India after COVID-19: Food processing and security industry needs a major investment, says Anantha Padmanabhan, the MD of Alfa Laval

The Free Press Journal on Thursday held a webinar in association with IIM Indore. The event which is a part of the series "India after COVID-19" saw FPJ Consulting Editor RN Bhaskar in conversation with Anantha Padmanabhan, MD, Alfa Laval. The discussion was moderated by Himanshu Rai, the Director of IIM Indore.

The topic under discussion on Thursday was "Food Processing and Food Security"

Alfa Laval is a Swedish company with branches across the world that specialises in the production of heavy industry products and solutions for the industry. Alfa Laval's products are used in a variety of applications when it comes to Indian industries, including food processing.

Explaining the concept of food processing and Alfa Laval's work in India, Padmanabhan calls it a "very old art." He cites the production of butter as a great example of processing, adding that while people would earlier make butter at home, it is now processed and easily available.

Further, he explains, the processing industry has adapted to the market. Citing ginger garlic paste as an example, he says that today, we are processing a lot of things.

"Farm sector has been really affected. One good thing that has happened is the attention given by the government towards this sector in recent years," says Anantha Padmanabhan

While India is one of the largest producers of milk, Padmanabhan says that only 30% is processed at present. He draws a parallel here with fruits and vegetables.

"We are the second-largest producer of fruits and vegetables, but less than 10% is processed. More than 30% is wasted," he commented.

Moreover, he says that while India does have a good level of grain inventory, procurement, storage, and distribution continue to remain an issue in the country.

According to Padmanabhan food security is not just about providing grains. It's about nutrition and dietary factors, he said during the conversation.

Speaking about 'future food security' Padmanabhan emphasised the magnitude of the problem at present. He added that it was necessary to take a holistic approach when it came to food security.

As he addressed the crisis amid the coronavirus pandemic, he said that "shrinking growth and job losses is a reality." He further said that while the novel coronavirus pandemic was a crisis, it also posed a great opportunity for change.

During the conversation, Padmanabhan answered some important questions raised by students. Here's what the students asked:

What is the kind of investment that the food security sector needs?

I have got to say that big investments are not happening and major companies are not coming in. There are a lot of schemes under food security but its all fragmented. The sort of investment we need is not happening right now, and we need a lot of investment for the same. We need to get the best level of technology in this sector.

I think the farmers will benefit if we bring the big players in the industry.

What are the employment opportunities in this industry?

We employ everyone. Our CEO is a lawyer by profession. What's important is the value you add to the company. There are lots of opportunities and anyone can get an opportunity in this industry. We ideally need engineers, but analytics is important as well, and we also need good marketing. The engineering industry has realised that marketing plays a very important role.

It's a mixed bag. We need people.

We are the largest player in the milk industry. Which is the next industry, do you think, in the food segment, that we have the potential to become the global leader in?

Its milk. We have not done enough with milk. There's plenty to do in the milk industry. Only 30% of it is getting processed.

But after milk, I will definitely look at fruits and vegetables, and meat and fish.

What do you think the government should do to make the sector vibrant?

We really need to connect the farmers and the industry. Farming should really become an industry.

How do you cope with the food processing industry when the hotel industry is dead amid the coronavirus pandemic?

I would put a lot of pressure on processing.

See, consumption of food is not going down even if hotels are shut down. People will still eat. How it is going to be delivered is the question. But there still could be home deliveries and the government needs to continue food processing at all times. The government should put up initiatives on food processing. They should bring in major players in the industry.

Do you see the food processing industry contributing a larger section to the GDP as compared to conventional sectors?

That is difficult. But food processing can grow. We can bring food processing and everything associated with it under one umbrella. If we bring food and agriculture under the same umbrella that would be great.

We have been listening to stories of grains rotting year after year. And you've also mentioned that 30% of it is wasted. There has to be some solution. Do you think there is anything that the government should be focusing on?

Of course logistics is a solution, but the consumption is down, hotels are closed. The only way is to preserve, to process and there is no shortcut. This is the need of the future. We think we are secure in terms of this but that's no true. With all the shortages, we really need to act now. COVID-19 has given us an opportunity to bring about change.

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