The damage, counter to what agriculture officers claim, is around one percent

FCB: Despite storing food in warehouses that were built decades ago, and contrary to what agriculture officials said, food loss due to storage issues is insignificant, according to Food Corporation of Bhutan (FCB) officials.

For instance, FCB officials said, of the total 1,991.70 metric tonnes (MT) of food purchased last year, loss due to storage was one percent, which is 19.917MT. “The causes of loss are handling, storage and transportation,” an FCB official said.

All food commodities, FCB officials said, are susceptible to quality deterioration during handling and storage.  Food cereals are susceptible to infestation and damage by various storage pests.  Some food commodities have short shelf life and, if storage conditions are not appropriate, they are prone to fungal infestation.

“Prolonged storage of cereals and other processed foods also undergo chemical changes, like rancidity, and become unfit for human consumption,” officials said.

What the corporation lacks are modern storage facilities to prevent food commodities from being exposed to high temperature, humidity and high moisture.

The oldest warehouses could be roughly 35-38 years old. “The storage facilities are good enough, even if the structures are old; but they need to be improved,”FCB’s quality control officer, Dinesh Subba, said.

FCB has 22 depots across the country, ranging from limited to sufficient storage capacity, with a total capacity of 15,763MT.  The warehouse in-charges, according to FCB officials, are also well trained.

During a recent climate change conference in Thimphu, agriculture officials had said that the country’s food storage facilities needed fixing, since most of FCB storage facilities are old, causing a large portion of food loss during storage.

“But the country doesn’t have storage facilities for other food crops or of small capacities,” agriculture department’s deputy chief, Tenzin Drugyel, had said last week at the conference. “Or even if they’re being built, they’re small.”

Although not immediately, FCB officials said, they would construct more warehouses, since the corporation had begun supplying non-perishable food items as part of the central procurement system in schools. “We’re planning to build scientific storage facilities when we start construction of additional warehouses in future,” Dinesh Subba said.

By 2018, until WFP completely phases out, FCB will be supplying food supplies to schools across the country.  As of this academic session, officials said they have to cover 109 schools and expect about 5,000 to 6,000 students more under the feeding programme annually.

Besides the required items that FCB retail outlets are mandated to sell at a comparatively lower price, the corporation also maintains the national emergency food reserve and SAARC food reserve.

FCB officials said, as national emergency food security reserves, they maintain 1,400MT of rice, 200MT of sugar and 58MT of vegetable oil in strategically located depots.  For the SAARC food reserve, FCB maintains about 1,600MT of rice.

Emergency food reserves are stored in warehouses in Trongsa, Mongar, Samdrupjongkhar, Phuentsholing,  Khangma and Trashigang that has a storage capacity of about 300 to 400MT.  The SAARC food reserve is spread across FCB warehouses located in Phuentsholing, Samdrupjongkhar and Gelephu.

By Kinga Dema, Phuentsholing