test the technology.
  • The FCI has awarded contracts to operators for construction of wheat silos with a capacity of 2.5 lakh tonnes at six places in Punjab, Delhi, Bihar, Assam and Karnataka.

International Best Practice: USA

  • USA has more than 310 Million Ton Silo storage capacity.
  • It has an effective on farm storage which helps farmer to store Grain at the site at harvest time and move to off farm

Way Forward:

  1. Traditional means of storage should be strengthened with modern inputs cheaper storage structures such as low cost bins should be provided to farmers so as prevent enormous storage losses.
  2. It is important to develop management protocols for safe and scientific storage. Further for safe and scientific storage it is important to carefully select the storage site, storage structure, undertake cleaning and fumigation ensure proper aeration of grains followed by regular inspection of grain stock.
  3. Research and Development efforts are required in the areas of impact of biotic and abiotic factors during storage, detection and monitoring of spoilage, safe fumigants, uniform fumigation etc.
  4. An integrated software application linking overall production, demand, procurement and storage, keeping in view the associated regions and infrastructure available should be developed.
  5. The First-in-First-Out policy should be strictly followed to avoid wastage and damage of stocks
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