Food processing industry and geothermal: Indian scenario

Known as the fruit and vegetable basket of the world, India ranks second in fruits and vegetables production in the world, after China. According to the National Horticulture Board, during 2009-2010, India produced 71 million metric tones of fruits and 134 million metric tones of vegetables. The area under cultivation for fruits is about 6 million  hectares while that of vegetables is 8 hectares. Amongst vegetables, India is the largest producer of ginger and okra and ranks second in potatoes production (10%), onions, cauliflowers, brinjal, cabbages, etc.  Amongst fruits first is mango (39% ) followed by bananas (28%). During 2010-11, India exported fruits and vegetables worth Rs.3856 crores which comprised of  fruits  worth  Rs. 2635  crores  and  vegetables  worth  Rs.1221 crores (MoFPI, 2011).

Food processing sector is one of the largest sectors in India in terms of production, growth, consumption, and export. The turnover of the total food market is approximately Rs. 250,000 crores (US$ 69.4 billion) out of which value-added food products comprise Rs.80,000 crores (US$ 22.2 billion)

India annually produces 205 million tones of fruits and vegetables and is the  second largest country in farm production in the world. Only 2.2 % of this are processed. In contrast, countries, like USA (65%), China (23%) and Philippines (78%) are far ahead of India in reducing the wastage and enhancing the value addition and shelf life of the farm products. This is an alarming signal for India as  large volume of the agricultural produce is wasted. About 35% of the fruits and vegetables are wasted annually, due to poor storage facility, amounting to a revenue loss of Rs. 500 billion  and 80% of the vegetables rot due to high water content and lack of processing facility, resulting in  revenue loss of Rs 125 billion. India is very ambitious to increase the processing level to 20% by 2015! (MOFPI, 2011).

Between 1993 and 2006 the installed capacity of fruits and vegetables processing industry has increased from 1.1 million tones to 2.1 million tones,  a meagre  1 million tone increase in 13 years!!

The fruits and vegetables processing industry is highly decentralized, and a large number of units are in the cottage, household and small-scale sectors, having small capacities of up to 250 tones per annum. Since 2000, the food processing industry has seen large growth in ready-to-serve beverages, fruit juices and pulps, dehydrated and frozen fruits and vegetable products, pickles, mushrooms and ready-mix vegetables.  These small scale units engaged in these segments of processing are export oriented.

The major destinations for Indian fruits and vegetables are Russia, USA, Bangladesh, UAE, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, UK, Nepal, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Indonesia. Between 2010-2011 India exported 2072015 MT processed vegetables ( onions, vegetables, grapes etc) worth Rs. 385562 lacs. Out of this onions only accounted for 1163473 MT worth Rs. 174156 lacs!! (APEDA, 2011, Agricultural and Processed food products Export Development Authority)

Russia is a major importer of processed fruits and vegetables from India and the country imported 13477 million tones of dehydrated vegetables and fruits worth 5963 lacs in 2010-2011. The second major importer is USA with 11164 million tones of dehydrated fruits and vegetables in 2010-2011

The consumption of processed fruits and vegetables are low in India compared to the primary foods because they are available fresh in the market to the consumer. The demand for processed foods is mostly lies in the urban market due to the lifestyle and purchasing power of the urban population. Thus, there is a large demand for processed food in the export market and India can capture this market by restructuring and strengthening its infrastructure.

India’s food processing sector covers fruits and vegetables, spices, meat and poultry, milk and milk products, alcoholic beverages, fisheries, plantation, grain processing and other consumer product groups like confectionery, chocolates and cocoa products, soya-based products, mineral water, high protein foods etc. Since liberalization in Aug’91 proposals for projects  have been proposed in various segments of the food and agro-processing industry. Besides this, Govt. has also approved proposals for joint ventures, foreign collaboration, industrial licenses and 100% export oriented units envisaging an investment. Out of this, foreign investment is over Rs.10,000 crores

India’s exports of processed food was Rs.14925 crores in 2010-11, that includes several other products like Mango Pulp (Rs.814 crores), processed fruits and vegetables (Rs. 1833 crores)

Foreign direct investment (FDI) in the country’s food sector is poised to hit the US$ 3-billion mark in coming years. FDI approvals in food processing have doubled in last one year alone. The cumulative FDI inflow in food processing reached US$ 2,804 million in the recent years and is poised to double in the coming years.

Indi’s  food sector vision 2015 aims at providing safe and quality food, providing dynamic food processing industry, enhancing the competitiveness of food processing industry in domestic and international markets,  increasing the infrastructure facilities to enhance the production of processed food,  increasing the level of perishable agricultural produce from 6 to 20%, increasing the value addition from 20 to 35%,  increasing the share in global trade from 1.5 % to 3% by the year 2015. To achieve this vision, an estimated investment of Rs. 100,000 crores (1000 x 109) is required .  Private sector is expected to invest about 45,000 crores and equal amount from financial sector and Rs 10,000 crores (100 x 109) from the Government.

About 80% vegetables and fruits perish due to high water content. Due to lack of such facilities, food worth 2.5 billion US$ is wasted annually.

Indian food sector uses about 13 % of the electricity (IEA, 2007) amounting to 63 x 106 MWhr (from coal fired thermal power plants). This amounts to emission of  11 x 107 kg of CO2.  By using conventional fossil fuel, as it is being practiced now, India can never compete with the world food processing market. For example, 250 gm of dehydrated onions costs 0.5 US$ in the Indian market today while the price of 1 kg of raw onion from the producer costs 0.1 US$. India  should learn a lesson from a small country like Guatemala in Central America that uses geothermal for food processing and captured the European market in dehydrated fruits and vegetables (Chandrasekharam,2001). This industry requires about 6 billion US$ to strengthen infrastructure by creating state or art storage and production facilities.

It is not difficult to create such infrastructure facilities to process the agricultural produce. India has a large geothermal resources in states like Maharashtra, Gujarat,  Himachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, J & K, West Bengal, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh where the food processing industries are established supported by conventional energy sources. These states also produces large volumes of fruits and vegetables. For example, Maharashtra is one of the largest producer of onions. Nearly 20% of onions rot yearly due to lack of cold storage facility or processing facility to dehydrate the onions to increase its shelf life. The cost of onions in the farm is, as mentioned above is less than 10 US cents. By utilizing the geothermal energy source, the cost of dehydrated onions can be brought down by several factors there by making the product competitive in the international market. On one side the export market will boom due to lower cost and the other side industry can earn carbon credits since, carbon free energy source is being utilised to support the industry.

In terms of earnings through CDM, it will be about  88 x 107 € at the current CER of  8 € per tCO2. Thus,  India can very well exploit its geothermal energy sources for food processing facility there by earning the required capital to build this state of art storage and processing facilities and become the top trader in the world food processing sector. The agro products from the farm can directly be transported to the geothermal sites where dehydration facility can be established. The processed food (fruits and vegetables) can directly marketed to other countries to earn foreign exchange.