R. Ramabhadran Pillai

Quality of wheat matters in trading

KOCHI: The Food Corporation of India (FCI) authorities in Kochi have been expecting the arrival of four ships from Australia carrying 1.2 lakh metric tonnes of wheat since April this year. This was Kerala's share of the wheat that was to be imported for the South Indian States under an agreement between Indian authorities with the Australian Wheat Board. None of the ships have reached Kochi yet. The delay in arrival of the consignments has apparently not produced any serious problem immediately, but the dwindling stock position may pose problems in future if the situation prevails.

In fact, the quantity of wheat coming to Kerala has dwindled over the past 12 months, according to sources at the FCI godown in Kochi. Only 80 wagons arrive in a month in Kochi in contrast to 200 or more wagons that used to arrive here every month last year, according to sources.

The FCI's Kochi wing has a stock of 2,200 metric tonnes of wheat now and this is expected to be sufficient for distribution to its clients for the next two months, FCI sources said.

The reduced arrival of wheat from north India owing to a drop in the harvest had compelled the Government to import wheat. If the arrival of wheat from abroad is delayed indefinitely, it may hamper the distribution network in the coming months.

The Australian company had faced trouble over quality of the wheat that was unloaded at Chennai earlier this year, according to FCI sources. The delay in the arrival of consignment to Kochi is apparently an offshoot of the problem that the company had faced in Chennai, sources said.

Steps to ensure quality control are being taken at FCI depots. Only those consignments certified by the quality control authorities are unloaded. The negative results received at the Chennai inspection could have been due to faulty inspection procedures, sources said. The consignment is usually fumigated in the container using a chemical compound used internationally and the sample for testing is taken after a few hours of opening of the container. If the sample is taken earlier, it may contain traces of the chemical, thus giving wrong leads.

Interestingly, while the wheat stocks are diminishing in Southern States, the Punjab State Cooperative Supply and Marketing Federation Limited (Markfed Punjab) had floated tenders earlier this month for sale of a huge quantity of damaged wheat. The offer was for sale of 58,159.2 MT. The grain was categorised as material for feed, manure and industrial use. There was also a stipulation that the purchaser should give an undertaking that the wheat will not be recycled for human consumption.

It was only the other day that the Union Government had given permission to import wheat duty-free by private parties. Earlier, wheat was being imported at 50 per cent duty while State Trading Corporation was given permission to import wheat up to 35 lakh tonnes duty-free for public distribution system, according to sources. Notably, it had been reported that two consignments of wheat exported by India were rejected by Iraq in 2001 on grounds of bad quality. Later, it was reportedly sold at a lower price to a buyer in Dubai.