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ASEAN and India can collaborate to offset challenges in food processing
Monday, 11 March, 2019, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Nandita Vijay, Bengaluru
ASEAN and India and specifically Karnataka are seen to have considerable scope to collaborate to make agriculture far more predictable and sustainable. Access to food, feed, fuel and fodder can be achieved with agriculture.

The ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) members and India can partner to offset the challenges in agriculture and food processing. The objective is to ensure identifying the expertise in each of the countries in the ASEAN region and India to engage in tech-transfer, according to Dr Jagadish Mittur, Director, Biotechnology Facilitation Cell, Karnataka department of IT, BT and S&T.

“India must invest in innovation and also look at South Asia and South East Asian countries which are better suited to cultivate certain crops or also consider the advantages of India to grow specific agri-produce. This is where innovators, startup ventures need to have a dialogue on the way forward in developing new solutions and technologies where India and other countries can come out of the challenges encountered in agriculture,” he added.  

Dr Mittur, who was speaking at the recently-concluded ASEAN-FICCI conference at the session titled ‘Agri business, food processing and aquatic resources,’ pointed out that there is a need for concepts of science and innovation in agri-tech. Hopefully in the ASEAN with Thailand and Malaysia being far more advanced, India will need to look up to them and exchange technologies or products and services that we are good at.

Moreover agriculture is time-consuming and developing new varieties of crops is long-drawn-out process. Therefore we need to invest ahead of time. These could be into predictive technologies adopting sensors, artificial intelligence, deep tech, drone to maximise the productivity of the land. There is also a need to see what could be the future of agriculture in 2030 and 2050 to ensure smooth agri practices prevail.

Coming to Karnataka, Dr Mittur highlighted that northern districts of the state were known for horticulture produce like pomegranate, banana, grapes along with pulses like tur and gram. But the region posed humidity levels. At the time of harvesting pulses and the drying process farmers needed to ensure that it would sprout because a serious lack of investment in food and grain processing existed here along with a paucity of warehouses to store these pulses. Therefore opportunities for potential players to look at these was imminent.  

The state is also a hub for sugarcane, which is an 11-month standing crop requiring fertile land and lot of water. Now India has surplus sugar and we need to work on new ideas where this raw material can be put to use and bring into the market. Currently sugar is in surplus.

In the area of tomatoes too, there was a glut and food processing companies have huge scope to value add here. Similarly there was a need to encourage entry of BT crops and vegetables like brinjal going by the success rate in Bangladesh.

Farmers are moving away from growing perishable and short-term crops and are opting for integrated farming system to get return on investment. Further there was a visible shift to opt for trees over crops because of difficulties to access labour and non- remunerative prices.

Therefore we need to work with each other to look at methods and technologies get more from less. The focus of our collaborations with ASEAN should be to arrive at lower labour cost, less devastation, reduced input cost and methods to protect the produce from the fields. “Integrated farming could be the answer,” concluded Dr Mittur.
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