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INTERVIEW

“Indian oilseed production hasn’t kept pace with growth in consumption”
Monday, 27 March, 2017, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
With food processing being one of the sectors which is a credible contributor to India’s gross domestic product (GDP), the edible oil industry is now gearing up to be one of the major contributors to the GDP, as it recently surpassed the dairy industry in terms of turnover. The Solvent Extractors’ Association of India (SEA) is working towards developing the domestic production of oilseeds, so that the refineries located in the country can also resume their work. Atul Chaturvedi, president, SEA, and chief executive officer (agro), Adani Wilmar Ltd, in an e-mail interaction with Pushkar Oak, speaks about the edible oil industry and its imports, domestic refineries, its technology, fortification and challenges.  Excerpts:

Where does the edible oil industry stand in the Indian food industry? What is the share of it compared to the total food industry?
Edible oil has pride of place in the Indian food industry. Recently, the data released has shown that edible oils have overtaken the dairy industry in terms of turnover. The turnover of the edible oil and oilseed sectors would be approximately Rs two lakh crore, generating massive direct and indirect employment.

What kinds of edible oils are popularly consumed in India?
India consumes almost 21 million tons of edible oils. While palm oil is majorly consumed, a rough break-up of the edible oils is mentioned in the table below.

Consumption break-up

Type

Consumption in million tonnes (approx)

Palm

8.5

Soya

5

Sunflower

2

Mustard

2

Cotton seed

1.2

Rice bran

1

Groundnut

0.8

Others

0.5

Total

21

What differences can be observed among urban and rural consumption of edible oils?
Urban consumption in India is relatively higher than rural consumption. However, more than the rural-urban divide in consumption, we notice that the gap between the rich and poor states is glaring. For example, the per capita consumption in Gujarat and Maharashtra is very high in comparison to that in Bihar and Orissa.

Which are the major regions in India where edible oil refineries are located?

Edible oil refineries can be broadly classified into two categories - port based and hinterland. Practically all ports in India have refineries to handle imported edible oils. Kandla, Mundra, Kakinada, Krishnapatnam, Haldia and Mangalore are some of the major ports having refineries.

Hinterland refineries, which handle domestic oils, are located largely in oilseed-producing states like Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra.

Why is it that the edible oil refineries are usually left unoccupied in the hinterland?
Indian oilseed production has not kept pace with growth in consumption due to which our solvent extraction plants remain idle for a large part of the year. We have been requesting the government to allow import of high oil-bearing oilseeds like rapeseed and sunflower to be imported at nil or low duty. This will go a long way in keeping our plants occupied and generate employment in line with the Make In India thrust of the government.

Has the growing health consciousness among people led to the surge in demand for the edible oils which offer healthier variants?

The Indian consumer is coming of age, and we are experiencing that they have started demanding products which are both healthy and tasty. The success of our rice bran health oil and Vivo Diabetes Care Oil clearly reflect the altered mindset of the Indian consumer. The Indian consumer is very demanding and discerning, and rewards companies which offer good products without compromising on quality. Over the years, our brand, Fortune, has gained the trust of Indian consumers, making it the top-selling edible oil brand in our country.

Currently, what are the major challenges faced by edible oil manufacturers?

The biggest challenge being faced by port-based refineries is the huge import of refined palm olein,  because of the skewed duty structure of the exporting countries (Indonesia and Malaysia). With a view to promote value addition in their respective countries, export duty on crude palm oil is kept much higher than that levied on refined palm olein. SEA has been representing to the Indian government to double the duty differential between crude palm oil and refined palm olein to a minimum of 15 per cent from the current 7.5 per cent, but to no avail. This is discouraging the refining of palm oil in India in spite of the declared Make in India policy by the government. We hope that the policy makers in India would take suitable action, or else refineries would be driven to sickness.

Our solvent extraction industry has been suffering for want of adequate raw material as our oilseed production over the years has stagnated. SEA has represented to the government to allow the import of high oil-bearing oilseeds like rapeseed and sunflower at nil or very low duty. This request, if accepted, would go a long way in improving the capacity utilisation of our solvent industry.

How dependent is the edible oil industry on domestic produce? Compare, with statistics, imports and domestic production.

The total Indian consumption is about 21 million tonnes. Out of this, imported oils constitute roughly about 14.5 million tonnes or 70 per cent and the balance (6.5 million tonnes) comes from domestic sources, which also states dependence on domestic sources. Indian imports are growing at approximately one million tonne per annum.

Will edible oil manufacturers consider oil fortification and double fortification? How cost-friendly is fortification for the the edible oil industry?
The government is very serious about ensuring fortification of edible oils on a voluntary basis. Although this will add to the cost of the oil refinery industry, which is struggling to make ends meet, fortification will help to impart nutrition. Thus, we are committed to respect the wishes of the government.

What efforts are undertaken by SEA to attain lower imports of edible oils?
The Solvent Extractors’ Association of India has always been at the forefront of promoting self-sufficiency in edible oil production. We have been conducting seminars highlighting stagnant oilseed production and even created model farms to promote better agronomic practices for improving oilseed yields. However, these efforts are like a drop in the ocean, and it is important that the government starts a technology mission for increasing oilseed production, or else our dependence on imports would continue to grow.

Which edible oil refineries are technologically well advanced, ports-based or hinterland?
Refineries at located at ports are all, by and large, state-of-art refineries. These are well equipped with modern and latest technologies. Those located in the hinterland may not be as advanced as port-based refineries, but over the years a lot of upgrades and revamping have taken place. However, the size of port-based refineries are generally bigger than those located in the hinterland.
 
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