The Indian Chamber of Commerce hosted the West Bengal Food Processing Conclave on Thursday, 21st December 2023 at The Park, Kolkata. The primary focus of the event was to delve into technological upgradation and awareness of financial schemes in the state’s agricultural sector. The conclave featured informative sessions covering topics such as technological innovations in the agricultural domain and various policies and schemes developed by the state government to support small-scale businesses. Many eminent personalities attended the event including Arup Roy, Minister, Department of Food Processing Industries & Horticulture, Government of West Bengal; Tapan Kanti Rudra, IAS (Retd.), OSD & E.O Secretary & Commissioner of Food Safety, Health & Family Welfare Department, Government of West Bengal; Kasturi Sengupta, Director, Food Processing Industries, Government of West Bengal; Shaurya Veer Himatsingka, Member, Indian Chamber of Commerce & Owner, Elmac Foods; D. Bandopadhyaya, Managing Director, Herald Food & Commodities Private Limited; and Madhuparna Bhowmick, Senior Director, Indian Chamber of Commerce.
Setting the tone for the conclave Arup Roy, Hon’ble Minister, Department of Food Processing Industries and Horticulture, Government of West Bengal, said, “There are a lot of things that need to be developed across different agricultural pockets from north to south of Bengal. For example, Malda is famous for its mangoes and Lychee while the demand for oranges from Darjeeling move upwards. There is another healthy product called Makhana that has gained popularity at the global stage. The same goes for pineapples from North Bengal. Nonetheless, despite the growing demand, farmers do not earn much and production has seen a drop. Hence, food processing units developed leveraging technological innovations can help reshape the scenario. Its time for us to move forward.”
Emphasizing on the health hazards experienced by people due to the consumption of improper food products . Tapan Kanti Rudra, IAS (Retd.), OSD & E.O Secretary and Commissioner of Food Safety, Health & Family Welfare Department, Government of West Bengal elaborated, “The industry is ever flourishing, given the population in the background of technological innovations. Our role is regulatory. We stand as facilitators to the sector. We look after creating logistics, human resource development, sharing knowledge and information. The alarming rise of non-communicable disease is something to be concerned about. As per World Health Organization, 63 percent deaths are caused by non-communicable diseases, 23 percent due to cardio-vascular ailments and 9 percent cancer. In two decades it has increased. Food borne diseases affect 60 crore people worldwide while 200 types of water borne disease spread across worldwide. Large scale prevelance of anaemia has also surfaced. A survey conducted between 2014-15 indicated that 54 percent of children in the age group of 0-5 years suffer from anaemia. This indicates that our cereals are lacking micronutrients. The New Food Safety and Standard Act (FSSAI) was framed on 5 Aug, 2011. Issues regarding food got prominence. The FSSAI has notified food standards mentioning the standards of food. Food fortification has been undertaken to cure anaemia . Moreover, 2023 has been declared as the International Year of millet. Millet-based food products are healthy and in high demand. Food sample analysis is another measure to ensure good quality of food. We have three food testing labs. Mobile food testing labs are also functional these days.”
Sharing insights on different initiatives and policies initiated by the Government of West Bengal to ensure development in the food and agricultural sector Kasturi Sengupta, Director Food Processing Industries, Government of West Bengal stated, “The West Bengal government has undertaken different activities to support its agricultural sector. It is the largest producer of rice and the second largest producer of potato in India. The industrial policy has put focus on agro-based products. The state has supported participatory farming to grow fruits and vegetables by entrepreneurs. Besides introducing the Pradhan Mantri Formalisation of Micro Food Processing Enterprises scheme, it has opened up several other opportunities such as subsidies for common infrastructure, branding and marketing. The state has also introduced the West Bengal Food Processing Unit in 2021. We will extend all possible support to the ones interested in investing in the department.”
Speaking on consumer behaviour and small-scale entrepreneurs D Bandyopadhyay, Managing Director, Herald Food & Commodities Private Limited stated,“Inspite of all the odds, the food sector is trying to develop and excel in the state of West Bengal. The eastern region is quite rich in terms of agricultural production. Irrespective of industrialization, we are largely dependent on agriculture. Industrial consumption will increase development in the food processing sector. Secondly, consumer behaviour is rapidly changing. Hence, if we don’t change then we will have to struggle. Our vision needs to change and new products launched which are acceptable by the current consumers. We are focusing on the next generation entrepreneurs.”
Addressing the Importance of the potential agricultural domain holds and the advancement of technological innovations. Shaurya Veer Himatsingka, Member Indian Chamber of Commerce & Owner, Elmac Foods, stated “India being rich in the agricultural domain is slated to grow at a cumulative annual growth rate of 99.4 percent between 2022 to 2027. This tends to be a high-priority sector, which holds significant job opportunities. Small-scale and medium-scale industries play a significant role in the sector. From AI to machine learning, Assamese agriculturists are using these technologies in their efforts towards sustainable practices. Government programmes are also promoting the sector. West Bengal holds immense potential, ensuring market maturity because of the presence of a diverse set of population. The state has the presence of big corporates, who are also interested in investing in the food processing sector. The state government is promoting the industry too. They introduced the Pradhan Mantri Formalisation of Micro Food Processing Enterprises scheme along with financial strategies. Also, the objectives of increased access to credits and integration with supply chains along with marketing and branding are being considered.”