COVID-19 was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30th January 2020. In order to contain the spread of this virus in India, our Hon’ble Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi announced a 21-day lockdown on March 24, 2020. Prior to the announcement of the lockdown, all countries across the globe were standing at the same point of the curve of this pandemic. However, post-lockdown 1.0, the majority of the nations have recorded approximately 25 times the number of cases in India. This clearly shows the successful implementation of the lockdown 1.0 and justifies the continuation of the same till 3rd May 2020 as lockdown 2.0 that began on 14th April 2020.
In August 2018, Ministry of Food Processing Industries set up an Investment Facilitation Cell with Invest India to handhold investors in the food processing sector.
On March 26th 2020, Hon’ble Minister Smt. Harsimrat Kaur Badal, Minister of Food Processing Industries, announced the setting up of a task force with the senior officials of the government and members of the Investment Facilitation Cell of Invest India. The main purpose of setting up this task force was to combat the COVID-19 crisis disrupting our food supply chain while ensuring hassle-free operations and uninterrupted supply of essential goods.
The task force has been facilitating the food processing industries while handling the issues of the business community on a real time basis and focusing on the revival of the sector simultaneously. Till date, over 450 queries have been received by the task force out of which, more than 85% have been resolved including the facilitation of more than 100 units in restarting their operations. All officials of MoFPI and Invest India team have been dedicatedly working 24*7 for addressing the issues raised by the industry.
The timely efforts of the taskforce under the leadership of the Hon’ble Minister, Ministry of Food Processing Industries has resulted in millions of worth of perishable commodities being saved from spoilage, thus positively impacting the livelihood of a large number of farmers.
Some major initiatives being taken by the task force include-
1. Communication to all Chief Secretaries across India were sent, emphasizing the need for continuous functioning of the food industry and their suppliers.
2. Four video conferences chaired by Smt. Harsimrat Kaur Badal, Hon’ble Minister Food Processing Industries, were organised to discuss the issues being faced by the industry during the lockdown period and devise a strategy to revive the sector.\
3. First VC was held on 30th March 2020 to discuss the issues being faced by industry due to the imposition of the lockdown. This saw major participation from industry organizations (ASSOCHAM, FICCI, ICC, PHD Chambers, FINER, AIFPA and CII) representing industry players across various sub-sectors in the food industry. Some major industry players were from ITC, Nestle, HUL, MTR Foods, Baggry’s India Ltd., Britannia, and Mondelez to name a few.
4. Second VC was held on 4th April 2020 as a follow up with the industry on the progress of steps taken by the government to resolve issues. A major initiative announced was that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has made several exemptions through addendums to its earlier order, which has benefitted the agri-food industry.
5.Third VC was held on 8th April 2020 which witnessed participation of all Presidents of major Industry Associations of India to chart out a short and medium-term strategy for economic revival post COVID-19.
6. Fourth VC was held on 9th April 2020 with exporters of agri and marine products, APEDA and MPEDA to address challenges, take suggestions for the revival and strengthen food exports.
7. A video conference was also organized by the taskforce under the chairpersonship of Secretary, Ministry of Food Processing Industries, with flour miller associations and industry players on 16th April 2020 to discuss the problems and prospects of the flour industry in the wake of COVID-19, especially during the harvest month of wheat, and to strengthen the supply chain of the product in the country.
8.The taskforce has also been focusing on ensuring that there is no shortage of food supply across the country once the lockdown is lifted for which, it is assessing the current capacity utilization of food processing units across the country.
9.The food processing sector is one of the most important pillars of the economy and its proper functioning is at the highest priority for all. In regard to this sentiment, the taskforce has conducted webinars with the industry to discuss ways of restructuring their business models and coming out as world leaders post-lockdown. Additionally, international webinars are also being planned to encourage FDI and to highlight the opportunities in the food processing sector of India.
Post-lockdown, it is imperative for businesses to adhere to the “new normal” that has already set in. The adaptability of the food processing sector to the adverse circumstances created by COVID-19 and their strength to come out of it stronger and with more vigour, puts this sector at a leader’s position globally. The food processing sector is a major contributor to the ‘Resurgent India’ goal due to its newly identified strengths. The Investment Facilitation Cell will ensure a smooth transition for the food processing industry post-lockdown to streamline its supply chain and place India on the world map as the “Food Bowl”.