Foodgrains are sufficiently grown in our country to feed the millions, thanks to the concerted efforts of farmers, scientists and policymakers. We are, in fact, facing a problem of plenty. The Food Corporation of India, the Central Warehousing Corporation and other agencies are anticipating an even more acute storage problem in the light of record production this year, too.
The problem is more pronounced when it comes to wheat, which is rotting every year due to lack of storage space. In Punjab alone, about 150 lakh tonnes of wheat is expected to arrive in the markets, but there is space for storing only 60 lakh tonnes of the produce. More than faulty storage structures, improper planning and management is to blame for the situation.
The storage of grains should be decentralised to the panchayat level. A majority of the grains are procured and stored by government agencies. Since storing grains in huge quantities at one place causes handling and management problems, panchayats should set up community grain depots.
Agricultural engineers specialising in post-harvest engineering and technology or agricultural process engineering should be engaged during the procurement season. They not only know how to set up efficient storage structures and maintain them, but also know more about the quality of grain and its shelf life than the workforce employed by procurement agencies. Many agricultural universities, central universities, IIT Kharagpur and private engineering colleges are training such manpower, but their services are not being suitably utilised. Grain depots should keep at least one such engineer at warehouses and silos.
Agricultural processing centres should also be set up near community grain depots. There should be a steady flow of foodgrains to and from the depots. Unsold or undistributed grains should be converted to flour at the processing centres and marketed locally. These centres should also be used for processing spices, fruits and vegetables.
Many such centres have already been established in Punjab and Karnataka with the help of the Central Institute of Post-Harvest Engineering and Technology, Ludhiana and the All-India Coordinated Research Project on Post-Harvest Technology of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research. Experts specialising in agricultural process engineering should oversee the operations at these agro-processing centres, which have immense scope for generating jobs in rural areas which, in turn, will check the migration of labourers to urban areas.
To prolong the shelf life, grains should be procured at the recommended moisture level, but many a times procurement agencies purchase grains with higher moisture content and do not dry them before storage for reasons best known to them. The plans for handling and management of grains and warehouses should be in place much before the procurement season. Often gunny bags are not available when farmers need them the most. This problem can be addressed by making bins and silos out of locally available material.