Food storage problems in India

Every year tonnes of food grains go waste in India because of inadequate storage and infrastructure facilities. A study by the London-based Institution of Mechanical Researchers on global food wastage found that about 21 million tonnes of wheat go waste in India and 50% of all food produced across the world meets with the same fate and never reaches the needy. The figures say it all. We waste the amount equivalent to what Australia produces annually. As per the study, wastage of fruits and vegetables is even higher than grains. This year, 65 lakh tonnes of wheat has been offloaded from the warehouses in an open market to store the coming procurement. The food ministry has also said that about 1454.27 tonnes of grain was rendered unusable because of insufficient storage facilities. Also, as per a senior official of the federal government’s Warehousing Development and Regulatory Authority, 13% of the gross domestic product (GDP) is wasted each year because of the wastage of food grains in the supply chain. According to another study by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)in 2009, 12 million tonnes of fruits and 21 million tonnes of vegetables were lost in India because we lacked proper cold storage facilities. So, food logistic chain in India needs huge investment to provide proper storage facilities to reduce the wastage.

The Indian government buys food grains from the farmers but does not have the space to store it. The Food Corporation has insufficient number of grain silos (modern storage facilities), and so grains are stored in outdoor depots across the country. This makes grains prone to rodents, moisture, birds and pests. Unexpected rainstorms and bad weather make matters even worse.

Yet another report highlights the gaps in storage space. According to the National Auditor Report, India at present does not have space to store 33 million tonnes of food grains worth 12 billion dollars. This means that there is a 40% shortage in storage space. Not only storage, but procurement and evacuation of grains are also problematic in India. As of April 1, 2012, the country has the total storage capacity of 34 million tones. But the total food stock reached 62.9 million tones as of March 1, 2013. Because of less storage space, rice is sold at low prices in the international market. Same is the condition with other food grains.

All this when in India, many poor families do not get a one-time meal in sufficient quantity. Millions of people are living below the poverty line, and that too without food. Millions of children suffer from malnutrition and die of malnutrition-related diseases in India. Distribution of old and almost inedible food under the subsidized public distribution system is also not uncommon. India is one of the top  producers of food grains and one of the leading nations to have maximum number of death due to starvation.

To reduce the spoilage, the Food Corporation of India opted to export Wheat. But India needs to store its grains for his starving countrymen and for rainy days. 

The government is taking other measures as well to reduce the spoilage of grains. Under the Private Entrepreneurs Guarantee (PEG) Scheme, covered storage facilities will be provided to store the grains. The Indian government is taking the help of private businesses and other agencies for the same. Warehouses constructed under this scheme will be hired by the Food Corporation of India, which will provide return on investment to the private businesses. The World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) has also stepped in for help; a modern silo for storage with capacity to store 50,000 tonnes has been constructed and will be operated by a private company. Though such projects are really promising, attracting private partners is always a major challenge.

Moral of the story? India really needs to work on storage and infrastructure so that the hard work of farmers does not go waste, and that the needy can be helped.