While India is a top producer of several farm products, it still lags behind its neighbours such as Thailand and Vietnam in the area of food processing.
A new multi-sector skill development programme aims to ramp up the country's food processing industry in a healthy and profitable manner. Sunil Marwah, CEO, Food Industry Capacity & Skill Initiative (FICSI), tells Lola Nayar how the objective is not only to provide healthy processed food options, but also create jobs and reduce food wastage.
Q: How much of the food produced in India is actually processed?
A: If we look at sales, processed food accounts for almost 12%, but if you look at the potential for food processing right now, only 30% of food is getting processed in India. People have a habit of buying fresh produce, and in the process lot of food gets wasted. In the dairy sector, thanks to the Amul experiment, around 30 per cent of the milk produced in the country gets processed. In the case of horticulture crops – vegetables and fruits, hardly 8-10 percent is being processed. Vegetable processing is much lower than fruits. While food processing has increased over the years, it is still estimated that about 20-25% of fruits and vegetables produced in the country don’t actually reach the table, but gets lost in storage, logistics and other reasons. While India is a top producer of many farm products, we don’t rank amongst top countries in terms of food processing. Even countries like Thailand and Vietnam rank higher as they are processing almost 60%-70% of their farm produce.
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Q. How is your organization proposing to help boost the food processing enterprises in the country?
A. Our processes are aligned with objectives of the government. It is part of the Skill India Initiative, which has been promoted by the National Skill Development Corporation and FICCI. We are committed to basically creating trained manpower and entrepreneurs, who can work with the food processing industry. We are providing the basic training to create trained workforce for food processing, create entrepreneurs who can set up food processing units and also upscaling skills of people already working in these units. The upskilling target is huge as while almost 15-17 lakh people in the organized sector are getting some kind of HR support, in the unorganized sector there are almost 30-35 lakh people who could benefit from upskilling. Most of these people are engaged in small and micro enterprises which lack resources for upskilling.
We are focusing on creating "fresh" manpower at our Training Centers. For small enterprises, we are focusing on food safety and hygiene as important upskilling areas in collaboration with the food regulator FSSAI using the official curriculum developed by it. In the last one year of our collaboration, we have skilled and given certification to about 30,000 people, basically those working in halwai establishments and small bakeries.
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Q: What is the duration of these courses?
A: The upskilling courses are only of eight hours duration but for people fresh in this field we offer 240 hours courses stretched over three months. These include theory plus hands-on
Q: Given the government emphasis on improving the nutrition content in processed food, how are you handling this challenge? Also, what is the industry response to it?
A: The industry, particularly large-scale industry’s response to demand for low fat/low salt/ low sugar requirements is improving, Now you have chips available that have lower salt content and the label claims are more transparent about nutrition values. But as this aspect is directly being looked after by the regulator, we have not taken it up as part of skilling courses for large industries. However, we are taking this up as part of food safety and hygiene courses for small enterprises, including self-help groups and village enterprises, who need guidance on selection of right ingredients to be used including the right kind of oil.
Q: What is the estimated size of the informal sector?
A: In terms of employment, the informal sector accounts for almost 60 %, but if you look at the output, it is about 40%. These units are engaged in several activities right from milling and processing of staple foods (cereals and dals), to making savouries like pappads, pickles and jams, etc. Savouries production is an important component of the rural palette. Then there are products made out of surplus milk. Though alot of food processing work is being done in the informal sector, it is not as organized as we would like it to be. Lot of local players have started coming up with the products based on the milk goods they procure locally. So, these are distinct areas where we are getting engaged as a large number of people are employed in these enterprises.
We feel we have an important role to play in the rural and semi-urban enterprises, more so as local tastes vary every 40-50 kilometres. The Indian palate is not uniform as it changes with
geography and culture. We like to go deeper into regional variations in food to help small enterprises cater to different clients, and this could help local players who cannot be substituted by multinationals. Even multinationals strive to cater to local demands whether in burgers or pizzas. Therefore, localization is very important.
Local bakeries are also of keen interest to us as in many places the branded bread does not reach. As bread is the cheapest source of carbohydrate, we are focusing on food safety and hygiene. We have plans to launch a month-long program in August to help people in urban and small towns to set up their own bakery activity at home and cater to local markets. To support them, we are trying to give them market connect, and strive for product innovation. This will help more people to generate some incomes.We are also working with the retail sector dealing with fresh produce to help train their staff through short informative courses to help them reduce wastage through better handling of farm products.