Marked by an unexpectedly high turnout of farmers and other local representative bodies, the conference on Linking Farmers to Superstores: The Food Processing Way, organised by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM), helped bring a host of pertinent issues to the fore. Hosted in Jaipur, capital of Rajasthan, on April 13, 2007, the panel of speakers held forth on value creation and harnessing of business opportunities – situations unfolding against a backdrop of changing retail environment, intensifying competition, globalisation and increasing imports.
Speakers included Pradeep Wig, chairman, Expert Committee on Agriculture and Food Processing Industries, ASSOCHAM; KS Money, chairman, Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA); A Bhatnagar, director general, National Institute of Agricultural Marketing (NIAM); Sanjay Sinha, vice president, indiaretailing.com; and R Sivakumar, regional manager, Low Temperature Refrigeration, Voltas Ltd. Between them, they covered the intricacies involved in value chains in the Indian agri-food sector, food safety concept in traditional Indian food, cold storages to address post-harvest losses and prolong shelf life, and post-harvest management.
In all likelihood, the central government will reduce the number of agencies involved in clearing export of agricultural products to boost shipment from the country. “Government will shortly minimise the involvement of as many as 30 agencies in clearance of agricultural products to raise India’s agri-exports,” affirmed KS Money at the meet. He also assured that export-oriented cold storages will be set up near airports and seaports to reduce transactional costs.
A highlight of the ASSOCHAM meet was the aggressive mood palpable among the central stakeholders in the food processing industry – the farmers. Evidently, they had their own view of the contemporary retail scenario. And this view certainly does not take kindly to the invasion of big retail giants across the retail landscape. To quote Mahesh Kumar Jakhar, leader of Rajasthan Kisaan Union, “We are not going to be fooled by what the big retail chains are saying. They may be making their point by talking about linking directly with farmers and benefiting all concerned, but we suspect the scene will change in the near future. What will happen is once the mandi system breaks down, the big companies will start pitting us farmers against one another to extract the minimum prices. There is no way we will stand by and let these companies set shop in Rajasthan. We are strengthening our network throughout the state.” Additionally, the union is aiming to get the farmer community together so they can put up their own retail outlets.