Agricultural innovation emerges not only as an opportunity, but also as a precondition for ensuring the sustainability of food production.

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Question – Agricultural innovation emerges not only as an opportunity, but also as a precondition for ensuring the sustainability of food production. Analyze this statement with reference to the food processing sector in India. 12 March 2022

AnswerIn the context of innovation in agricultural development, the view has long dominated the idea that related knowledge is essentially created through research. Simultaneously, the technology is transferred through a linear process of transfer through extension system for adoption by the farmers.

In fact agriculture in tropical regions has changed socio-economically by their dynamic interaction with the environment. Along with this, many environmental factors such as global market demand, urbanization, commercialization and intensification of agriculture, climate change, intensification and vertical integration of food production have played a significant role in this.

The following changes are required for capacity development for agricultural innovation systems:

  • Taking knowledge creation as the ultimate objective and using it as a means of bringing about change.
  • To understand the relationship between the parties in a holistic manner, understanding its various parts.
  • Mainly using “Hardware systems analysis” (improving the mechanics of the system) including ‘soft systems analysis’ (compromising the meaning of the system and the desired transformations).
  • Viewing the partnership from the perspective of the mentoring beneficiary, so as to facilitate mutual learning among stakeholders, resulting in group work with joint analysis and planning.
  • Working individually, working with other individuals in ever-changing ad hoc teams and partnerships.

The percentage of agricultural produce being processed in India is far lower than that of developed countries like China (23%) and USA (65%). On the other hand, preference of Indian consumers towards consumption of fresh and home-cooked food over processed and packaged food is changing. As such, the agro-processing sector in India is getting an increased focus of planners, financial institutions, rural development agencies and R&D institutions.

The government is aiming to triple the capacity of the food processing sector and double the income of farmers in the process. With considerable investment and innovation, the food processing sector can bring about a huge change in the Indian economy.

Opportunities created by innovation in food sector:

  • The ability of farmers to carry out primary processing operations at production sites has been enhanced through design and development of custom made, small-size, cost-effective agricultural processing machinery.
  • The new tech machines, made of food-grade materials, for primary processing with higher capacities, reduced drudgery and gender neutrality are now available at affordable prices for small entrepreneurs like farmers. They are equipped with better control and appropriate automation as innovative features.
  • Tractor driven multi commodity processing and mobile units are also now available for farm-level processing.
  • The same set of machines has been equipped with new processes for processing different commodities.
  • More energy-efficient, environment friendly, standardized well documented protocols have been developed to harness better product recovery, and reduce losses of all forms.

Innovation as precondition for sustainability of food sector

  • Maintaining product quality and safety has always been a challenge for small enterprises, especially at the village level. Simple and new technology innovation is not only useful for maintaining product quality during production, operation and trading, but also helps farmer producers to maintain domestic and international standards.
  • According to the United Nations Development Programme, up to 40 per cent of the perishable food produced in India is wasted. Primary processing of agricultural commodities plays an important role in improving the uniformity and shelf life of the produce without compromising on food safety and quality.
  • Innovation is essential to enhance and harness the potential of the food sector to provide attractive dividends to farmers while increasing the availability of value-added agricultural products in the market. Farmers will realize better remuneration for their produce if quality and safety can be maintained.

Food processing by farmer-entrepreneurs is a technically viable and commercially viable proposition. Innovation in food processing opens up possibilities for rural entrepreneurs in the areas of pack-house operations, cold chain management, supply chain operations and processing service provision. A variety of technical solutions and institutional support are available to realize the goal of doubling farmers’ income. Government is also providing assistance through programs like Mega Food Park, 100% FDI in marketing of food products, Pradhan Mantri Kisan Sampada Yojana, Agriculture Infrastructure Fund, Sub Mission on Agricultural Mechanization, One District One Product etc.

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