Friday, September 19, 2008


When more than two people meet there has to be a subject for conversation and the duration of such meetings will depend on the level of communication skill and knowledge each commands. When the number becomes more than two there has to be a structured agenda for discussion to prevent unproductive pronouncements and cross purpose talks. The need for such structured meetings has evolved into group meetings when people in hundreds or thousands can meet and interact in an orderly manner with a focused agenda and target. While seminars and workshops are mostly on technical, economic or social subjects, conferences and conventions are more or less confined to formal meetings by bureaucratic and political class respectively. Of course there are not hard and fast rules on this segmentation and any organization can have any of the above modus operandi to conduct their meetings.

The proposed IFCON 2008 scheduled to be organized by the Mysore based food professional body, AFST(I) was originally started as a conference in 1984 at B'lore but got branded as a convention for reasons which are not very clear though it does not make much difference either way. The only issue is whether the seriousness of this technical event is some what diluted by its transition from conference to convention mode. IFCONs of AFST(I) have become more an occasion for social mixing rather than any technical accomplishments as no records are published about the proceedings and no serious follow up of the recommendations is evident in the recent past. The fact that it is continued to be ignored by the policy makers is evident from lack of sizable financial, logistical or moral support from the governments or the food industry, probably knowing fully well that nothing worth while is going to be achieved by the 3-5 days extravaganza. More over the tendency to organize IFCONs at Mysore which is not easily accessible is a constraint for many industry captains to partake in such a technical gathering where, at least theoretically, cream of the food scientists, technologists and nutrition experts world over are sought to be brought together. 

AFST(I), established more than 50 years ago, with more than 2000 active members on their roll, has not been able to realize its full potential as reflected by its almost total isolation from the mainstream food industry activities and invariably eclipsed by self seeking, power wielding technocratic bureaucrats, with an agenda of their own ignoring the broader interest of the Association in promoting the subject. Though a Banyan tree can provide shade at the initial stage, it will not allow any thing to grow beyond a certain level and AFST(I) is no exception suffering from such a syndrome in its present 'avatar'. The identity crisis facing this organization is so serious that the collective strength offered by it through its innumerable and diversified experts is not duly recognized by the industry or the Governments or the consumers. If India does not have a place in the comity of nations excelling in food technology, a significant share of the blame goes to this atrophied organization which was not able to make its voice heard or presence felt within the country, let alone internationally. Probably this may be the reason why IFCONs have become largely gatherings for University students and academia with least technical content and practically zero impact.
The explosive development of Internet communication mode makes it possible to access to any information on any subject within a few seconds by tapping the key board and obviously information dissemination does not need to be through conventions and seminars. But IFCONs do serve a purpose of social networking where old friendship is renewed and new ones are forged and technical platform certainly provides justification for participation. If they are to be powerful tools of transformation in the food landscape of the country, much more serious efforts are called for and peers and stalwarts in the field will have to take more interest to raise the credibility of this technical body. AFST(I) has to emulate the yeomen achievements of another technical body viz Institution of Engineers which has its presence in all parts of the country, attracting and energizing local talents. As a strong and technically powerful body, AFST(I) must be heard and listened to by governments, industry and the consumers for the good of the country. They have a blue print and all it needs is vision, dynamism and hard work for which people with impeccable track records will have to take the lead. God bless AFST(I).   

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