Foodgrains risk rot

No place to store seven million tonnes of procured foodgrains

By Richard Mahapatra
Published: Friday 22 June 2012

Farmers are waiting to sell their wheat at a Gehun Khareed Kendra in Madhya Pradesh. Due to scarcity of gunny bags, farmers are forced to dump foodgrains in the open near the centre (Photograph by Rakesh Kumar Malviya)

As the monsoons advance, the food ministry is desperately looking for shelters. On June 21, KV Thomas, the Union food minister, admitted what many feared the past two months. Nearly seven million tonnes of foodgrains procured by the government in the current season may perish due to non-availability of storage space. This is 50 per cent more than Uttar Pradesh's total procurement this year, which is still continuing. Monsoons will hit the northern states, where the largest chunk of the procurement took place, anytime now.

Going by the government data, the central pool has around 82 million tonnes of foodgrains of which 6.61 million tonnes will be vulnerable to risk of exposure to rain. These grains are stored in open without any protection. This year, India witnessed the highest ever government procurement of wheat. But the government has storage capacity for just 60 million tonnes. This year India's wheat production is estimated at around 90 million tonnes while rice production will be 36 million tonnes.

Thomas, however, assures that “the best efforts are being made to ensure the grains are not damaged in the monsoon.” But going by the government plan he may fail to keep his promise. The government's plan is to shift 1.7 million tonnes to safer places by the end of June and another 1.6 million tonnes by July. But the India Meteorological Department's latest report shows that  monsoons will hit the northern states by next week, and the government has plans to shift stocks stored without adequate protection in the godowns of the Food Corporation of India (FCI) only after July. Add to this, the problem of foodgrains in state government's godowns.

Gunny bags scarcity compounds problems

States like Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh that have procured record quantity of foodgrains this season are already facing severe problems of non-availability of gunny bags. In fact, in Madhya Pradesh, the state government has asked farmers to bring their own bags. In Uttar Pradesh, procurement has stopped since June 10 due to scarcity of gunny bags. In these states foodgrains that have already been purchased are kept in the open.

Such is the scarcity of storage that an Empowered Group of Ministers that decided not to give extra foodgrains to below poverty households a month ago has agreed to allocate five million tonnes now. This is one of the government's urgent measures to tackle the problem. Besides this, the Central government has asked states to lift foodgrains for the public distribution centres for six months in one go. For this, the Central government may offer financial help to states. That will help reduce pressure on FCI godowns. The government has already agreed to sell three million tonnes in the open market.

Since last year, the government has been roping in the private sector to help build storage facilities under the Private Entrepreneurship Guarantee Scheme. This has created additional storage space for about four million tonnes of foodgrains. But the scheme's progress is not keeping pace with the rise in foodgrain production and procurement. To speed up things, village-level storage facilities are being planned to be constructed using funds available under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.

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