A recipe for disaster (As Spelt out by Kunal Bose in HT 30 July 2014)
Day of Doom when 1st Atombomb August 6, 2014
was dropped at Hiroshima-1945
India wastes food worth Rs. 45,000 crore a year. Yet this budget has no roadmap for developing a cold chain across the country,
It is known that over one-third of India’s fruit and vegetable valued at over Rs 13000 crore is wasted annually in the absence of adequate refrigerated storage infrastructure and logistics deficiencies. The other villain is the anachronistic distribution system, favouring middlemen who do not have the vision or resources to create facilities that will not leave horticulture produce exposed to the blistering sun during the long Indian summer. At 2013-14 horticulture production of 280.7 million tonne, the country’s requirement of cold storage space to keep fruit and vegetable freash and cosmetically appealing round the year is conservatively estimated 65 million tone. But the available capacity is just over 30 million tonne distributed unevenly among the states.
This apart, preventable post harvest losses of food grains are around 20 million tonne. Wasted grains of this magnitude, according to the World Bank, would be good to mitigate the hunger of one-thirds of the country’s poor. Of around 65 million tonne of grains storage capacity, space to hold nearly 20 million tonne is just raised platform with some kind of temporary cover allowing quick deterioration in stored grain quality. The 2014-15 budget allocation of Rs 5,000 crore for raising warehouse capacity is too little when unscientific causing big losses of grains, inviting unfavourable world attention.
Marketing system here is so tilted in favour aggregators and traders that prices of fruit and vegetables at the first point of sale at large mandis as a proportion of final retail rates are in the range of 25% to 40%. Since there are at least a couple of layers between farm gate and large mandis, rewards for growers are much less than a quarter of prices at terminal retail point.
Farmers will benefit immensely if they unite in groups to form marketing organizations. There are already a few instances of savvy farmer groups producing and marketing branded fruit which command premium prices.
Food processing (especially veg & fruits) has a tremendous potential in our country. This should be a priority SME/MME with encouraging loan facilities, tax exemption to the participants. Areas and pockets to be identified country wide. Special “Mantralaya” should be created by “Modi Sarkar”. This would help in checking seasonal rise hi prices due to shortage created by whether or manmade.