Food Processing Infrastructure in India

Sai Priya Kodidala - May 16, 2018

Recently, there have been reports of price crashes and distress sales in case of farm produce, such as tomatoesmangoes, and garlic.  In some cases, farmers have dumped their produce on roads.  Produce such as fruits and vegetables are perishable and therefore have a short shelf life.  Further, due to inadequate storage facilities and poor food processing infrastructure farmers have limited options but to sell the produce at prevailing market prices.  This can lead to distress sales or roadside discards (in some cases to avoid additional cost of transportation).

Food processing allows raw food to be stored, marketed, or preserved for consumption later.  For instance, raw agricultural produce such as fruits may be processed into juices, jams, and pickles.  Activities such as waxing (for preservation), packaging, labelling, or ripening of produce also form part of the food processing industry.

Between 2001-02 and 2016-17, production of food grains grew annually at 1.7% on average.  Production of horticulture crops surpassed food grains with an average growth rate of 4.8%.  While production has been increasing over the years, surplus produce tends to go waste at various stages such as procurement, storage, and processing due to lack of infrastructure such as cold storages and food processing units.

Source: Horticulture Statistics at a Glance 2017, Union Budget 2018-19; PRS.

Source: Horticulture Statistics at a Glance 2017, Union Budget 2018-19; PRS.

Losses high among perishables such as fruits and vegetables

Crop losses ranged between 7-16% among fruits and around 5% among cereals in 2015.  The highest losses were witnessed in case of guava, followed by mango, which are perishable fruits.  Perishables such as fruits and vegetables are more prone to losses as compared to cereals.  Such crop losses can occur during operations such as harvesting, thrashing, grading, drying, packaging, transportation, and storage depending upon the commodity.

It was estimated that the annual value of harvest and post-harvest losses of major agricultural products at the national level was Rs 92,651 crore in 2015.  The Standing Committee on Agriculture (2017) stated that such wastage can be reduced with adequate food processing facilities.

Sources: Annual Report 2016-17, Ministry of Food Processing Industries; PRS.

Sources: Annual Report 2016-17, Ministry of Food Processing Industries; PRS.

Inadequate food processing infrastructure

As previously discussed, perishables such as fruits and vegetables are more prone to damages as compared to cereals.  Due to inadequate processing facilities in close proximity, farmers may be unable to hold their produce for a long time.  Hence, they may be forced to sell their produce soon after harvest, irrespective of the prevailing market situations.  Expert committees have recommended that agri-logistics such as cold chain infrastructure and market linkages should be strengthened.

Cold chain infrastructure: Cold chain infrastructure includes processing units, cold storages, and refrigerated vans.  As of 2014, out of a required cold storage capacity of 35 million metric tonnes (MT), almost 90% (31.8 million MT) of the capacity was available (see Table 1).  However, cold storage needs to be coupled with logistical support to facilitate smooth transfer of harvested value from farms to distant locations.  This includes: (i) pack-houses for packaging and preparing fresh produce for long distance transport, (ii) refrigerated transport such as reefer vehicles, and (iii) ripening chambers to ripen raw produce before marketing.  For instance, bananas which are harvested raw may be ripened in these chambers before being marketed.

While there are sufficient cold storages, there are wide gaps in the availability of other associated infrastructure.  This implies that even though almost 90% (32 million tonnes) of cold storage capacity is available, only 15% of the required refrigerated transport exists.  Further, the shortfall in the availability of infrastructure necessary for safe handling of farm produce, like pack-houses and ripening chambers, is over 90%.

Table 1:  Gaps in cold chain infrastructure (2014)

Facility Required Available Gap % gap
Cold storage
(in million MT)

35.1

31.8 3.2

9.3%

Pack-houses

70,080

249 69,831

99.6%

Reefer vehicles

61,826

9,000 52,826

85.4%

Ripening chambers

9,131

812 8,319

91.1%

Source: Standing Committee on Agriculture 2018; PRS.

