By Parth Govilkar, School of Law, University of Mumbai.

India, a land of ironies, a country not only known for farming but also for the highest suicide rate of farmers; where a farmer produces crops for the people of the entire country, but himself sleeps on an empty stomach; where a farmer sweats out his life for protecting the crops, however, he is himself unable to procure clean and potable water to drink.

Over 60% of India’s total land is used for agricultural purposes and almost 23% land is covered by forests. 70% of the rural households in our country still depend on agriculture as their major source of livelihood. India being a global agricultural leader, exports agriculture products and processed food to more than 120 countries like the US, Indonesia, Egypt, Iran, Israel & Cambodia. It caters to the demands of most developing and underdeveloped Nations as well.

A country which is flourishing on agricultural exports and processed food can go miles but that is unfortunately not the case with us, presently. Let me explain to you the bitter truth. India is the 2nd largest producer and consumer of food in the world; it ranks 2nd in production of dairy products, fruits and fisheries. Out of all the food produced, on an average, only 10% of the food can be processed. For e.g., only 35% dairy products can be processed, 2% fruits and vegetables can be processed, etc. This happens due to lack of processing facilities, infrastructure and technology, which eventually leads to wastage of food. But to win mega wars, small steps are necessary.

The setting up of Mega Food Parks is one such initiative by the government, which can take care of the problem mentioned above. Let’s see how a Mega Food Park functions.

The varied Farmer Groups, Self Help Groups, and Individual Farmers shall get their products to the Collection Centres, where, after amassing all the products, the same shall be sent to Primary Processing Centers, where facilities like pre cooling, pulping, grading, sorting, waxing, packing and temporary storage will be available.

After this, the products shall be transferred to the Central Processing Centers, where the job of value addition shall be accomplished. For e.g., conversion of strawberries into Jam.

The products shall then be distributed into two parts, i.e., fresh sale and value added sale. Suppose we are selling strawberries in the original form, they shall be given to domestic retailers, which shall be considered as a fresh sale, whereas if we make jam from those strawberries, they shall be supplied to exporters, importers and domestic sellers, which shall be considered as a value added sale, hence shortening the tedious process, as things will be functioning under one roof, thereby contributing to the growth of Food Processing Sector in India.

With a fast expanding food market and the enthralling growth in the food sector, initiatives such as the Mega Food Park Scheme, Pradhan Mantri Kisan SAMPADA Yojana and the organization of events like, World Food India, which  attracted participation from almost 61 countries, are gigantic steps towards showcasing India’s strength to the world.

The Mega Food Parks can be a humongous source for creating employment opportunities  because there are 9 Mega Food Parks which are operational and the remaining 33 are under construction. Each food park seeks to provide employment to at least 30,000 people. I shall leave the math to the readers. It shall also help agricultural income grow exponentially thereby contributing to the country’s GDP. Eventual increase in the Central  and State Government’s revenue is guaranteed. The export-import picture of India shall be clearer and will help in fathoming the need of our country and the countries that we maintain trade relations with. The promotion of domestic industries shall eventually lead to business expansion and an increase in the revenue, leading to an increase in the per capita income of the country. Topping it all, is the most important factor of food wastage, as mentioned earlier, which will be brought down to an all time low.

An icing on the cake is the Make In India initiative which gives a huge boost to the Mega Food Park Scheme, but there are certain lacunae that need to be filled. During the World Food Conclave 2017, many foreign delegates, investors and company owners had a particular problem with India and raised their voice regarding the bureaucratic hurdles present. Though the prevalence of ‘red tapism’ seems to be reduced, and ease of doing business in India has increased, to attain global standards, better steps need to be taken. Another common complaint was that the functioning of FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India) needs to be strict and uncompromising. The investors who wish to setup these Parks sometimes do not have the required capital. NABARD is ready to infuse Rs 2000 (Cr) for setting up these Mega Food Parks. The Government has also announced 100% FDI in the Food Processing Sector, for products manufactured in India. These products can be sold online as well, thus utilizing the e-commerce portals and Foreign Investors can now own a 100% stake in such firms.

The Mega Food Park Scheme was envisioned by the UPA Government in 2008. Mega Food Parks usually must not take more than 24 months to become operational, however, in 6 years time, the UPA Government was able to construct only 2 out of the 42 which were initially sanctioned to be set up. Comparatively, till 2016, the BJP managed to operationalise more than 6. The present government is trying to work their way around the bottlenecks which led to the loss of time, and are trying to ensure that these Parks come up swiftly, so that our farmers can benefit sooner. Setting up one such Park ends up benefitting at least 1.5 to 2.5 lakh farmers, in effect providing employment opportunities for women as well, thereby moving towards a pragmatic, gender neutral India, with respect to the employment sector.

If we look at the agrarian crisis in the country, which is currently centred around farm loan waivers and frequent droughts, there seems to be an attempt to politicise these issues. All these years farmers were never addressed as a single unit and were divided on the basis of region, caste and creed. The All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) has been working towards bringing all the farmers together on common issues so that they can be recognized as one single vote bank and shall not be swayed on the basis of caste, origin and State. The MS Swaminathan Commission recommendations have been implemented to some extent. These tiny but worthy steps have helped in reduction of the agrarian distress present in the country and a perceptible difference can be seen with respect to Food Processing in India.

“No race can prosper till it learns there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem.” -Booker T. Washington