Friday, November 9, 2012


If seminars, workshops, conferences, meetings etc can trigger industrial development, India should have been a top industrialized nation long ago. Every stake holder in food industry development needs to take take brunt of the blame for the present condition of Indian food industry which is more or less monopolized by a few giants with very little elbow room available to the country's unorganized processing sector. During the last 6 decades India must have seen at least 20-25000 seminars and similar types of meetings and gatherings spending millions of rupees and wasting millions of man days. The result is pathetic to see. While Indian banks are flush with money, availability of the same to cottage scale and small scale industries is often constrained by the unwillingness of these financial institutions, most of the being part of Government of India, to take reasonable risks in advancing money to the them. Banks seem to be more enamored by the glitter and reputation of big players for whom money is readily available!

Recent public events organized by the apex business body in India, Federation of Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) under the banner  Food 360 Degrees, whatever it may mean, is an illuminating example of the mindset in India where holding such events is mistaken for real ground level action. While lot of pains are taken to organize such gatherings with exalted objectives, what is missing is the follow up action on what has been decided at these meetings. According to FICCI, the Food 360 Degree initiative it has taken, is intended to take food industry development to rural areas and interestingly the latest event was organized in Hyderabad, no rural area by any stretch of imagination! Interestingly FICCI claims that "a number of farmers and other stakeholders representing food processing industry" participated in the program though what benefits farmers can derive from such a gathering is not clear. FICCI wants to organize such events in a "toned down" version in 10-12 other places. At best these gatherings, invariably held in 5-star hotels, are nothing but social networking with very little impact on industrial development.

Who does the FICCI represent? How many small industries are part of its system? While there are specialized food industry organizations like All India Food Processors Association or others representing sectors like baked foods, flour mills, fish processing, meat processing etc what can FICCI contribute to the development of food industry? This is not to question the bonafides of this body in organizing such get-together but what needs to be realized is such exercises can have only limited impact at the ground level. Ideally there should be a holistic linkage between the unorganized and small industries and the big players to transfer knowledge and support marketing of products made by the former though it is doubtful whether such a thing will ever happen in India.

It is true that any food industry development in India must take into consideration the inescapable fact that the raw materials or the feed stock for processing industry are generated in the vast hinterland  of the country or the villages which happen to be living place for more than 70% of the country's population. The fact that the food needs of more than 350 million people residing in urbanized regions of the country like towns and cities are to be supplied from agricultural areas cannot be ignored. Naturally the food industry development has to take place in these rural hinterland and not in Hyderabad, Mumbai or Kolkatta. A body like FICCI has very limited role to play in such a scenario with major burden to be borne by governments in the states and at the Center.

Who must bear the responsibility for the gross negligence of rural areas while formulating the food industry development policy? As industry is supposed to be a state subject under the Indian constitution, the primary responsibility does fall on the states but it is also necessary that such developments must be coordinated under a national food industry policy. The Ministry of Food Processing Industry (MFPI) in Delhi is vested with the responsibility to help the states to promote food industry and this ministry has come up with a few funding schemes for disbursement to entrepreneurs or to existing industries to grow further, though how far these financial schemes have served the purpose is a debatable point. MFPI's initiative to set up the brand new food technology research cum management institute under the banner NIFTEM which was recently inaugurated is another issue that can be very controversial. If past experience is any indication NIFTEM also will go the way CFTRI has gone, if the cause for failure of the latter is not properly diagnosed.

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