Food processing industry is being promoted mainly to conserve the food and create more value addition to the agricultural and livestock resources contributing to the GDP of the countries concerned. But it is also being touted as the best employer for the investment incurred in countries like India. Setting up rural food industries is supposed to solve the large scale rural unemployment supposed to be rampant in the country side. What is forgotten is that agriculture is the major avocation of rural folks and if this sector is promoted and protected by raising the productivity and improving the infrastructure, any new industry set up in these regions will find it difficult to attract people for employment. Of course primary processing may still be attractive so that large scale centralized processing units can use such semi-processed products as input materials for the manufacture of value added products. In India food processing was always promoted for its "supposed" potential for generating employment and this "tune" has not changed in spite of the technological "wind" that is blowing across the world making human intervention in food processing more or less redundant.
"Investment in the food processing sector in India can generate a higher rate of employment than in any other sector, Food Processing Industries Minister Subodh Kant Sahai said Friday. 'The government of India has recognised the food processing sector as one of the thrust areas, as its growth will not only increase the level of processing and reduce wastage, but also generate employment opportunities and provide long-term economic sustainability to the farmers,' Sahai said, addressing an entrepreneurs' meet organised by the ministry here. The food processing industry employs an estimated 1.6 million workers - a fifth of the country's industrial labour force and accounts for 14 percent of the total industrial output. He called for increased investment in the sector. He said with a population base of 1.08 billion and yearly population growth of around 1.6 percent, India offered a huge and growing market for food products. 'The 350 million urban middle class, with its growing purchasing power and evolving food habits, presents a thriving market,' Sahai said. Stating that processing levels of agricultural and allied commodities in India is 6-8 percent compared to processing levels of 70-80 percent in developed countries, he made a strong pitch for technology upgradation in the sector. There is a huge technological gap for post harvest management and processing of agricultural produce, which is resulting in huge amount of wastage of agricultural produce,' he said. 'To develop and popularise new technologies for food processing and percolate them to the ground level end users is the need of the time for enhancing the level of processing and reduction of wastage of agricultural produce."
With food quality and safety becoming more and more compromised because of human "handling" in processing facilities manned by large number of personnel with varying health background, mechanization of food processing is increasingly being sought by the industry. A distinction can be made between wet processing and dry processing with the former seeking to reduce personnel to as minimum as possible because of greater chances of contamination of end products through human handling. Internationally large scale processing facilities are managed by very few personnel as many unit operations have been "automated" with well designed and hygienically fail proof machines taking over many of the human functions. Probably employing less people by the food industry may be more desirable and the old approach of seeing food industry as an employment provider needs a re-look by the government.