The Centre has decided to set up steel silos or storages totalling 11 million tonnes (mt) that can help store rice for a longer period of 1-2 years and also avoid wastage of the cereal, without waiting for the result of a pilot project that is in the works.

“The Food Corporation of India (FCI) discussed this issue recently during a virtual conference and sent its proposals to the Food Ministry. At least 5 mt capacity to store rice will be set initially,” said Munishwar Vasudeva, Managing Director of Gurugram-based Lotus Harvestec Private Ltd.

Vasudeva, as a representative of the Association of Silo Developers and Operators, was part of a six-member expert committee that looked into the global practices in bulk storage and handling of rice and made its recommendations to the FCI, which wants to develop long-term modern rice silos.

First phase

These silos are likely to come across 13 States in 250 sites with each silo having a capacity of 5,000 tonnes. “In the first phase, 45-47 sites will be identified to put up the silos and the plans are likely to take off in December,” Vasudeva said.

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A FCI statement issued on the status of the silo construction earlier this month said the Corporation had been given a target to set up rice silos with 1.25 lakh tonnes (lt) capacity, while States have been set a target of 7.5 lt capacity.

Pilot project

The pilot project on rice silo is being executed by National Collateral Management Services Ltd (NMCL) at Kaimur and Buxar in Bihar. As per this, FCI is setting up joint wheat and rice silo complexes with a capacity of 50,000 tonnes.

Both Kaimur and Buxar sites will have three wheat steel tower silos with 12,500 tonnes capacity each and four rice silos each with 3,125 tonnes capacity.

At both these places, FCI will import wheat from other regions for distribution there, while rice will be procured locally and stored before being used in whichever way the corporation deems fit.

Revamping storages

Rice storage is not a new concept in India as many private players in North India have such silos for the long-grained Basmati rice, but it is the first time that the Centre has opted for such a storage.

“The government is pressing hard to revamp traditional warehouses to vertical from horizontal,” Vasudeva said.

Till now, FCI has constructed steel silos to totally store 5.5 lt of wheat, while the target is to have storages to store 10 mt of wheat on a build, own and operate basis under private-public partnerships. Of this, FCI will own 2.9 mt, States 6.85 mt and Central Warehousing Corporation, the rest.

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Silos for rice will have to be different from wheat as the foodgrain needs to be chilled since a higher storage temperature could lead to the grain breaking down.

Panel’s recommendations

The expert committee has recommended to the FCI to store milled rice since it is more efficient than storing paddy or par-boiled rice. It said Bangladesh was constructing flat bottom rice silos with the help of the World Bank. Vietnam also has such silos but problems related to chilling and aeration have been reported, it said.

The panel recommended flat bottom silos for FCI as its construction costs will be lower, while operations and maintenance will be easy. The cost of a flat bottom silo will be 1.4 times the expenses to put up a wheat silo. Rice silos will also need additional capital and operating costs for chilling the towers and providing for more space.

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Vasudeva, a consultant for the silos project in India as well as Bangladesh, said currently, foodgrain storage technology is gaining momentum with bag storage being converted to bulk storage of varying capacities. Combinations of bulk storage are being used to double the capacity without the need for any additional space.