Food Security and Food canning in Meghalaya is still a distant dream

Written by Meghalaya Times. Posted in Editorial

Thomas Lim
Meghalaya has a unique cuisine, yet food processing here has not picked up in spite of the favourable climate conditions and quality of agricultural produces. Many attempts were made by various organizations, be it for slow-food movement to food festivals, but it mostly ends there once the function is over. Keeping this situation in mind, ASSOCHAM - The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India, has been taking several initiatives with special focus on North East with the support of Ministry of Food Processing, Ministry of Agriculture and Department of industries in Meghalaya and other stake holders, through various awareness and knowledge among entrepreneurs, coordination between the stakeholders and thus the hand holding of young entrepreneurs. Over the last decade, the focus in the food industry has shifted to quality, health and integrity. Organic, natural and fresh produce are gaining popularity.

Meghalaya Governor, Ganga Prasad, on March 9, 2018  inaugurated the Food Congress on food processing and organic food organized by ASSOCHAM to promote food processing and sustainable livelihood in the state capital of the state- Shillong.
It may be reminded that under the UPA – II have proposed the Food Security Bill in the Parliament, no matter if the petrol prices keep rising or the onion price is uncontrolled. All are considered passing phases, which might just spring back. Though the introduced Bill still awaits the approval of Rajya Sabha, Meghalaya will not be able to contribute in agriculture, and remain just a mere spectator to the whole process. However, the state needs to rethink on food canning ventures in the state, but till date not much change is witnessed in this regards.
Food processing here in Meghalaya too is not shinning in spite of the favorable climate conditions and quality of agricultural produces. The state agriculture department had created a fruit processing unit using the brand name Meg Fruits, but it is yet to appeal to the taste buds of the general public not to talk of any meaningful exports.
Some social organizations do conduct workshops and help women and unemployed youth in food processing as a means of self employment at the cottage industry level. However, in their search to expand their business opportunities they have to move from pillar to post seeking assistance either from financial institutions or inclusion in government schemes. Most of the time the sheer experience of having to run in between government offices and repeating their cause to each and every government official dealing with such schemes caused dejection among the small – scale entrepreneurs, forcing them to give up the thought of sustenance through self employment.
Probably, if the government procedures for extending financial aid to deserving entrepreneurs is simplified and the dealing officials sensitized to be sympathetic and to do their assigned jobs in time, these small – scale entrepreneurs will be able to not only make a living for themselves and their families but also help in bringing – in export revenues through marketing their produces in national and international markets.
One of the main whole sale markets in Mumbai, Crawford Market, is almost always flooded with canned bamboo shoots bearing the name “Meghalaya” although the location of the canning is not mentioned on any pack. The stockists at that market say that they never run out of customers for this delicacy. This speaks of the demand for canned fruits and other food items produced and packed in Meghalaya.
In North East, Sikkim tops the market in canned food be it fruit or vegetable, pickle to fruit juice to sauces, and in Nagaland private individuals are capturing huge markets outside Nagaland for their smoked meat to the popular Raja mircha (local chillies).
Back in Meghalaya, attempts are being made to can bamboo shoot pickles, chilly pickles and some meat products. However, these attempts are limited to catering to the local markets with absolutely no attempts being made for exporting.
The fruit crops from Meghalaya and mushrooms besides vegetables are in high demand outside the North East and topping the list are the popular ‘soh mynken khnai,’ the small chillies, which is said to be found only in this part of the world. Yet, the local entrepreneurs and the state government have failed till date to cash in on the demand.
Since the Central government also stresses on the need for harmonizing India’s food standards with Codex Alimentarius, the collection of internationally recognized standards, codes of practice, guidelines and other recommendations relating to foods, food production and food safety to meet the safety standards in the world and calling for a new National Food Processing Policy that would promote innovation and technological development, will the state government  in Meghalaya take this opportunity to promote the food processing in  the state?
This should be accorded priority since this will, to an extent, mitigate the crunch of unemployment.
Mentionably, at the function of Environment and Wildlife Film Festival and Forum 2010, former Meghalaya Governor, Ranjit Shekhar Mooshahary, also proudly informed the Environment Specialist from the United Nations Development Programme, Matteo Marchisio, about the popularity of Bamboo shoots, which every tourist could see while traveling along the Shillong - Guwahati road.
It is time now that special training on canning and packaging of food products for global market is imparted; such that the avenues for local tribals too can expand to the global market. Now that ASSOCHAM has taken the initiative, more stress should be given to help Meghalaya to improve packaging and canning, such that the food processing will not confined in the state itself but carve out a niche in the global market.


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