India is an agro-based economy with about 70% of the population engaged in agriculture or related activities. It has 70-80% land under plow making it 2nd largest cultivar in the world after USA. In India, the primary food grains are Rice and Wheat which account for 41% and 35% respectively of the total food production and makes it rank among the top global producers. After the food is procured, its storage and distribution becomes the lifeline of a country. Warehouses play a vital role in protecting Nation’s food and feeding its people.
Once the crops are harvested they undergo a process of field thrashing and drying. They need to have adequate sun exposure before they are ready for transportation or distribution. Food grains are living objects. They inhale and exhale and may lead to germination in contact with moisture and humidity. Fortnightly inspection of food grains is a regulatory norm by the Govt. in India.
Warehouses are scientific storage structures especially constructed for the protection of the quantity and quality of stored products. The warehouses have two possible threats- Biotic i.e. from insects, pests, rodents, fungi, and Climatic i.e. based on temperature, humidity, and rains. The qualitative loss can change its physical and chemical composition, sometimes making it unfit for human consumption. Rice is always stored in covered godowns, while Wheat can be stored in silos or covered and plinth godowns. There is also large metal or cements bins storage for wheat which is of the height ranging from15ft to 100ft.
The common insects and pests that can attack food grain are weevils, beetles, moths, psocids (lice) which lay eggs on the storage bags. Some are crawling insects and some can fly such as, Sitophilus, Trogoderma granarium (Kapra beetle), Tribolium castinum (illi or the red flour beetle) commonly called as the sweeper insect. Rodents leave their excreta to keep the trail for a repeat attack. There are also attacks from birds.
FCI (Food Corporation of India, regulated by Govt. of India) plays an important role here in the storage and distribution. A lot of food can go waste without its proper management. FCI is a major buyer to insulate cultivators with effective support price to safeguard their interest, provide National Food Security through storage and buffer stocks, and supply to consumers through public distribution system. Food Grains are procured from States such as Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, MP, UP & Chhattisgarh.
To protect the stored food grains FUMIGATION is a solution practiced for many years. It is done in the free space- walls, floors, and inner roofing surfaces. This requires regular check-ups in case there is some repeat exposure of grains, as fumigation does not have any residual protection. Methyl Bromide is a commonly used pressurized gas fumigant. Phosphine is available in solid formulations. In India Aluminum Phosphide (Celphos and Phostoxin) 3 gms pellets are commonly used for one ton of grains. They release phosphine gas when exposed to moisture in the air. All the fumigation chemicals are highly toxic and appropriate safety precautions must be followed. There are CONTACT INSECTICIDES which are target specific and have low mammalian toxicity and are safer to handle.
There are also many private warehousing facilities which are contracted to conserve food grains. For the distribution, FCI depends heavily on the Indian railways which work based on a monthly movement plan.
Other than the pests and rodents the food wastage tends to happen through delayed harvesting, spillage during transportation or inadequate facility. Several times loading and unloading in wagons, trucks etc. leads to spillage. Though the system is efficient, the spillage can be controlled in a much better way. Other than the food grains there is a bigger food storage management needed for fruits and vegetables. About 45% of it is lost during distribution.
India needs innovation and technology drives to better manage food storage and transportation. Temperature and humidity are crucial factors for food storage. Molds grow rapidly anywhere between 20-40 degrees if the moisture is accumulated.
With growing population, we need more food. If production is an attention area, food security and supply chain needs is equally significant and need much stronger management.