Food industry in India is so widely scattered that except for a few large manufacturers, most others function under anonymity with least exposure to development organizations wishing to help them. Also true is the fact that majority of food industry is confined to the micro and small scale sector eking out a living through their low production base. Whether it is technology, finance or policy support they are the orphans of the food sector but still they survive just because of their extra ordinary sense of entrepreneurship, persistence and perseverance and limited ambition. On hand this may sound dismal but looking from a positive angle, this sector of industry provides the greatest potential for national economical growth provided there is a revisit on the part of the government regarding their precise needs and desirable ways they can be addressed.
Food industry in India is in an unfortunate situation as there is no agency in the country which can provide new entrepreneurs with the most critical input for organizing production, viz the technological means. Of course on paper there are several public funded technological organizations funded by the state and central governments including universities supposed to be doing R & D in food processing and allied activities but the ground reality is that not even a single such institution is of any use under the prevailing conditions, most of them unwilling to entertain small entrepreneurs for providing the critical requirement of process technology and project conception. It is a contradiction that the very industry these institutions want to court, viz the large scale manufacturers are least interested in buying any technology from them due to a number of reasons, least of which is the unreliability and lack of confidentiality so necessary in a competitive market place. Khadi and Village Industry Commission and its state Boards have become irrelevant long back after the shift of government priority from small industries to mega players, both domestic as well as international.
Assuming that an entrepreneur is able to access to the needed technology, the next important input is trained personnel and the most practical route is to pinch one of the experienced personnel from his competitor. To day's food technology training programs in the country are tuning out elites for the benefit of large industry where remuneration varies from Rs 20,000 to 50,000 for a food technologist coming out of the university with very little skill and resources needed to manage a processing unit. Of course those fully "trained" technologists are put through the production drill and skills are horned further by the employers. Can a small industry in food processing afford such graduates at such high costs? For argument sake it can be said that food related courses are now being offered in almost all universities with varying syllabus but having no facilities for real hands-on training that is so vital to inject the practical skills. There used to be some Industry Training Institutes where food technology courses were being offered conferring a diploma degree but it is not known whether these course are still an option for those aspiring to enter food industry.
It is not that government is not aware of the need for skilled people to work in various sectors because according Indian Government's own projections the country may need about 5 million such personnel to work on the shop floors of different industrial units. Probably this realization has persuaded the government to launch its much thought out Vocational Training Centers (VTP) under its Modular Employable Program (MES) scheme which has proved to be a popular skill upgrading tool. According to the web site of the Ministry of Labor and Employment there are about 7125 such VTP units spread across the country in more than 1400 skill categories. The budget provision which was a meager Rs 220 crore last year was increased to Rs 700 crore this year. Though many semi skilled workers undergoing the training do get jobs with out such training, with the certificate of training provided, their skill level is supposed to be upgraded, attracting better quality employment by the industry concerned.
In spite of all the draw backs associated with all government schemes, this particular one, VTP deserves full appreciation because it fulfills a need and increases the employability of those with no formal education or very little education. It is not known whether food processing is in the list of skills for which VTPs are in existence. Even if exists it might be relatively few in number and therefore government must consider including all vocations associated with handling and processing of foods. If the main stream food industry can be roped in for in-plant training facilities for these skill upgraded personnel there is nothing like that! Small scale food processing units in this country, millions in number, will be ever grateful for such a change in the existing MES program.