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INTERVIEW

“Food processing activity is ideal for Kerala’s industrial scenario”
Monday, 20 March, 2017, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Harcha Bhaskar

Kerala has gained a prominent place in the food industry with tremendous
production and export growth in spices, tea, seafood, and cashew. With the vastness of agricultural food production, the state has evolved into a major hub for food processing industry. While in the year 2014-15, exports of spices amounted to Rs 3285.34 crore, the state recorded exports of seafood worth Rs 5166.08 crore and cashews worth Rs 3098.75 crore. The state, with the aid of Kerala Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation (KINFRA), which is set up under the Act of the State Legislature, has played a pivotal role in boosting the food industry in the country for the past two decades. The organisation has established five food parks with two in Malappuram district and others in Ernakulam, Alappuzha and Pathanamthitta. Dr M Beena, managing director, KINFRA, talks about the ongoing and new projects and proposal to set up a spices park in Thodupuzha, for promoting value-added food products and more, in an email interaction with Harcha Bhaskar. Excerpts:

How big is the food processing industry in Kerala? How much is its share to Indian economy? Which are the major products/commodities grown and processed?
Food processing is a very significant sector of Kerala’s industry. Government of Kerala has accorded “priority status” to the food processing sector due to its huge potential for development. Kerala has always been in the forefront with respect to food processing, being a major exporter of food products. Kerala’s association with food exports to various foreign countries dates back to 16th century. Therefore, it can be said that Kerala has always been a “leader state” in food processing.
Since the time of country’s Independence, products that were exported from Kerala such as cashew, seafood and spices mainly constituted the traditional industrial sector of Kerala. These sectors have over the years evolved into modern food processing sectors. Kerala is a leading producer of various spices and exports of spices in 2014-15 amounted to Rs 3285.34 crore. In 2014-15, Kerala exported Rs 5166.08 crore worth of seafood and Rs 3098.75 crore worth of cashews. With respect to cashew, the business has developed to such an extent that the raw material produced in the state has become insufficient to meet the demand and therefore raw materials are being imported to be processed and exported. Coffee and tea are two other products that make significant contributions to exports from the state amounting to Rs 749.98 crore and Rs 478.21 crore in 2014-15 respectively.

KINFRA has not undertaken any survey of the food processing industries in Kerala and hence we are not able to furnish the details of the total number of units in the state and their contribution to the national economy.

According to you, what native commodities of Kerala are yet to be tapped by food processors and exporters?
In line with the trend seen across the country, the extent of processing of agriculture produce in the state is limited.

Coconut is one of the major produces of the state. Yet, the processing of coconuts is mostly restricted to traditional products such as copra and oil. Even though in recent times some initiatives have been taken for value addition of coconuts, the huge potential to develop a number of value-added products remains untapped. Jackfruit is another crop which is extensively produced in Kerala, but hardly processed into any value-added products. Nendran Banana is another produce which is produced in substantial quantities and also substantially exported in raw form, but not converted into processed products. Similarly, tapioca, pineapples, mango, ginger (from Palakkad belt), are produces which are still not utilised for processing, but mostly consumed in the fresh form.
Milk produced in the state is mostly processed in the co-operative sector. But the supply does not match with demand and hence the state has to meet its requirement partly from out of the state. Similarly consumption of meat and fish in the domestic market are high but these are hardly in the processed form. Exports of ethnic preparations of Kerala as processed food mainly catering to the needs of the diaspora have evolved into a sector with considerable significance. Such products are different from the conventional food exports, as they are not originating from one produce, but prepared from a number of ingredients.
 
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