Figures for food losses in the country have been often used by many to push their own agenda. Research scientists very frequently highlight food losses to justify their research projects while government use the same figures to push for increased budgetary allocation for preventing the very losses it is supposed to prevent! Latest in this "game of numbers" comes from an "institute" whose credentials are not well known and its scientists put the annual loss figure at Rs 44000 crore! One difference between earlier "estimates" and the present one is that the latest figure is projected in terms of cost without indicating the quantum lost or percentage of production. Also not clear is whether this estimates refer to only horticulture produce or to the entire chain of foods produced and processed in the country. What is amusing to see is that the MoFPI of GOI has swallowed this figure as Gospel truth and promptly asked for a 4-fold increase in allocation of funds for its 12th 5-year Plan programs! It is to be remembered that losses do occur at various stages of the food chain starting from the field to the consumer table and estimating losses at each stage, especially in a country like India is not an easy task. To believe that an institute with its limited resources and lack of personnel with right expertise and experience can do justice to this topic, may be asking too much. Nonetheless one can get a better perspective by reading the report by this academic body.
The Food Processing Ministry has sought a nearly four-fold hike in its 12th Five-Year Plan outlay to Rs 15,000 crore to curb wastage of fruits and vegetables worth Rs 44,000 crore every year, which is more than the budgetary allocation for the MGNREGA scheme in FY'12. "The amount of food wasted every year due to lower food processing potential is Rs 44,000 crore, which is more than the budgetary allocation for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) of Rs 40,000 crore for the 2011-12 fiscal," a senior official with the Ministry of Food Processing Industries said. The Ministry has sought the allocation of Rs 15,000 crore from the Planning Commission for running different progressive schemes in the 12th Five-Year plan against Rs 4,000 crore in the current Plan (2007-12), the official added. The proposal was submitted in mid-September. The official noted that the fund hike has been demanded to strengthen infrastructure and cut down the level of food wastage. The latest yearly food wastage figure of Rs 44,000 crore that came in April 2010, is based on a random survey conducted by CIPHET in 106 districts across the country, he added. The Central Institute of Post-Harvest Engineering and Technology (CIPHET) was established in 1989 at the Punjab Agriculture University campus in Ludhiana, Punjab, as a nodal institute to undertake research in the area of post-harvest engineering and technology appropriate to agricultural production catchment and agro-industries.
What is intriguing is the basis on which MoFPI had sought such huge funds while its capacity to conceive programs and spend the budget is some what limited, if judged by past track records. There is this bland declaration that the funds would be utilized to "strengthen" infrastructure which could cut down losses. The activity that encompasses harvesting, post-harvest handling, storage, processing, distribution and consumer purchase is a complex one involving millions of players and unless the whole system is modernized there is not much GOI can do to cut down losses. For example take a simple case of controlling rodents in fields where, in spite, of enormous attempts of the past, the rodent population has been able to outsmart the farmers and field losses continue unhindered to this day! Another example is grain storage infrastructure for supplying food grains under PDS and though millions of tons of grains storage infrastructure is available in the country, supply of rotten grains continues through the PDS under the very nose of the government! Under a regime of corruption, political chicanery and babu-criminal nexus, it is well known that the country loses food grains worth Rs 40000 crore per year through pilferage and misappropriation of PDS grains. Is there a solution to this problem? No one knows. The losses were there 5 decades ago, losses are there to day and losses will continue unabated in future also, even if MoFPI receives the increased funding under the next Plan!