Warehousing is a great idea, but the linkages are missing
RN Bhaskar — 1 February 2020
India has an estimated capacity of 162 million MT of agri-warehousing, cold storage, reefer van facilities etc. NABARD will undertake an exercise to map and geo‐tag them. In addition, we propose creating warehousing, in line with Warehouse Development and Regulatory Authority (WDRA) norms. Our government will provide Viability Gap Funding for setting up such efficient warehouses at the block/taluk level.
This can be achieved, where States can facilitate with land and are on a PPP mode. Food Corporation of India (FCI) and Central Warehousing Corporation (CWC) shall undertake such warehouse building on their land too.
As a backward linkage, a Village Storage scheme is proposed to be run by the SHGs. This will provide farmers a good holding capacity and reduce their logistics cost. Women, SHGs shall regain their position as “Dhaanya Lakshmi”.
Nirmala Sitharaman in her Budget 2020 speech
Warehousing is a great idea. So is the issue of building warehouses as provided for under the WDRA (Warehousing Development and Regulation Act). More about this can be found at (http://www.moneycontrol.com/news/business/economy/the-ghostly-organisation-that-should-have-transformed-indias-food-warehouses-2352429.html). The WDRA was enacted in 2007. Then it was forgotten. It got notified only on October 25, 2010 (http://www.asiaconverge.com/2010/12/warehousing-act-farm-game-changer/). Since then it has been largely dysfunctional. Is this being resurrected now?
Second, one problem with warehouses is that they come under the WDRA, the state governments and even talukas at the village level. The government has not yet created laws that allow the WDRA certification to override clearances by local authorities.
Third, the government has not yet come up with a scheme that would make warehousing at village levels a remunerative proposition for private investors.
Fourth, most of the warehouses are used for storing (abundant) rice and wheat procured by the Food Corporation of India and state government procurement agencies. There is little warehousing space available for other grains like pulses, bajra, jowar, methi and other millets. Unless the procurement targets of the FCI for rice and wheat are reduced, storing these grains will not happen.
Warehousing makes sense if the FCI or some other body steps in to procure grain (other than rice and wheat) at minimum support prices (MSPs). Announcing an MSP without procurement makes the MSP a joke. Nobody observes it. A proposal to this effect was sent to the government by both NCDEX and MCX some time ago. Nothing has been done as yet (https://www.moneycontrol.com/news/economy/policy/comment-farms-destroy-value-not-because-of-farmers-but-because-of-the-government-2521885.html).
Sixth, using SHGs to develop warehousing space is a great idea. But agriculture works on two presumptions. Most important, it needs some market price protection mechanism. NDDB does this for milk – thanks to Dr. Verghese Kurien. There is no such mechanism for grains other than rice and wheat – benefitting the pampered and politically savvy crop growers. Remember how pulses imports a few years ago, hurt farmers badly (http://www.asiaconverge.com/2017/05/how-pulses-imports-drove-domestic-growers-to-the-ground/)? Moreover, there is to be some procurement agency – either the commodity exchange or a government agency. These need to be included as well. There is also the issue of crop insurance should the grain get eaten by pests or get destroyed by the elements. This too has not been worked on.
To sum up – a great idea. But a lot more homework needs to be done.