Flat bulk storage (FBS) can be a good option for the Indian government, particularly the Ministry of Cooperation which has embarked on setting up 70 million tonnes foodgrain storage, an expert in post-harvest management and foodgrain handling has said. 

In February this year, the Ministry of Cooperation said the Centre has approved the “World’s Largest Grain Storage Plan in the Cooperative Sector”, which has been rolled out as a Pilot Project in different States/UTs of the country.

“Further, an MoU has been signed between the Ministry of Cooperation, Department of Food and Public Distribution, Food Corporation of India  (FCI) and National Cooperative Development Corporation  to ensure full capacity utilisation of the storage capacity being created at primary agricultural cooperative society (PACS) level under the pilot project,” it said.  

Munishwar Vasudeva, the expert and managing director of Lotus Harvestec Pvt Ltd, told businessline that FBS has the versatility of multi commodity storage and is a solution for backward and forward integration. 

According to him, the Ministry of Cooperation is investing in warehouses in all producing areas across the country and FCI will conceptualise them as industrial silos on a hub and spoke basis, where producing and consuming States are clearly defined. 

The setting of these warehouses is crucial since it will help farmers to get “warehouse receipts” that can help them to avail of loans instead of selling their produce under financial stress. 

 “The capital expenditure for FBS is the same as warehouse but an additional 25 per cent is required for equipment. However, 80 per cent more capacity utilisation will offset the additional cost,” he said.

Vasudeva, who worked with Adani Logistics to set up a few silos across the country, said 170-180 million tonnes of foodgrain is handled and stored at the farm level. Gunny bags are used by 40-42 per cent of the farmers, while 15-20 per cent use bulk storage in rooms without proper modern scientific interventions. Another 10-15 per cent use metallic bins and the remaining  grains are stored in traditional structures made up of local materials. 

These storages depend on manual handling with recurring costs for procurement and distribution of bags. Automation of these is difficult, while grains stored in bags lose quality and weight too. Aeration and fumigation are improved, while operations are inefficient due to lack of automation, he said. 

The national policy should be to reduce storage and transit losses at the farm level, where about 70 per cent of the foodgrains production is retained and consumed. It should encourage farmers to adopt scientific storage methods.

The Centre could opt for integration of modernised mechanical handling systems through FBS. This will help ease fumigation and have modular compartments to store multiple commodities. It can help in short and long term storage and roofs with solar panels can make operations self-sustainable.

The projects can be implemented quickly, while capacity utilisation will be higher with more flexibility in storage use, said Vasudeva,  who has executed various green field and brown field storage projects.

FBS provides the option of increasing the capacity of existing godowns by 40-60 per cent. The Centre could look at alternative designs of such storages, said the expert, who  worked as a silo design specialist with the Bangladesh government.