Lesson 1. Scope and importance of food processing

1.0 Introduction

Indian agriculture is a way of life and it supports about 60 per cent of population for their livelihood and contributes 17% of GDP in India. Engineering inputs are vital for modernization of agriculture, agro-processing and rural living. It is needed for development and optimal utilization of natural resources, appropriate mechanism of unit operations of agriculture for increasing production, productivity with reduced unit cost of production for greater profitability, economic competitiveness and sustainability. Mechanism also imparts capacity to the farmers to carry out farm operation with dignity, with ease and freedom from drudgery, making the farming agreeable vocation for educated youth as well. It helps the farmers to achieve timeliness and precisely mater and apply costly input for better efficacy and efficiency, achieving higher productivity with reduced application of inputs.

Agricultural produce and by-products are perishable in nature in varying degree and their perishability gets exploited on the market floor compelling distress sales orchestrated by factors of demand and supply, intervention of the faces of marketing in the absence of matching post-harvest technology (PHT) and agro-processing infrastructure. Agricultural Engineering inputs are also needed to assure remunerative prices to the growers and a share in the value addition to the growers through on-farm PHT and value addition to their produce and by-products in order to strengthen their livelihood base landholdings are decreasing for their socio-economic sustenance and assure minimum standards of living.


1.1  Food, Agriculture and Mechanization

Food is the first and the foremost requirement of the people for their survival. It provides nutrients like proteins, carbohydrates, fats minerals and vitamins. It involves cultivation of field crops, horticulture, animal raising and aquaculture. Agriculture is practiced in two phases.

i)  the production agriculture and the goal is to get maximum productivity and

ii) post production agriculture where the major targets are prevention of loss and value addition. Agriculture is practiced for self and/or trade.

1.2 Food Processing

Food processing operations includes many methods that are used to add value to the raw food materials (including marine products, poultry and meat) which can be consumed by human beings or animals. Raw food materials are transformed into edible products processing and value addition. The operations involved in food processing are mainly classified into two groups, viz., primary processing and secondary processing. This provides employments to rural people including women and prevents capital drain from rural to urban areas and thereby helps in narrowing down the economic disparity between rural & urban population.

Primary processing relates to conversion of raw agricultural produce, milk, meat and fish into a commodity that is fit for human consumption. It involves steps such as cleaning, grading, sorting, packing, etc. Secondary and tertiary processing industries usually deal with higher levels of processing where new or modified food products are manufactured.

 1.3 Present status of Food Processing

To meet the current demand of food materials, the industrial food processing sector has emerged. The food processing sector in the country is mainly handled by the unorganized sectors. About, 42% of the output comes from the unorganized sector, 25% comes from the organized sector and the rest of it comes from the small scale players. The small-scale food processing sector is a major source of employment and adds value to crops by processing. It is a major source of food in the human diet.

The small-scale food processing sector is, however, under increasing threat and competition from the large manufacturers who, through economies of scale and better presentation and marketing. Good packaging lies at the very heart of presentation and thus customer appeal. It is an area of vital importance for small and medium food manufacturers if they are going to continue to compete and expand. With food processing, it is possible to maintain a nutritious and safe food supply for the millions of people that inhabit both urban and rural areas.  Improvement in processing efficiency, by increased yield of usable product, is a tangible means of reducing food loss and increasing food supply. Demand for increased convenience of food preparation in the home, institution and restaurant has created a need from processing industries for food ingredients as well as new food forms. 

1.4 Importance of Food Processing

All the raw food materials are processed to improve their palatability, nutritional value and shelf-life.

Foods are processed for five major reasons:

1) preservation for later consumption or sale to fetch better price

2) removal of inedible portions

3) destruction or removal of harmful substances

4) conversion to forms desired by the consumer and

5) subdivision into food ingredients. 

Generally, the first - preservation for later consumption or sale – is the primary reason for food processing.

Field crops, including grains, oilseeds, sugar crops and forages are major contributors of the nutrients required by man either through direct consumption of the seed kernel or isolated components as food, or through utilization of the plant and byproducts as feed in the production of meat, poultry, milk, eggs and fish.  Field crops also have major non-food uses.  However, in essentially all instances, harvested field crops must be processed in some manner prior to utilization as food or feed or in industry so as to reduce their post harvest losses. A nation-wise study on quantitative assessment of harvest and post harvest losses for 46 agricultural produces in 106 randomly selected districts was carried out by Central Institute of Post Harvest Institute (CIPHET) and found the results as given in Table 1.1.

