Friday, July 22, 2011


It is rare any one in India speaks on R & D in the food field as this area is the most neglected one and to hear some one, especially with right credentials talk about is indeed welcome. Head of the S & T Department of GOI, a technocrat of some standing, recently stated that in order to make any meaningful impact private and public institutions must join hands pooling their resources and investing them in an optimal way. Probably the pitiable status of food research in the country must have prompted him to make such a statement. What is missing in his expose is how such a symbiosis can be achieved at the ground level with industry and the scientific community not trusting each other for various reasons. In contrast the discourse by the Babu from the MoFP is, as usual, is an exercise in verbosity meaning nothing and no amount of sermonizing can bring about desired results unless there is a commitment, focus and vision. Here is a take on the subject.

"A group of government and private institutions should join hands to provide research and development inputs to food processing enterprises as most firms in the sector don't have the capacity to invest in R&D activities, senior officials said Wednesday. "The bulk of the food processing units in the country do not have the capacity and the funds to undertake R&D activity. It is, therefore, important to create a system for absorption of technologies through models that are most suited to these enterprises," T. Ramasami, secretary in the ministry of science and technology, said at an event organised by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry here. He said a group of institutions should form a consortium to undertake research and development activities in the food processing industry. "A group of institutions can come together through the public private partnership (PPP) model to provide R&D inputs to food processing enterprises," Ramasami said. He said research and development could bring about a 10-15 percent increase in value addition in agri-produce. A huge amount of agricultural produce is wasted every year in India due to lack of proper processing facilities. Wastage of perishable food products due to low level of processing is estimated at Rs.30,000 crore a year. The average processing level in India is a mere 10 percent of the total agri-produce, resulting in significant quality deterioration and wastage in the supply chain. Value addition of the total agri-produce is just 20 percent and India's share in global trade in processed food is a negligible 1.5 percent. Ashok Sinha, secretary in the ministry of food processing industries, said his ministry was preparing a "master plan" for the development of the sector. The ministry will soon submit its plan to the Planning Commission for its consideration. Sinha said apart from the low level of R&D, the food processing sector was also facing other challenges, including the issues of aggregation and quality of raw materials".

Is it not a tragedy that in spite of plenty of funds floating around in the country, there is a marked leadership vacuum for zeroing in on relevant and useful research areas? The bare cup board of accomplishments speaks for itself. Pedestrian quality of research activities in multitude of universities and half a dozen government-owned institutions does not make much of a sense as far as the common man of this country is concerned. As for the industry, large scale players look after themselves vis-a-vis their technical and technological needs, it is the micro enterprises and the small scale sector which are left in the lurch for want of technical help to manufacture quality foods with assured safety. Will the consortium approach overcome this lacunae in the present system? Still it is worth debating on this option to evolve a workable solution for the inadequacy of R & D in the country.

No comments: