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Investment in food processing can create most jobs: Sahai

New Delhi, July 2 (IANS) Investment in the food processing sector in India can generate a higher rate of employment than in any other sector, Food Processing Industries Minister Subodh Kant Sahai said Friday.

‘The government of India has recognised the food processing sector as one of the thrust areas, as its growth will not only increase the level of processing and reduce wastage, but also generate employment opportunities and provide long-term economic sustainability to the farmers,’ Sahai said, addressing an entrepreneurs’ meet organised by the ministry here.

The food processing industry employs an estimated 1.6 million workers – a fifth of the country’s industrial labour force and accounts for 14 percent of the total industrial output.

He called for increased investment in the sector.

He said with a population base of 1.08 billion and yearly population growth of around 1.6 percent, India offered a huge and growing market for food products.

‘The 350 million urban middle class, with its growing purchasing power and evolving food habits, presents a thriving market,’ Sahai said.

Stating that processing levels of agricultural and allied commodities in India is 6-8 percent compared to processing levels of 70-80 percent in developed countries, he made a strong pitch for technology upgradation in the sector.

‘There is a huge technological gap for post harvest management and processing of agricultural produce, which is resulting in huge amount of wastage of agricultural produce,’ he said.

‘To develop and popularise new technologies for food processing and percolate them to the ground level end users is the need of the time for enhancing the level of processing and reduction of wastage of agricultural produce.’

Sahai also pointed out the lack of cold chain management in the country. ‘I have asked many people abroad to invest in contract farming here. But after initial enthusiasm, they become reluctant because of the absence of cold chain infrastructure,’ he said.

The minister also listed out the initiatives taken by his ministry to promote the sector.

Earlier, addressing the gathering, Secretary Ashok Sinha said that foreign direct investment in the sector in the last 12 months was 225 percent higher than what it was in the previous year.

Calling for increased focus on retailing of food products, Sinha said: ‘We should learn how to market. Then investment becomes easier, production becomes easier.’

During the meet, over 200 entrepreneurs were provided with assistance amounting to over Rs.60 crore (Rs.600 million).

‘By September 2010, another over 200 beneficiaries will be assisted under the ministry’s various schemes and the it would utilise more than two-thirds of its budget,’ Sahai said.

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