New Delhi: As the largest producer of milk and the second largest producer of fruits and vegetables, India has the potential to become the world’s food factory, minister for food processing Harsimrat Kaur Badal said on Thursday, urging the industry to partner with farmers to bring in the latest technology and innovation. Addressing a session on food processing at the India Economic Summit, Badal said that a push to food processing can mitigate farm distress while helping feed India’s billion-plus population.
“Food processing is a sector that has the ability to address a lot of key issues facing our nation today—be it farmer distress, be it wastage… this sector happens to be one of the greatest job generators as well,” she said.
“You need industry to partner with the farmer. Most of the farmers are small and marginal; they don’t have the means to try out new things that will work. What’s important is for this industry (food processing) to flourish because the raw material of this industry is the farmer’s produce,” Badal said.
She said programmes like the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Sampada Yojana would create Rs6,000 crore worth of infrastructure in the next three years. This in turn would “leverage investment worth Rs31,000 crore, which would result in processing of 334 tonnes of agricultural commodities. This would benefit 500,000 farmers”, she said.
Badal admitted that agri-processing was still at a nascent stage, growing at 10% per annum as it is capital-intensive and dependent on seasonal produce. The lack of cold chain grids was another factor affecting food processing, she said.
Data from the agriculture ministry shows that India is the world’s largest producer of milk, contributing about a fifth of global output. Milk production is estimated by the government to grow from 155.5 million tonnes in 2015-16 to 200 million tonnes by 2019-20.
In 2016-17, production of fruits and vegetables is estimated at a record 300 million tonnes, surpassing foodgrain output (estimated at a record 276 million tonnes) for the fifth straight year. However, India’s horticulture sector is marred by frequent price dips and farmers are often forced to dump their tomatoes, potatoes and onions by the roadside. This implies they need better access to markets and infrastructure facilities like warehouses and cold storage—or a functional and an affordable cold chain network—to help them better manage price risks and avoid distress sales.
Further, a government-commissioned study by the Central Institute of Post-Harvest Engineering and Technology (CIPHET), Ludhiana, in 2015 estimated post-harvest losses at a staggering Rs 92,651 crore annually. The study estimated between 5-10% post-harvest losses for grains and oilseeds and 5-16% losses in perishables fruits and vegetables.