 Table 1.1 Per cent of losses estimated for major produces

Cereals Pulses Oilseeds Fruits & Vegetables Milk Fisheries Meat Poultry
3.9 – 6.0 4.3-6.1 6.0 5.8-18.0 0.8 2.9 2.3 3.7

1.5 Scope of Food Processing

India is the world's second largest producer of food next to China, and has the potential of being the biggest with the food and agricultural sector. The total food production in India is likely to double in the next ten years and there is an opportunity for large investments in food and food processing technologies, skills and equipment, especially in areas of Canning, Dairy and Food Processing, Packaging, Frozen Food/Refrigeration and Thermo-Processing. Fruits & Vegetables Processing, Fisheries, Milk & Milk Products, Meat & Poultry, Packaged/Convenience Foods, Alcoholic Beverages & Soft Drinks and Grain processing are important sub-sectors of the food processing industry. The consumer product groups like confectionery, chocolates and cocoa products, Soya-based products, mineral water, high protein foods, soft beverages, alcoholic and non-alcoholic fruit beverages, etc. along with the health food and health food supplements is another rapidly rising segment of this industry which is gaining vast popularity. 

India produces nearly 16% of the world’s total food grain production. It is one of the largest producers of agricultural produce. With a population expected to reach to about 590 million people by 2030 in urban India, India has a huge potential domestic demand for processed foods other than the demand from the exports. There are many socio-economic factors that are driving the demand side of the Indian Food Processing Industry. The changing consumption patterns, both in tier 1 and tier 2 cities, rising income levels among the middle-class and changing lifestyles, are some of the factors providing the demand side push for the Food Processing Industry. Moreover, the central government has given a priority status to all agro-processing businesses.

 1.6 Key constraints for growth

Though there are many promising dynamics which support good growth of this industry, there are still some significant constraints which, if not addressed properly, can impede the growth prospects of the Food Processing Industry in India. One of the biggest constraints is that this industry is capital intensive. It creates a strong entry barrier and allows lesser number of players to enter the market. Lesser players mean lesser competition and lesser competition means reduced efforts to improve the quality standards.

There are other two constraints which pertain to maintaining the standards of quality. First constraint is poor infrastructure for storing raw food materials. Two main types of storages – the warehouses and the cold storages, lag in storage standards. The pests infest the grains sometimes due to lack of monitoring, proper use of pesticides and proper ventilation. Similarly, the power outages result in sub-optimal function of the cold-storages and the quality of food material in the cold storages becomes questionable. The second important aspect is having poor quality standards and control methods for implementing the quality standards for processing and packaging the processed foods. For example, vegetables may not be washed properly and processed into either ‘ready to eat food’ or packaged as ‘cut and ready to cook’ vegetables.

Also, continuity of quality power, good quality of water for processing, instruments for rapid and reliable analysis, versatile instruments/equipments for multi commodity, cultivars are not suitable for specific processing, etc. are other limitations for food processing industry.

Unless these important constraints are addressed it will be difficult to break the cultural barrier where people prefer fresh food over packaged food. It will be difficult to gain customer confidence and the perceived growth of this industry may actually not be so lucrative.


Bench Marking of Food Processing Technologies – NCOFTECH 2011. Indian Crop Processing Technology, Ministry of Food Processing Industries, Govt. Of India, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu.

Data Bank on Economic Parameters of the Food Processing Sector – 2011 published by the Ministry of Food Processing Industries, Government of India, New Delhi (available at: http://mofpi.nic.in/images/File/DataBank_SectoralDatabaseFPIs_140212.pdf)

Food Science and Technology, by Avantika Sharma. International Book Distributing Co., Lucknow (ISBN: 81-8189-097-3).

Guide to Post Harvest Unit Operations, by Dhamsaniya, N. K. Kalyani Publishers, Ludhiana (ISBN: 978-81-272-4869-7).

Handbook of Processing and Utilization in Agriculture, By: Wolff, I.A. CRC series in Agriculture, Volume-II, Part-I. CRC Press, Florida (ISBN: 0-8493-3872-7).

Related websites

http://agricoop.nic.in/Agristatistics.htm (surfed on February 22, 2011).

http://mofpi.nic.in (surfed on February 24, 2011).

http://www.entrepreneurswebsite.com/2011/03/18/food-processing-industry-in-india/ (surfed on February 24, 2011).

Last modified: Tuesday, 4 February 2014, 5:42 AM