Food worth $6.8 bn rots in India each year: minister

NEW DELHI - Food grains, fruits and vegetables worth $6.8 billion go to waste every year in India because of inadequate storage facilities, a minister said on Friday.

Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar said the country's storage requirement was 61.3 million tonnes against the current capacity of around 29 million tonnes, citing a report commissioned last year.

"The present gap is around 32 million tonnes," he said in the upper house of the parliament, according to the Press Trust of India news agency.

The total wastage of cereals, fruits and vegetables would add up to 440 billion rupees ($6.8 billion) a year, the minister said.

Pawar said the government had initiated various steps to encourage the creation of new storage capacity, which is in focus as the ruling Congress party rolls out a massive new food programme to feed the poor.

The Food Security law, which the government is attempting to steer through parliament, will offer subsidised grains to nearly 70 per cent of the population, or more than 800 million people.

Nearly two-thirds of India's 1.2 billion population still depends on agriculture for their livelihood and the government is the country's biggest purchaser of produce through its centralised procurement system.

Food grain production during the agricultural year 2012-13 is estimated to have touched a record 255.4 million tonnes but analysts say the government does not have the warehousing facilities to store the produce.

Despite two decades of fast economic growth, India still struggles with endemic malnutrition which affects more than 40 per cent of children, prompting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to describe it as a "national shame".

Cold storage facilities, or refrigerated warehouses, are particularly lacking in India.

Pawar said foreign investment in India's retail sector would help in developing back-end cold storage infrastructure in the country.

Singh's government allowed foreign supermarkets to establish 51-per cent joint ventures in the country in September last year, and this month rules were relaxed further to encourage investment.