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HindustanTimes Mon,29 Dec 2014

NDA plans ‘food grid’ to move produce

Zia Haq and Gaurav Choudhury, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, July 05, 2014
First Published: 13:04 IST(5/7/2014) | Last Updated: 13:08 IST(5/7/2014)

The NDA government has begun working on a plan to set up a “national food grid” to move fruits and vegetables from surplus zones to deficit areas quickly by ramping up storage and processing, as it hunts for a long-term solution to reduce food prices.

The idea is still being envisioned in the food processing ministry, which will anchor the plan and experts could be drafted in to come up with an incubator model.

Essentially, it will have to be a system to facilitate sorting, grading, storage, movement and tracking of food stocks in an integrated “grid”, comprising a series of food processing centres and cold storage chains linked to an IT-enabled system.

“As a first step, we are preparing a food map to find out which parts grow what commodities that can be preserved and what foods cause inflation,” food processing minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal told HT.

A “food grid” is in principle akin to a power grid that speedily allocates power according to demand. An ambitious plan, it will require a multiministerial effort.

Badal said cold storages would have to be an essential part of the grid and during seasons of a glut, commodities such as onions could be “dehydrated” and made purees to be supplied to institutional buyers, such as the defence establishments and mid-day meal operators. This will lower the overall demand for fresh onions and keep prices affordable, she said.

Although India’s food processing industry accounts for 32% of the total food market, only 2-3% of India’s vegetables are processed into various products to increase their shelf life.

“Cold storages suffer from many problems such as electricity shortage. Gas as a fuel is expensive,” Badal added.

The ministry plans to propose linking cold storage projects to agricultural credit, since lack of viability has kept investments low.

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