The politics of Mega Food Parks – big announcements every week

Second Mega Food Park in Bihar – Patanjali's MFP to start up in Greater Noida in mid-April

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Punjab has several Mega Food Parks that are functional Photo Government of Punjab
Punjab has several Mega Food Parks that are functional Photo Government of Punjab

On 5 April 2021, the government announced the setting up of a Mega Food Park in Motipur in Bihar at a cost of Rs. 400 crore. In the coming week of 12 April, it is expected that Baba Ramdev of Patanjali will finally initiate the construction of his Mega Food Park in Greater Noida in the Delhi NCR. This project has been cooking for over the past three years. Meanwhile, while campaigning in the West Bengal state assembly election, the country’s home minister promised to set up two Mega Food Parks if his party wins.

The idea of organizing the Indian food industry right from farm to fork has been the agenda of the past 70 years since independence. Its first 50 years saw the green revolution that brought new wheat varieties and grain self-sufficiency and the white revolution that made the country a major producer and exporter of rice. These years also give rise to the cooperative dairy movement that has made it the largest milk producer in the world. In 1992-93, the central government introduced the food park scheme whereby the states were to take up the responsibility for the food processing industrial estate projects.

In 2007-08, in a year of 8.5% GDP growth, the central government announced its more grandiose Mega Food Park (MFP) scheme. To encourage the private sector to build and operate the industrial estate infrastructure, these were meant to include warehouses and cold storage units, sorting, ripening, processing, and packaging plants leased to farmers, small and medium manufacturers, and logistics operators. Another stated intention of the MFPs was to come closer to farmers – to improve their productivity and influence their cropping patterns.

Food is the great football of the Indian economy, to be kicked between the central and state governments and between government subsidy and private enterprise. It is hostage to politicians who lose elections over food inflation and strong lobbies of farmers who now produce an excess of wheat that is not needed and rice that depletes the water table simply because there is a minimum support price. Experts say that it is likely that every ambition to alter and change the cropping pattern will meet with failure as long as subsidies disproportionately incentivize farmers to grow wheat and rice and thus not plant other crops needed to power better nutrition and exports.

Farmers in India are not directly taxed – they do not pay income tax. The laws were meant to protect the ownership of land to the tiller. In practice, the rules have led to the fragmentation of the holdings in poor farmers’ hands by their subdivision to successive generations. Simultaneously, subsidized water and electricity and minimum support prices for wheat and rice have enriched and consolidated farmers with good soil and irrigation.

Mega Food Parks – thus far an engine of incompetence

Most of the 42 (or 43 or 44) Mega Food Parks exist only on paper, and only four of the 16 (or 19) that have come up have reached or exceeded their aspirational level of 5,000 employees. Some are already embroiled in police and court cases for embezzlement and fraud.

The issues, cultural and economic, are complex. The abrupt style and mentality of the present central government are neither capable of understanding the economy’s complexity nor alleviating its integration with agriculture with its shock and awe approach. Just as its ban on cow slaughter and culling of herds is a considerable setback for the milk and food economy, its daily announcements of Mega Food Parks and selective largesse may not extend beyond photo opportunities.

The unscientific approach to agriculture and the economy is unlikely to enable the timely execution of the many sanctioned Mega Food Parks. The much-vaunted ‘Ease of Doing Business’ of this government is a laughing stock as many genuine entrepreneurs are already regretting their interest in the Mega Food Parks as they are kicked back and forth between state and central bureaucrats and compliances.

2023 promises an interesting ride for print in India

Indian Printer and Publisher founded in 1979 is the oldest B2B trade publication in the multi-platform and multi-channel IPPGroup. While the print and packaging industries have been resilient in the past 33 months since the pandemic lockdown of 25 March 2020, the commercial printing and newspaper industries have yet to recover their pre-Covid trajectory.

The fragmented commercial printing industry faces substantial challenges as does the newspaper industry. While digital short-run printing and the signage industry seem to be recovering a bit faster, ultimately their growth will also be moderated by the progress of the overall economy. On the other hand book printing exports are doing well but they too face several supply-chain and logistics challenges.

The price of publication papers including newsprint has been high in the past year while availability is diminished by several mills shutting down their publication paper and newsprint machines in the past four years. Indian paper mills are also exporting many types of paper and have raised prices for Indian printers. To some extent, this has helped in the recovery of the digital printing industry with its on-demand short-run and low-wastage paradigm.

Ultimately digital print and other digital channels will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future. For instance, there is no alternative to a rise in textbook consumption but this segment will only reach normality in the next financial year beginning on 1 April 2023.

Thus while the new normal is a moving target and many commercial printers look to diversification, we believe that our target audiences may shift and change. Like them, we will also have to adapt with agility to keep up with their business and technical information needs.

Our 2023 media kit is ready, and it is the right time to take stock and reconnect with your potential markets and customers. Print is the glue for the growth of liberal education, new industry, and an emerging economy. We seek your participation in what promises to be an interesting ride.

– Naresh Khanna

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