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APEDA Chief Highlights Dynamism of India's Market-Oriented Agriculture

As Indian farmers discover the advantages of integrating with the world economy, the country's premier agricultural and food products processing agency is equipping them with the knowledge they need to become leaders in the new marketplace, says Sourish Bhattacharyya from IFE-Poland

The Chairman of India's Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), K. S. Money, says a "paradigm shift" is taking place in agriculture, with the country's focus moving from meeting "minimum needs" to realising "maximum potential". And the way forward for India 's farmers, he said, was to cash in on the three new drivers of the economy - liberalisation, integration with the WTO and advances in IT and biotechnology - to deliver "world-class products at competitive prices".

Speaking at an IFE-Poland 2006 conference on ' India 's Processed Foods Market: Ready for Generation Next?' in Warsaw last week, Money said the country had many natural advantages - a varied climate, the largest acreage of irrigated land in the world and a major reservoir of human resources - but now was the time for the farmers to become competitive globally. Money also made a strong pitch for FDI in India 's farm sector, citing the example of a company from The Netherlands, which found out that it was much cheaper to grow tulips in India .

IFE-Poland, organised by the London-based Montgomery International, is the leading Central European food, drink and hospitality industry trade event, which completed its fourth successful year on October 17-19 at Warsaw 's Expo XXI exhibition centre. The show saw a significant participation from Germany , Austria , Hungary , Spain , Portugal , and SUSTA, the agency promoting the food products of the American South globally. India was represented by APEDA and the country's leading rice exporter, Satnam Overseas, which focused on its Kohinoor range of sandwich spreads, heat-and-eat products, spices and frozen vegetables.

Dwelling at length on the dramatic changes in India 's agrarian economy, Money, a senior Indian bureaucrat, said the phenomenon of contract farming was significantly altering the lives of small farmers with fragmented holdings. Contract farming is being promoted by leading domestic companies entering the food retail and processed foods segments. In this emerging marketplace, farmers were able to circumvent layers of middlemen and enter into commercial tie-ups with the end users of their products. Talking about the initiatives taken by APEDA to make Indian agricultural products more competitive, Money, who's a member of the elite Indian Administrative Service, said the agency first educated Indian grape growers on the tough European standards on pesticide residues and then lined up labs to subject their produce to rigorous tests. As farmers could not afford the tests, APEDA got them subsidised. Indian table grapes, as a result, are back in the global marketplace.

This is one of the many moves initiated by APEDA, which operates under the Ministry of Commerce, to enhance the competitiveness of India 's agricultural products globally. The agency's objective, Money said, was to transform Indian agriculture from traditional subsistence farming to a modern, market-oriented commercial activity.

In sync with these objectives, the agency routed exports worth US$3.68 billion in 2004-05 (up from US$0.07 billion in its inception years, 1986-87), which was nearly one-half of India 's total exports of agricultural and food products (US$7.38 billion, or 11.4% of the total exports from India ). APEDA's portfolio, which was on display at the agency's IFE-Poland pavilion, extends from fruit, vegetables, meat and meat products to honey, pickles and bakery products - the portfolio reflects the abundance, diversity and quality of the country's agricultural products and processed foods. A media release circulated by the agency said its main functions were to identify new markets, provide better support systems to exporters, assure the supply of products that are consistent with the quality standards acceptable to international markets, and drive exports at competitive prices.

At IFE-Poland 2006, APEDA's primary focus was on honey, wine and mangoes, and if the number of inquiries made at the stall, plus the number of visiting cards collected by Harpal Singh, Deputy Manager, APEDA, were any indication, India's agricultural products and processed food industries definitely are ready for generation next.

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