What ails Indian food industry is a fascinating topic and umpteen number of seminars, conferences, workshops and symposia have taken place during the last 6 decades touching on every conceivable issues that deserves attention. It not that those who are at the helm of affairs do not know the constraining factors coming in the way of fuller development of the food sector but it is just an administrative gridlock that does not allow any focused, time-bound and sustained action to be taken to address these problems. Food industry development has become a game of "charade" between the industry captains and the government and some time it appears like a dialog between two deaf persons each not wanting to understand the other! An entirely new ministry was set up at Delhi for promoting and protecting the industry, billions of rupees have been doled out as subsidy and stimulus for new entrepreneurs, food parks have been set up and a brand new food institute is taking shape to help the industry. Still FICCI is saying that all constraints that plagued the food industry growth five decades ago, are still challenges to day!
"The pan-India FICCI Survey, which was conducted across the entire value chain, reaching 250 companies with 125 responses received, has identified 15 "key challenges". The top five challenges identified by the the survey through a weighted response approach are: inadequate infrastructural facilities, lack of comprehensive national level policy on food processing sector, food safety Laws, inconsistency in central and state policies and lack of availability of trained manpower. Apart from the aforementioned major challenges hampering the growth of the sector, the respondents also identified constraints in raw material production, taxation, access to credit, processing plants with obsolete technologies, lack of applied research etc as other major challenges for the growth of food processing sector".
If one listens to the minister looking after the food industry portfolio, India has already become the "Food Bowl" of the world. Of course 17 million tons of the wheat under government custody are still rotting forcing the Supreme Court to "direct" the GOI to distribute the same free to poor people. What prevented the GOI to involve the food industry in saving the precious grains from rotting? Where was FICCI when it was known last year itself that the country did not have adequate storage capacity to take care of surplus grains? If GOI can think of large scale storage of petroleum products as a part of national security, what prevented it from creating a food security driven large grain storage complexes in the country? Technologies for long term safe storage of food grains are already available in the country. One can only hope that FICCI is more forceful this time in convincing the GOI for taking up its suggestions on an urgent priority and create a more favorable climate for investment in food processing.