Food security is an integral part of modern governing as it is the responsibility of any government to insulate its citizens from food scarcity at times of stressful situations. There are international norms recommended by FAO of United Nations and many countries follow this regimen for food security. Recent initiatives by the group of countries coming under South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to set up a Regional Food Bank, if materializes will be a wonderful model worth simulation by other countries of the world. It was at the recent 15th summit meeting of SAARC at Colombo, Sri Lanka that the member countries arrived at this epoch making decision unanimously. This move will benefit 1.5 billion people in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The Bank is conceived on the basis of contributions from these countries to a food pool varying in size from 180 tons to 1,53,200 tons aggregating to a total of 242560 tons. Each country will set apart its share over and above the national stocks and make it available to any country under the SAARC, at times of distress. The administrative HQ is expected to be in Dacca, Bangladesh for planning, monitoring and execution. Regional Food Bank is a part of the long term visionary program that will ensure food and nutritional security with cooperation within the region and other counties internationally. The joint projects envisage augmentation of food production, investing in agriculture and related industries, carrying out agricultural research and sharing of technologies. The Regional Food Bank will have dedicated new ware houses in member countries and programs of local procurement as well as international purchase of extra food grains if necessary.
At a macro level the program looks very attractive and timely. The political will of the nations concerned has been unequivocally established and the success of the program will depend on planning at the micro level. Though no time limit has been set up for translating the plan into concrete action at the ground level, it is expected to take considerable time to work out the logistics involved in such an inter country operation getting of the ground. It is not clear how the figure 2.43 lakh tons was arrived at for a population of 1.5 billion. Probably this quantity is hardly sufficient to meet the needs of a population of the size of 110 million for 10 days which could be adequate in times of emergency in a particular area but considering the history of this region vis-a-vis droughts, famines, floods etc a much larger target needs to be set. As a beginning this is a good effort that must be expanded further in future after gaining sufficient experience.
What is worrying is the mode of storage that is being considered for safe keeping of the grains for periods greater than one year. The bad experience of FCI in India, during eighties and nineties when infested grains were left in their god downs for public distribution must be kept in mind. Whether it is going to be bag storage or silo storage also needs in-depth consideration. From logistics view bag storage lends itself to easy handling and even small quantities can be transferred at short notice at least cost. Also important is the location of storage structures since it will have a bearing on the time taken to deliver the grains to the point of use under emergency conditions. The dynamics of management will be a great challenge as the stored grains must be rotated as frequently as possible to prevent spoilage. Cool and dry climates with minimum rains will be another added advantage for the location of the warehouses.
Since Dacca is slated to be the HQ of the proposed SAARC Regional Food Bank, there may not be any rush for bureaucrats to seek vantage positions in the organization and the fact that remunerations will not be on UN scales and Dacca is often considered a punishment posting station, providing another dampener. This leaves the field open to good technocrats, knowledgeable and experienced, to head this new venture and achieve the objectives with minimum hiccups.