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Thursday, October 21, 2021
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Making India a food’s factory

Even as the country’s farmers toil to keep pace with a burgdeoning population, a lot of their produce ends up in the waste basket, literally, due to lack of food processing facilities. Aware of the problems, Harsimrat Kaur Badal, Minister of State for Food Processing, tells Smart AgriPost how she intends to make India the world’s processed foods centre

What is your action plan for the Food Processing Industry?

We are aware that India’s growth story cannot be written without a chapter on Food Processing in it. To this end, the government has decided to promote and build infrastructure, under PPP mode, throughout the country. We believe that the farmer and his family could further be engaged in food processing apart from farming and proper value addition of his produce could take place. When farming becomes mechanised, farmers are given adequate credits and world’s best practices and standards are followed to ensure massive agricultural production and our farmers do food processing.

Currently, only 2 per cent of fruits and vegetables are being processed. How do intend to increase that?

India faces shortage of adequate processing and cold chain infrastructure. The government is focusing on turning it around by bringing building of Mega Food Parks and Cold Chains under PPP sector.

A lengthy supply chain provides opportunity to middlemen to take undue advantage and also causes huge wastage. Lack of focused supply chains makes farmers realise lower prices of their produce and results in processors buying fruits and vegetables at exorbitant prices. These are other major challenges that government is trying to overcome.

How do you intend to promote the food processing industry?

For promotion and development of food processing sector in the country, the Ministry of Food Processing Industries is implementing various Central Sector Schemes, namely (i) Scheme for Infrastructure Development for Food Processing having components of Mega Food Park, Integrated Cold Chain, Value Addition and Preservation Infrastructure and Modernisation of Abattoirs, (ii) Scheme of Technology Up-gradation/ Establishment / Modernisation of food Processing Industries, (iii) Scheme for Quality Assurance, Codex Standards, Research & Development and other promotional activities, (iv) Scheme for Human Resource Development and (v) Scheme of Strengthening of Institutions.

Centrally Sponsored Schemes are also being implemented through State Governments, such as the ‘National Mission on Food Processing (NMFP).

What is the reason for the slow pace of Mega Food Park programme?

The main reasons are attributable to the promoters willingness, delay in grant of various statutory clearances and approvals by the state governments causing slow kick start of Mega Food Parks.  But having addressed these issues, we are witnessing a sea change in the pace of progress.

The Government has made available a captive fund of Rs.2000 crore to provide credit through NABARD, at affordable interest rates, for setting up food processing units in Mega Food Parks.

How are you planning to improve post harvest management to minimise food wastage?

We would like to build an environment of Zero Tolerance towards post harvest losses in the country. Our Government is aiming to build a National Cold Chain Grid in the country linking all food processing hubs in the country.

We conducted a nation-wide study on quantitative assessment of harvest and post harvest loss for 46 agricultural produces in 106 randomly selected districts, and it was revealed that the wastage of agricultural produce is ranging from 4.58 percent to 15.88 per cent in various crops. The harvest and post harvest losses at national level are estimated at Rs.92651 crore.

Presently, the cold chain gap is around 29 million MT.  Under PPP, we have supported creation of cold chain infrastructure capacity of 2.95 lakh MT of Cold Storage/CA Deep Freezer, 93.80 lakh litres per day of milk processing, 74.53 MT/hour of Individual Quick Freeze (IQF) and 438 Reefer Transport.  We have sanctioned 30 cold chain projects recently to add capacity.

Do you feel the FSSAI is being overzealous in its approach to food safety?

FSSAI is a body created by an Act of Parliament to lay down science based standards to regulate manufacturing, storage, distribution, sale and import of food to ensure availability of safe and wholesome food for consumers.

At no cost, can the government afford to let the food regulator build fear psychosis in the minds of food processing industry. But, at the same time, the government cannot allow food manufacturers or food adulterators to walk free after indulging in activities as heinous as food adulteration. This government has the will to strike a balance between the two.

Industry and Importers have raised their concerns. But, the genuine concerns of the food regulator shall also have to be complied with.

Clear, transparent and mandatory protocols comparable with the international standards are being framed so that seamless approvals could be granted without delay and without compromising on food safety and standards.

 

How do you intend to speed up the process of product approval?

Product approvals process generally used to take lot of time in FSSAI that caused delays in launching new products and affected innovation. We are building a robust system to ensure food safety and standards and therefore FSSAI has uploaded the Draft ‘Food Safety and Standards’ Regulations on their website for harmonisation of standards for food additives for use in certain food categories. Public comments are being sought and after consultations, the regulations shall be made final. This would ensure that food processing units and consumers do not suffer.

Do you feel the industry will benefit if the FSSAI is brought under the Food Processing Ministry, from the Health Ministry?

F.S.S.A.I. is a body that is mandated under FSS Act brought in year 2006. Mandate of the Act is to regulate food items ensuring safe unadulterated food for the consumers. FSSAI is an autonomous body and has sufficient autonomy in doing the work mandated by the act.

What steps should be taken to make India the food basket of the world?

We are the largest producer of food and have the potential to increase our production at least five times.  Our focus is on compressing supply chains and to make them consistent, quicker and efficient for supply of farm produce available for food processing. We are focusing on creating Infrastructure to link the farmer to the consumer seamlessly and creating a Cold Chain Grid in the entire country.

We have created an Investors Portal which can be accessed by the potential investors and their queries could be addressed.  We have put in place a Food Map of India so that one can know availability of various foods items in the country.

India’s export of food products is less than half percent of the world food export. What are you doing to encourage exports?

India’s export of manufactured food products and beverages (MFPBs) as defined by the World Bank is 2.5% of world’s MFP exports. Indian MFP exports are also just 10% of GDP generated in the MFP sector of the economy. The government is implementing a number of schemes to accelerate growth of exports.

How are you rationalising import of processed food into India?

If our middle class is growing leaps and bounds and they wish to afford quality products or labelled products imported from world over, till the time we produce them, we need to allow them to do it.  For example, our children wish to eat sugar candies and chocolates and majority of them are being imported. We have the most fertile land in India and we have potential to grow more food. We have the most laborious farmers but why aren’t we producing enough cakes, pastries, biscuits, chocolates, sugar candies, wafers items which are  being imported from world over and our import bill is rising. India is already a tried and tested market of foreign food products. I think foreign firms have an excellent opportunity to set up their food processing units in India instead of exporting them to India. We need fortified products and India has immense potential to grow and manufacture organic products.

What is your view on the demand for single window clearance for food processing industry?

Most state governments in India have already launched Single Window Clearance system in their states and proposals are cleared from all departments within a stipulated time frame ranging between days to a month.  At the central government level also, we have set up a Single Window Clearance mechanism in coordination with various state governments.