At a time when farmers are reeling under severe farm crisis due to severe drought, a NABARD report suggests 40 per cent vegetables and 30 per cent fruits go waste due to lack of agro-processing infrastructure in Maharashtra. As a result, the farmers often have to bear with poor returns as both vegetables and fruits are perishable commodities.
Expressing serious concerns to tap greater investment in agro-processing sector, the report reveals, “Less than 1.2 per cent of fruits and vegetables are processed. Out of the total yield, 60 percent vegetables and 70 per cent fruits are consumed fresh. The huge wastage of vegetables and fruits has a great potential if it is channelised in the processing industry.”
The state’s present processing capacity of fruits and vegetable is one lakh metric tonnes (MT). Despite being the leading state in agro-industry, by international standards, Maharashtra appears way below in investment in the processing sector. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who was handed over the NABARD report has urged the agriculture, horticulture, industrial and finance departments to prepare a comprehensive plan to effectively tackle the shortcoming in the processing sector.
At the Make in India Week starting in Mumbai from February 13, state government will also try to rope in private investors in the food and horticulture processing industry. Highly placed sources in the government revealed, “There are MNCs keen on partnership to open up new gates in the food processing sector. However, state government with the help of the Centre, will have to make huge investments to upgrade its basic infrastructure by creating mammoth cold storages which are easily linked to the farms in remote villages across the state.” Some districts which have made mark for processing units include Pune, Kolhapur, Nashik, Ahmednagar, Jalgaon, Latur, Sindhudurg. .
A senior secretary argued, “The concept of processing raw agro produce was never on the government’s agenda for the last several decades. Gradually, we have realised not only to check the huge wastage but also to turn into a profit making sector.”
The main crops / fruits available for primary and secondary processing are soyabean, cashew, mango, wheat, rice, jowar, pomegranate. Maharashtra agro-industries are in the sectors of sugar, cotton, rice mills, poultry, flour mills, edible oil, milk processing units.
The chief minister reckons that promotion of processing sector would help in giving boost to small and medium scale units. However, public -private partnership to tap higher investments can work to create sustainable value chains by creating more food parks complete with all infrastructure under one umbrella.
NABARD report emphasises, “The world agriculture trade is shifting towards processed foods and agro processing holds the key for sustainable growth.” It emphasised, “ Maharashtra which is leading state in agro-industry, has tremendous potential for a much higher value addition through processing.” The state produces average 145 lakh MT of food grains, 50 lakh MT of oil seeds, 769 lakh MT sugarcane and 88 lakh bales of cotton. The report suggests ,”Fruit pulp, juice and concentrated units, winery, pickles, rice mill, flour mills, Dal mills, soyabean oil extraction and refining units, can be set up in MIDC industrial areas. The report urges the government to involve private sector in agriculture marketing. Moreover, it talks of sustained supply of quality power and water. There is a concern as 75 per cent of farmers rely on informal credit at very high interest rate which leads of increase in cost of production and affects competitiveness.Therefore, it has recommended banks to focus on value chain financing for overall development. The banks should provide working capital to the units, suggested the report.