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.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to the country-wide lockdown on 25 March 2020. It will be two years tomorrow as I write this. What have we learned in this time? Maybe the meaning of resilience since small companies like us have had to rely on our resources and the forbearance of our employees as we have struggled to produce our trade platforms.

The print and packaging industries have been fortunate, although the commercial printing industry is still to recover. We have learned more about the digital transformation that affects commercial printing and packaging. Ultimately digital 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.

Web analytics show that we now have readership in North America and Europe amongst the 90 countries where our five platforms reach. Our traffic which more than doubled in 2020, has at times gone up by another 50% in 2021. And advertising which had fallen to pieces in 2020 and 2021, has started its return since January 2022.

As the economy approaches real growth with unevenness and shortages a given, we are looking forward to the PrintPack India exhibition in Greater Noida. We are again appointed to produce the Show Daily on all five days of the show from 26 to 30 May 2022.

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– Naresh Khanna

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