Another example is to engage the women members of rural households. Cargill works towards this cause by helping women set up kitchen gardens at their backyards. This helps in keeping them engaged where they do not have to leave their homes to obtain fresh produce. This not only helps them consume healthy food but also helps in reducing their household expenditure and adding to the household savings. In a way, this is all about improving the eco-system and working conditions. India needs more of such models and initiatives to create similar eco-systems. While private sector can definitely contribute, the role of government in spreading this across country would be extremely important.
If we look back to the period of Green Revolution, it was public extension services along with improved seeds, fertilizers and irrigation which played an important role in increasing productivity and enhancing agricultural development. However, since then, the government’s initiatives in agriculture extension services have dried up. Gradually, these agriculture extension practices have been taken up by the private sector like E-Choupal and Saathi, but these have been limited to areas where corporate sector had its own interest. In essence, if such and other innovative initiatives have to be scaled up across India, these would have to be largely led by the Government and collaborative initiatives could also be explored through PPP model.
Food is one thing which can have no dearth of demand and thus there is a huge potential for creating self-employment
For agriculture to find value in current times, it needs to be linked to the food industry. The future of jobs in agriculture sector lies not just at the farm, but on how we are able to convert the produce into food and get the food on to the plate. In other words, jobs could be created anywhere in the value chain that connects the producers with the final consumers. Hence, we need to focus on skilling the people so that they can be employed at any part of this huge value chain.
While a lot of efforts are being taken with respect to ‘Make in India’, which also includes skilling people to produce processed food, what is missing is the linkage with the end consumer. While we may skill a large number of people in food processing, the absorption capacity of industry to employ them will remain limited and a large chunk of these skilled youth would have to consider entrepreneurship. In this process, we will create many entrepreneurs in food industry but their success and sustenance will depend on how effectively they are able to reach the final consumers. E-commerce is one of the ways through which the producer can reach the final consumer bypassing all the intermediaries. There are huge employment opportunities here which can be leveraged through appropriate skilling. For instance, a large number of food start-ups that are being set up need delivery boys. This in turn creates space for skilling local people for becoming drivers, and enables creation of decent livelihood opportunities. We need to take such leaps through vocational training to move ahead in job creation.
There are no big bang solutions for creating employment opportunities in the food sector. Given the consumer base of our country, food is one thing which can have no dearth of demand and thus there is a huge potential for creating self-employment in this sector. Recent concepts such as Food Streets can be a platform in creating large scale employment. However, such concepts will only be successful if the role of food safety and quality control is well designed and in place. If we look holistically at creating employment across the entire food value chain, we have to expand the skill development initiatives beyond the food processing skills. For instance, the sector skill council ‘FICSI’ has signed an MoU with the Quality Council of India where people are being trained to become inspectors, testers, who can either get into FSSAI or get accredited to it. Hence, while we encourage one set of people towards self-employment in the food sector, there is a simultaneous nurturing of people who will validate his/her product for quality. The future of employment in the agriculture sector does not lie in farming, but taking a substantial part of the labour force on the path of the production to selling. This is where the industry and government can come together and create a business model. The direction should be towards skill development, food safety, service delivery, and logistics and all parts of the food value chain to provide much needed mass employment.
Siraj A Chaudhry Chairman, Cargill India writes this piece for FICCI publication “Economy of Jobs”.