Sunday, August 3, 2008


Food technologists have a pivotal role to play in running the food processing industry, though their role is invariably usurped by generalist managers under the guise of better management and productivity. It is least realized that the products made by the industry make a mark in the market because of their creation, and development of quality and safety credentials by the food technologists through sustained inputs of technical efforts. Of course the role of marketing managers in promoting and establishing the brand values cannot be under estimated. A team effort with every one pulling the punches is what distinguishes a great brand from a mediocre one in the long run. Looking at the Indian Food Industry, there does exist a dichotomy where for most of the government positions bureaucrats are preferred, sidelining knowledge based technical personnel while the private sector leans more heavily on the latter for many of their technical activities. It is intriguing how a person having no knowledge about any aspects of food is put in charge of an 'Authority' vested with the responsibility of overseeing the quality and safety of foods as it is happening in India. What credibility consumers will place on a system that does not deploy responsible and knowledgeable persons to run the food quality and safety regime of the country?

Another worrisome aspect is about the make up of the current personnel pool, available to the industry for employment. The three main institutions that pioneered food technology training prior to fifties viz UICT, Mumbai, HBTI, Kanpur and Jadavpur University, Kolkatta had the mandate to offer manpower to help the then nascent food industry to develop into a viable entity in the landscape of the country. While their early efforts are to be lauded, subsequent efforts in planning a long term manpower policy at the national level were not serious with the result that there are umpteen number of universities offering food related courses without keeping in mind the relevance of their graduates to the needs of the industry with a few exceptions. Even the new fancy institute with the acronym of NIFTEM being created by the central government is intended to serve a small segment of the industry, the high flying super players like Pepsi co, Coca Cola, Kellogg, etc.

What about the small scale and micro enterprise sectors? Is there any one out there listening to their woes? Can they compete with the large industry in attracting good talents? Can they afford to pay the sky rocketing salaries being offered by the big fishes? Do they need personnel so highly qualified to manage their technical operations? Several years ago in one of the seminars on HRD at Jadavpur University, this issue was focused but very little seemed to have happened since then giving one the impression that small and micro industries do not have the ears of those at the helm of affairs in the country.Is this situation good for the country as a whole, especially with a notoriously slack system of safety monitoring as it exists to day?

Probably a serious introspection is necessary to avoid past negligence and lethargy on the part of the industry as well as the government to evolve a training regime that suits the requirements of this neglected sector. The situation has worsened after the opening of the economy in early nineties due to a paranoid focus on large industries and foreign investments in food sector. It is forgotten that more than 50% of production of many processed foods originate amongst small and micro enterprises spawning the country and we can ignore them only at our own peril. Quality and safety measures if to be implemented will call for investments and with the enforcement regime bound to become more and more demanding due to increasing pace of globalization, critical technical manpower induction at lower levels of the industry cannot be delayed further.

One of the constructive suggestions was to expand the technical education to focus on matriculates who can be trained in 2-3 years into useful technicians capable of handling many operations which to day are being managed by over-qualified food technologists. Of course such a revolutionary plan will need considerable planning and investment which government or industry associations can think of. The model of flour milling school at Mysore, set up specifically to meet their needs of that industry, serves to illustrate the point. The technically qualified people coming out of such institutions will be satisfied with a fraction of the compensation package being commanded by graduate and post-graduate food technologists coming from recognized institutions and universities. Lower rungs of food industry will ever be grateful to the country if such an initiative is taken up in earnest and eventually bears fruit.


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