Page last updated at 16:02 GMT, Friday, 4 July 2008 17:02 UK

India food grain waste revealed

By Amitabha Bhattasali
BBC News, Calcutta

Indian grain farmer
Critics say that too much grain is being lost

More than 1,300,000 tonnes of food grain - worth millions of dollars - went rotten in storage over the past decade in India, officials admit.

They were forced to reveal the information under the country's Right to Information (RTI) legislation.

In answer to a query, the Food Corporation of India (FCI) said that the grain was damaged in warehouses.

The FCI is responsible for the procurement and distribution of food grain across all of India.

Rotten food

The loss of the grain was incurred even though the FCI spent millions of dollars trying to prevent it from being harmed while in storage.

It has admitted that large sums have been spent disposing of the rotten food.

Rice on sale in Delhi
The FCI says that some damage to grain is inevitable

The startling facts came to light in a reply to question posed by RTI activist Dev Ashish Bhattacharya.

"This amount of food grain could have fed over 10 million people in a year," he said.

Malnourishment is a huge problem in India.

Talking about northern India, Mr Bhattacharya told the BBC: "The FCI informed me that 1.83 lakh (183,000) tonnes of wheat, 3.95 lakh (395,000) tonnes of rice, 22,000 tonnes of paddy and 110 tonnes of maize were damaged between 1997 to 2007.

"In the northern region - Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Delhi - the damage incurred was huge, forcing the authorities to spend large sums to prevent further losses in addition to spending money to to dispose of damaged grain," he said.

The FCI figures show that similar grain waste also took place in eastern, southern and western India.

"Surprisingly, almost 50% of the food grain was damaged in Punjab, one of the leading states in agricultural production. And there's no history of floods or natural calamities in that region," Mr Bhattacharya said.

But FCI officials deny that the loss of grain is excessive.

"We have an annual turnover of 40 million tonnes of food grain. If you compare this with the damage, it's only 0.4%," FCI Chairman and Managing Director Alok Sinha said.

"The grain is procured in surplus states and transported to 1,500 depots all over the country.

"Our storage conditions are not really the same as in the West, where it's untouched by hand. Each grain bag is handled at least six times before it's finally opened."

With this much manual labour involved, the rate of wastage was the lowest in the world, Mr Sinha claimed.

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