COVID-19: Centre to convert surplus rice stocks to ethanol for making hand sanitisers

Government’s move comes as thousands of migrant workers starve 

By Meenakshi Sushma
Published: Tuesday 21 April 2020

The Centre April 20, 2020 decided to convert a part of its rice stock into ethanol for producing alcohol-based hand sanitisers to help fight the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

India has millions of tonnes of grain in reserve. At the same time, thousands of labourers have found it difficult to access food amid a nationwide lockdown.

The spread of the virus (SARS-CoV-2) that causes the disease can be stopped through proper hygiene measures, including hand washing with soap and water or by using hand sanitisers.

The required buffer stock of rice available with the government-run Food Corporation of India (FCI) will be blended with petrol to reduce emissions while making sanitisers, Union minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas Dharmendra Pradhan said during a meeting of the National Policy on Biofuels (NBCC).

If there is a surplus stock of food grains during a crop year, the stocks can be converted into ethanol, according to an NBCC policy.

Several international food organisations, however, predict the occurrence of food crises in several countries because of lockdowns.

The situation of starvation may worsen in India if excess grains are not used to feed the hungry.

India is in a better position as the FCI currently has 77 million tonnes of food crop, four times more than buffer stock of 21 million tonnes, according to R Ramakumar, NABARD Chair Professor at the School of Development Studies at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

“India will be able to sustain for four to five months with this stock if the lockdown is extended,” he said.

The decision taken by the centre may, however, put India in a dangerous position as the surplus stock is an advantage India has to avoid food crises.

Several countries strongly rely on food imports and restrictions imposed by major exporting countries could lead to food crises, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) warned.

Exports by India, Argentina, Australia and Ukraine, a total of six countries account for more than half of total cereals exports, according to UNCTAD.

“Export restrictions imposed by any of these major actors can potentially imperil global food security, especially in food-importing developing countries,” it said.

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