To minimise post-harvest losses, the Standing Committee (2017) recommended that a country-wide integrated cold chain infrastructure network at block and district levels should be created.  It further recommended that a Cold Chain Coordination and Monitoring Committee should be constituted at the district-level.  The Standing Committee also recommended that farmers need to be trained in value addition activities such as sorting, grading, and pre-cooling harvested produce through facilities such as freezers and ripening chambers.

Between 2008 and 2017, 238 cold chain projects were sanctioned under the Scheme for Integrated Cold Chain and Value Addition Infrastructure.  Grants worth Rs 1,775 crore were approved for these projects.  Of this amount, Rs 964 crore (54%) has been released as of January 2018.  Consequently, out of the total projects sanctioned, 114 (48%) are completed.  The remaining 124 projects are currently under implementation.

Transport Facilities:  Currently, majority of food grains and certain quantities of tea, potato, and onion are transported through railways.  The Committee on Doubling Farmers Income had recommended that railways needs to upgrade its logistics to facilitate the transport of fresh produce directly to export hubs.  This includes creation of adjoining facilities for loading and unloading, and distribution to road transport.

Mega Food Parks: The Mega Food Parks scheme was launched in 2008.  It seeks to facilitate setting up of food processing units.  These units are to be located at a central processing centre with infrastructure required for processing, packaging, quality control labs, and trade facilitation centres.

As of March 2018, out of the 42 projects approved, 10 were operational.  The Standing Committee on Agriculture noted certain reasons for delay in implementation of projects under the scheme.  These include: (i) difficulty in getting loans from banks for the project, (ii) delay in obtaining clearances from the state governments and agencies for roads, power, and water at the project site, (iii) lack of special incentives for setting up food processing units in Mega Food Parks, and (iv) unwillingness of the co-promoters in contributing their share of equity.

Further, the Standing Committee stated that as the scheme requires a minimum area of 50 acres, it does not to promote smaller or individual food processing and preservation units.  It recommended that smaller agro-processing clusters near production areas must be promoted.  The Committee on Doubling Farmers Income recommended establishment of processing and value addition units at strategic places.  This includes rural or production areas for pulses, millets, fruits, vegetables, dairy, fisheries, and poultry in public private-partnership mode.

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Explained: The draft Model Contract Farming Act, 2018

Sai Priya Kodidala - January 8, 2018

Recently, the Ministry of Agriculture released a draft Model Contract Farming Act, 2018.  The draft Model Act seeks to create a regulatory and policy framework for contract farming.  Based on this draft Model Act, legislatures of states can enact a law on contract farming as contracts fall under the Concurrent List of the Constitution.  In this context, we discuss contract farming, issues related to it, and progress so far.

What is contract farming?

Under contract farming, agricultural production (including livestock and poultry) can be carried out based on a pre-harvest agreement between buyers (such as food processing units and exporters), and producers (farmers or farmer organisations).  The producer can sell the agricultural produce at a specific price in the future to the buyer as per the agreement.  Under contract farming, the producer can reduce the risk of fluctuating market price and demand.  The buyer can reduce the risk of non-availability of quality produce.

Under the draft Model Act, the producer can get support from the buyer for improving production through inputs (such as technology, pre-harvest and post-harvest infrastructure) as per the agreement.  However, the buyer cannot raise a permanent structure on the producer’s land.  Rights or title ownership of the producer’s land cannot be transferred to the buyer.

What is the existing regulatory structure?

Currently, contract farming requires registration with the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) in few states.  This means that contractual agreements are recorded with the APMCs which can also resolve disputes arising out of these contracts.  Further, market fees and levies are paid to the APMC to undertake contract farming.  The Model APMC Act, 2003 provided for contract farming and was released to the states for them to use this as reference while enacting their respective laws.  Consequently, 20 states have amended their APMC Acts to provide for contract farming, while Punjab has a separate law on contract farming.  However, only 14 states notified rules related to contract farming, as of October 2016.

