India moving towards a grave food crisis

NEW DELHI: India could be facing a crisis soon if immediate steps are not taken to ease the burden on godowns bulging with grain stocks as the current storage capacity of 62.8 million tonnes may prove inadequate, officials say. The government had record rice and wheat stocks of 65.6 million tonnes in its godowns in early June and officials say there will be no place to keep paddy after the kharif harvest arrives by September-October.

“There will be a crisis in three months. The damage in some cases has already been done,” a senior official who did not wish to be identified said. The government plans to increase procurement by 10 million tonnes to 70 million tonnes and has disallowed exports to meet the projected requirement of grain under the proposed Food Security Act.

Madhya Pradesh, which has seen a huge increase in procurement in recent years, faces correspondingly huge problems. In some places, such as Itarsi, the grain is being dumped on top of sand bags as there is no time to build pucca cement structures. Procurement in Madhya Pradesh has gone up 10 times in the past few years and has increased from 5 million tonnes to 50 million tonnes. Most of the grain is stored in the open and the prospect of huge wastage stares the authorities as monsoon rains arrive. The godowns most often depend on plastic sheets to cover grain stocks.

With so much grain being procured you might expect that farmers must be getting a good deal. But that’s not always true, say experts. In the Krishna-Godavari area, the procurement of paddy has been very low and farmers are unable to sell and get the minimum support price of the crop. Frustrated at not getting the promised price, many have decided to throw the paddy on the streets and declare a crop holiday.

Procurement in some states such as Bihar also remains low and farmers are getting a price ranging from Rs 975 to Rs 1,040 a quintal of wheat while in Punjab, farmers take home Rs 1,120 per quintal and a Rs 50 bonus.

Punjab has demanded that the minimum support price (MSP) for wheat be hiked to Rs 1,480 from the current Rs 1,120 per quintal. The MSP for paddy is Rs 1,080 per quintal and comes with a bonus of Rs 80 to meet rising input costs.