The Association of Food Scientists and Technologists AFST(I), one of the biggest associations in the country reaching global platform through professional membership of scientists, technologists and engineers, has around 3,000 members comprising food scientists and technologists around the globe. Since August 1957, the Association has been bringing together members on a platform along with experts in the field not only from India but also from abroad, along with captains of the industries to share the commonalities of cutting edge technology in today’s changing scenario. It is in this context that the Association organises the annual conference Indian Convention of Food Scientists and Technologists (ICFoST), which is attended by a large number of scientists, technologists, entrepreneurs, and it also hosts an international conference International Food Convention (IFCON) once in every five years.
Besides, it brings out two journals, the Journal of Food Science and Technology and the Indian Food Industry to communicate the latest developments happening in the industry to all stakeholders. Recently Dr Prathap Kumar Shetty, Associate Professor at the Department of Food Science and Technology, Pondicherry University, has taken over as President of AFSTI for a period of one year. In an email interview he shared his views about the food science and technology space in India. Excerpts of the interview.
How do you see the trends in food science and technology space in India?
Food science and technology is the sunrise sector poised to grow in leaps and bounds in the coming decades. With rapid urbanisation and swell of the middle class processed and packed food sector is poised to grow many folds. When compared to all other market space, processed food sector has an ever increasing space in the economy and cannot be ignored. The demand in the domestic market for processed foods is going to increase and domestic industries and supply chain have to gear up to cope up with that.
With the rapid shift from agricultural production centric to process and value addition and quality centric economy, the role expected to be played by food scientists and technologists is also many fold more than earlier.
How many scientists and technologist are working on R&D in developing new tools and technologies related to food industry?
It is very difficult to estimate the number. But the number is poised to increase several fold in the next decade.
Do you feel there is dearth of skilled work force in this space?
Yes. I am of the opinion that there is definitely dearth of skilled work force in this space. There are only limited institutions which are capable of adequately training the human resource and there is a requirement of consolidated efforts from the institutions which are already training the human resource in the area. The training does not mean BTech, MTech and MSc., but training the work force on specific skills which are required by the food industry.
Which are leading research institutes in India focusing on food sciences and technologies? What are the focused areas of research at these centres?
Most important institute involved in the R& D activities is Central Food Technological Research Institute or CSIR-CFTRI Mysore, which has contributed enormously to advancement in food science and technology and also with the mandate of training human resource in latest technological advancements. Other important institution is Defence Food Research Laboratory (DFRL), Mysore, which has developed various practical technologies originally developed for the armed forces, but also has been disseminated to the food industries successfully.
In addition to these two premiere institutions, there are many other institutions such as Indian Institute of Crop Processing Technology (IICPT – formerly Paddy Processing Research Centre) Thanjavur, National Institute of Food Technology Entrepreneurship and Management (NIFTEM), Kundli, Haryana, under the Ministry of Food Processing Industries, various food science and technology departments in various universities and IIT’S. Many new universities have started offering programmes in food science and technology recognising the demand in the area.
In this connection, one point is worth mentioning. Ministry of Food Processing Industries is helping institutions offering food science and technology courses by offering financial assistance to set up pilot plants through the National Food Processing Mission.
How many technologies have been developed in India in food industry by the local scientists and technologists?
It is very difficult to answer this question as technology development and transfer of technologies happen all the time between institutions and food industry.
What about funding from private sector in developing new food technologies?
Interaction and joint projects between the private sector and the institutions has started taking off at various institutions. However, the concept is still in the nascent stage in our country. For example in the western countries, the industry sponsored projects are more common.
One of the major activities of the association is taking proactive role in shaping public opinion and government policies with regard to safety and quality of food policies and development of food industries. In this regard what major initiatives has the association undertaken in last one year and going to take this year? AFST(I) represents the voice of the food scientists and technologists and with the sector becoming more relevant, the responsibility of the association is also increasing. We are planning to get the association more actively involved in two-way interaction with the food industry and also the government. The association is an independent body and is hence un- biased in its approach. One should realise that the there are three components in this space. One is the government or the regulator, who has the mandate of safeguarding the interest of the consumer and at the same time needs the help of industry in making the food available to the consumer in the market.
The second one is the industry, which has a very important role to play by producing the processed products by imbibing the contemporary technologies in the production. The third component is the R&D institutions and universities. This component is the one which acts as the buffer providing the much needed scientific and technological advancements as well as training human resource. Beauty of our association is that we give a common platform for all the three components in an un-biased fashion.
In the current year, we are planning to approach the government to have close interaction with the AFST(I) on matters relating to the food sector. In addition, we are planning to conduct focussed training programmes aiming at skill development. Association will conduct workshops with special themes which would give platform for the government, academia and industry to come together. We are also making the directory of resource pool among the members of the association so that this valuable latent pool among the association members can be made available to the industry and also to the scientific community at large.
The Prime Minister has called for ‘Make in India’ strategy. What will be the contribution of AFST(I) to this government initiative?
Prime Minister’s dream strategy of ‘making in India’ is a great programme aimed with vision to strengthen our economy through quality products in India. Food sector is one such sector where the concept of make in India could be practically achieved. Our traditional food is our strength and India is one of the few countries with a wide diversity of traditional foods, many of which are known not only for their unique sensorial value, but also for their therapeutic properties. In this connection, we would be approaching the Prime Minister to establish a traditional foods board which would encourage research and development in area of traditional foods.
What steps/measures do you suggest/recommend as president of the AFST(I) to the government to improve research in the field of technology development?
As mentioned earlier, the government should constitute a traditional foods board to co-ordinate R&D activities in the area of traditional foods. This would bring research and development in the field to the forefront and also sensitise the researchers in the area.
In the administrative structure of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, people with Food Science and Technology should be represented so that the intricate matters relating to food could be properly dealt with.
The government should come up with a dedicated task force for food science.
AFST(I) should be permanently represented in all the bodies where food processing and food safety related decision are made.