Oct 6, 2014

While Indian farmers are forced to dump tomatoes in the streets, Indian food processing industry merrily imports cheaper tomato paste from China

Not able to get the right price for tomatoes, farmers often resort to throwing away the produce -- The Hindu pic

Some decades back, soon after the Ministry of Food Processing was set up in prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's tenure, I was speaking at the M S Swaminathan Foundation in Chennai. While most speakers were busy hyping the importance of food processing in reducing food wastage, which I am not in disagreement, I stressed on the need to ensure that the nascent food industry focuses more on sourcing local farm produce in processing rather than importing the food concentrate. Illustrating the point I made, I gave an example of the orange juice being made available in tetra-packs.

At that time, I remember one of the popular orange juice brands had it written on the tetra-pack: "Made from freshly picked up oranges from California."

I am sure you will agree that if the orange concentrate is to be imported from California, all the talk of reducing food wastage becomes meaningless. Soon after my viewpoint was carried prominently by the media, the processing house at least dropped this sentence from their juice cartons.

Yesterday, on a visit to a food processing unit in Sonepat district in Haryana, I was shocked when I was told that tomato paste is being imported in large quantities from China. In fact, most of the big brands of tomato ketchup and tomato puree are using imported paste and pulp from China. This is happening at a time when farmers are repeatedly being forced to throw tomatoes onto the streets for want of buyers. This year too, when food inflation was at its peak, reports of dumping of tomatoes by farmers had poured in from several parts of the country, including Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

With tomato prices crashing to Rs 2 (and at several places to Re 1 per kg) farmers had no choice but to feed it to cattle or to throw it away.

This was happening at a time when the tomato processing industry was merrily importing tomato paste and up mainly from China. While politicians, TV commentators, editorial writers stressed on the need to strengthen food processing, not many know that the existing tomato processing industry was relaying heavily on cheaper import of pulp and paste. This is not the first year for such imports, a review of reports on Google showed that such imports are continuing over the years.

Not many know that the popular brands of tomato ketchup, tomato puree and even tomato juices that we consume at home are made from tomatoes imported from China, Nepal, Italy, USA and the Netherlands. In other words, we are inadvertently helping tomato farmers of the countries from where we import while our own farmers are left to die.

Just in one month, between Aug 28, 2014 and Sept 28, 2014, India imported US $ 376,009 worth of dried tomato and tomato products (like paste, pulp and juice concentrate) from China, followed by US $ 94,057 worth of imports from Nepal, and US $ 44,160 from the Netherlands. Some more research, and I find that in 2010 when traders were eyeing the market opportunities in Pakistan arising from devastating floods, the Indian processing industry was busy importing tomato paste from China. A news report in the Economic Times (Oct 20, 2010) quoted Pradeep Chordia, managing director Chordia Food Products Ltd saying: "We can't afford the high local prices so we imported 80 per cent of our requirement of tomato paste from China this year."

Another food processor, Akshay Bector of the Ludhian-based Rs 400-crore Cremica Group said: "There is a cost advantage in buying from China versus India where prices fluctuate." This company supplies to McDonalds, Taj Group, ITC Group, Jet Airways, Indian Airlines, and chains such as Barista, Cafe Coffee Day, Pizza Hut, Domino and Papa John's.

Go back a little more, and you find a lot of Indian companies importing tomato paste way back in 2005, and even before. No wonder, tomato farmers in India have been at a great disadvantage for several years now, if not decades.

I therefore have three suggestions:

1. Ministry of Food Processing should encourage food processors to mention on the label the place from where the raw material is being sourced. Traceability is now an important trade issue.

2. It should be made mandatory for the food processing units to source the raw material that is available in India, from domestic sources. This is the only way to develop the back-end infrastructure that will help reduce farm wastage.

3. A minimum support prices should be announced for tomato which should serve as a floor price for the markets.


Kevin said...

This is a some what distorted version of facts. Our farmers do not grow high solids processing varieties of tomato. We cannot process table varieties of this fruit. This must change first. Thereafter since China subsidises its processed tomato we need to put countervailing duties up to protect our industry

Anonymous said...

When the domestic manufacturers themselves don't make use of the local produce and rather rely on foreign ones, then what is the use of the "Make in India" campaign. Does it mean just making in India in absolute terms without any swadeshi considerations and nicely sourcing inputs from cheaper areas from across the globe? Then it would be no different from "globalization" except that the choice of the manufacturing location is India, as desired by the GoI!!

All the 3 suggestions you have made are the urgent need of the hour.

* Also these tomatoes can be bought and made into natural red colour(and also related colours) dyes by private and Govt dye-making units for clothing.
* Any vegetable/fruit that is in excess of production should before getting rotted be immediately bought & sent to the bhojana-shalas of temples(Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanam etc. where tens of thousands of devotees eat daily), mutts, charity homes, dyeing units etc.

Our rulers and policy-makers should show some creativity in disposing off farm wastage in a win-win way so that both the farmers, govt., public on one side and the nature on the other side will stand to benefit. Every grain of food should be treated with reverence. It is only by not wasting food can there be anna-samruddhi(abundance of anna) for people. On the personal side, my mother always told us never to waste left-overs of meals by putting them in a dust-bin but rather feed that to a dog or give it away to maid-servant - at any hour of the day without any delay.

Minakshi.Malhotra. said...

This is indeed. an alarming revelation !!
1.)) In the 1960s China gifted us “Non-stick cookware”
& Ceramic cookware with dangerous levels of Pb (lead ) .
2.)) Later, around 1997 , thousands of tons of '' radioactive'' steel scrap, random bits of scrap of radioactive material was shipped to China, it came BACK TO US as knives, cooking utensils, toys,& other goods !! ie , it gets melted down & re-used: & converted.into consumer goods..It is this metal that we come into contact with every day--frying pans, bracelets,silverware, zippers, coins, belt-buckles,chairs, batteries in cars, motorbikes & computers.
3.)) Now tomato paste & pulp from China. ....... seems like an exponential increase of POISONS . Definately, your 3 suggestions are the urgent need of the hour to save us & our farmers !

Anonymous said...

Here is story of vitamin C powder.......
China issues subsidies to its manufactures of vitamin c powder to such levels that no one in the world could compete and once the factories around the globe shut down completely because they had no buyer for their Vit C, what does the Chinese do, the obvious, raise the price what suited them. After all it is not an easy job to start a factory all over again. That is pretty much the moto of Chinese manufacturing. Unless we protected our manufacturers or producers we as a society is doomed to fail and unfortunately our leaders 500 odd of them and 1000more fail to understand this.
Time for Krishn to come back to planet earth unless Modi decides to do something who hasn't shown much substance so far. They can all be bought and so can be Modi, I wonder who funded his campaign.
God bless

Sanjeev Sandal said...

The problem can be overcome by registering the farmers which will help us in estimating the expected produce well in advance and accordingly, the arrangements may be made for either preliminary processing of tomato by farmers' itself or transported as per requirement. T

Rakesh Mallick said...

What some months ago we had to buy tomato at Rs 60 per kg.

theroughride said...

very nice article. The problems of farmers not only tomato can only be addressed if farmers unite under one flag. Since farmer never does audit he never knows his losses. And he is on the last of food chain so no one bothers about him. Unless farmers realize they are who are running the world, and they can stop it too. Now why the factories find cheap to import stuff is because most of counties including china are using genetically modified seeds and production is much more than indian hybrid seeds plus GM crops have less diseases too. Same is happening with sugarcane industry. So either farmer stitches to do food processing of his own produce or sow what is in demand, his survival is difficult.