A Rich Harvest

Steaming idiappams in Paris, crisp banana chips in California and fluffy Malabar parottas in Dubai – Kerala food is going international, thanks to the vibrant agro/food processing industry in the state. The recipe for success is pretty uncomplicated. An encouraging investment climate, a land laden with natural resources and an enterprising people together have cooked up a rather spectacular success story for the industry.
Government Policy: The government has long recognised the immense revenue and employment potential of the agro/food processing sector. Kerala was the first state to set up a food park and an SEZ for food processing industries in the country. This has been followed by a slew of policies over the years aimed at consolidating and strengthening the industry.
The initiatives taken in this regard include adding yet another food processing park to the existing two, food technology incubation centres, food biotechnology centre and food business incubation centre. The government also plans to establish three coconut bio-parks – one each in southern, central and northern Kerala. The aim is to create a technology, marketing and production infrastructure for value added food items.
The Harvest: The state has around 1300 food processing units. The encouraging investment climate created by the government has already paid rich dividends with investors tapping and converting the state’s wealth of resources like foodgrains, cereals, vegetables and herbs into major revenue earners. The state is home to numerous small scale units engaged in the manufacture of spice mixtures, oils, oleoresins, cosmetics, aromatics and flavouring food & beverages. The share of food & beverages sector in the agro-based industry accounted for 2.7 per cent of the total sales in 2003. Kerala’s export performance is even more exciting. Today processed foods form a substantial 50 percent of Kerala’s exports and earn revenue to the tune of Rs 5000 crore. The state’s share of the country’s food processing export pie is more than 20 percent. Processed food makes it way from Kerala’s ports to destinations across the globe. Today Kerala companies sell to multinational companies across the world.
It is not just the world that seems to love gorging on Kerala food. The domestic market too is opening up. Families are becoming nuclear, incomes are going up and domestic helps are becoming increasingly rare. The result is that more and more Kerala families prefer to buy ready-made sambhar powders, avial mixes and fish masalas, rather than undergo the drudgery of making them from scratch. The supermarket shelves of Kerala’s cities and metros are filled with local brands selling everything from ragi powder for babies to easily digestible pre-cooked porridge for the elderly.
The Food Business of the Future: The future looks deliciously healthy for the agro/food processing industry in Kerala. The state’s rich resource base gives it a competitive edge that few can match. The soil and climate together create a world where everything flourishes. Kerala is the largest producer of rubber, cocoa, pepper and areca nut. It is also a leading producer of coconut and cashew. As of now, spices, cashews and seafood form the bulk of exports. But with new technology and investment, more processed foods can be added to Kerala’s food export basket. The re-discovery of coconut as a wonder food can also help boost up the revenue figures.
Kerala also had the foresight to build up strong industry-research links. The Spices Board and the Coconut Development Board have helped in technology transfer. In addition, the government’s Agency for the Development of Food Processing Industries in Kerala (under KINFRA) has associated with well known research organisations like the Central Food Technological Research Institute and Defence Food Research Laboratory to provide technical help to the food processing industry in Kerala.