July 1, 2011


India's grain stockpile left to rot in monsoon rain



Millions of tonnes of India's grain harvest are at risk of rotting because the overflowing stockpile is too big to be stored in government warehouses.


As monsoon rains drench the country, an estimated 18 million tonnes of grain are sitting outside exposed to the elements in fertile states such as Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana, even as India continues to struggle with widespread childhood malnutrition.


A bumper grain harvest this year combined with a ban on exports, introduced in 2007 when the Indian Government feared a global food crisis, has left India with a record 65.5 million tonne stockpile, far more than can be comfortably accommodated in warehouses across the country.


The Food Corporation of India said that since 1964, it has helped to manage the Government's grain stockpile, and that nearly one third of this, about 18 million tonnes, was being stored under plastic sheeting in temporary sites around the country. It insisted that the grain would not rot as it was being treated with preservatives.


Nevertheless, Ashok Gulati, chairman of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices, described the situation as a "grain emergency".


Prakash Michael, who works for Spandan, a non-governmental organisation in Madhya Pradesh that deals with malnutrition, said: "On the one hand, they have grain rotting in stockpiles and, on the other, people are still dying of starvation in India. They should release the grain now."


India's overflowing grain stores are a result of the Government's longstanding failure to invest in storage capacity and a reluctance to allow exports because of concerns about rampant domestic food price inflation. Inflation remains a thorny issue for politicians, with the price of basic food staples running at 9% or more.


The Government is planning to build an additional 15 million tonnes of storage capacity but these will not be ready for another two years.


The FCI purchases grain from local farmers at a fixed price to build reserves for emergency needs and to run welfare programmes, as well as to protect growers from being into distressed sales.


India's annual grain production is expected to hit about 84 million tonnes this year, with most of the growing concentrated in the northern and western states. This month, India said that it would donate 250,000 tonnes of grain to Afghanistan." On the one hand they have grain rotting, and on the other people are dying. They should release it now."

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