What are the issues with the current structure, and how does the draft Model Act seek to address them?

Over the years, expert bodies have identified issues related to the implementation of contract farming.  These include: (i) role of APMCs which are designated as an authority for registration and dispute settlement in most states, (ii) provisions of stockholding limits on produce under contract farming, and (iii) poor publicity of contract farming among the farmers about its benefits.

Role of Agricultural Produce Marketing Committees/Marketing Boards

The NITI Aayog observed that market fees and other levies are paid to the APMC for contract framing when no services such as market facilities and infrastructure are rendered by them.  In this context, the Committee of State Ministers on Agricultural Reforms recommended that contract farming should be out of the ambit of APMCs.  Instead, an independent regulatory authority must be brought in to disengage contract farming stakeholders from the existing APMCs.

In this regard, as per the draft Model Act, contract farming will be outside the ambit of the state APMCs.  This implies that buyers need not pay market fee and commission charges to these APMCs to undertake contract farming.  Further, the draft Model Act provides for establishing a state-level Contract Farming (Promotion and Facilitation) Authority to ensure implementation of the draft Model Act.  Functions of the Authority include (i) levying and collecting facilitation fees, (ii) disposing appeals related to disputes under the draft Model Act, and (iii) publicising contract farming.  Further, the sale and purchase of contracted produce is out of the ambit of regulation of the respective state/UT Agricultural Marketing Act.

Registration and agreement recording

The Model APMC Act, 2003 released to the states provides for the registration of contract farming agreements by an APMC.  This was done to safeguard the interests of the producer and the buyerthrough legal support, including dispute resolution.  The procedures for registration and recording of agreements vary across states.  Currently, registration for contract farming has been provided with the APMC in few states, and with a state-level nodal agency in others.  Further, market fee on purchases under contract agreements is completely exempted in few states and partially exempted in others.  The Committee of State Ministers on Agricultural Reforms recommended that a instead of a APMC, district-level authorities can be set-up for registration of contract farming agreements.  Further, any registering authority should verify the details such as the financial status of the buyer.

Under the draft Model Act, every agreement should be registered with a Registering and Agreement Recording Committee, which will be set up consisting of officials from departments such as agriculture, animal husbandry, marketing, and rural development.  Such a Committee can be set up at the district, taluka or block levels.

Disputes between the producer and the buyer

The Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare observed certain risks related to upholding the contract farming agreement.  For example, producers may sell their produce to a buyer other than the one with whom they hold a contract.  On the other side, a buyer may fail to buy products at the agreed prices or in the agreed quantities, or arbitrarily downgrade produce quality.  The Committee of State Ministers on Agricultural Reforms recommended that dispute redressal mechanism should be at block, district or regional-level state authorities and not with an APMC.

Under the draft Model Act, in case of disputes between a producer and a buyer, they can: (i) reach a mutually acceptable solution through negotiation or conciliation, (ii) refer the dispute to a dispute settlement officer designated by the state government, and (iii) appeal to the Contract Farming (Promotion and Facilitation) Authority (to be established in each state) in case they are not satisfied by the decision of the dispute settlement officer.

Stockholdings limits on contracted produce

Stockholding limits are imposed through control orders as per the Essential Commodities Act, 1955.  Such provisions of stockholding limits can be restrictive and discourage buyers to enter into contracts.  It was recommended that the buyers can be exempted from stock limits up to six months of their requirement in the interest of trade.  Under the draft Model Act, limits of stockholding of agricultural produce will not be applicable on produce purchased under contract farming.

Other recommendations

While contract farming seeks to provide alternative marketing channels and better price realisation to farmers, several other marketing reforms have been suggested by experts in this regard.  These include: (i) allowing direct sale of produce by farmers, (ii) removing fruits and vegetables out of the ambit of APMCs, and (iii) setting-up of farmer-consumer markets, (iv) electronic trading, and (v) joining electronic National Agricultural Market for the sale of produce.

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