India is losing food items worth a whopping Rs 50,000 crore (Rs 500 billion) every year due to poor post-harvest handling of farm produce, a development that analysts say may jeopardise the Centre's plan to formulate a food security law, especially in view of a "below-normal" monsoon.
"The level of wastage of agricultural food items is estimated to be about Rs 50,000 crore (a year), occurring at various stages of handling after harvesting," food processing minister Subodh Kant Sahai said in a written reply in the Rajya Sabha on Monday.
The minister blamed 'fragmented farming, provisions in the Agricultural Produce Marketing (Development & Regulation) Act, lack of cold chain facilities, transportation, proper storage and processing facilities' for the losses.
Commodity analysts apprehend that the huge crop losses can jeopardise the Centre's plan to enact a food security law, especially at a time when poor monsoon has raised concerns on lower farm production.
"The huge losses of crops (in post-harvest handling) in times of poor monsoon may affect plans to build a food & security law. The government needs to take urgent steps to plug loopholes in different areas, including losses at warehouses," commodity brokerage Karvy Comptrade research head Aurobindo Prasad told PTI.
President Pratibha Patil had last month said the Centre would formulate the National Food Security Act whereby every family below the poverty line will get 25 kg of foodgrain per month at Rs 3 a kg.
Another commodity analyst said, "Since farm production depends upon monsoon, the Centre cannot afford to ignore such huge losses in post-harvest handling in times of poor rains, and also when it wishes to make a law making foodgrain supply to the poor binding upon it."
He also said though the government intends to make the storage system efficient through the Warehousing Act, it also needs to fill gaps in every step of post-harvest handling, including transporation, storage and processing facilities.
"Below-normal" monsoon in the country, especially in the north-eastern and north-western regions, has remained a matter of concern, with the sowing of major Kharif crops like paddy having taken a knock so far.
Food and agriculture minister Sharad Pawar had said in Parliament last week that paddy output may be dented this Kharif due to erratic monsoon.