The Minister of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, was speaking at the Agriculture vision 2021: A virtual U.S- India Trade mission webinar organised by Mann Deshi Foundation. He pointed out that the surplus of food grain such as rice, milk, fish, cotton is a big problem in the country and that the Minimum Support Price (MSP) is now higher than international price and the market price. This can be attested with the annual report by Reserve Bank of India (RBI) in August 2020 which stated that the country has now reached a stage in which surplus management has become a challenge.
“We may have a big surplus of food and vegetables but we don’t have storage capacity. Here, we can coordinate with the US as our country needs pre-cooling plants, cold storage, and different types of technology for preservation and processing. Then we will be able to increase our production and exports. We can make easy availability of all food processing value added products in the whole world with a very reasonable cost. For this, we need to understand and accept new technology and innovation from the US,” he said.
The other important sector where the minister sees a bright future for US-India agricultural trade is fishing. Gadkari envisions Rs 5 lakh crore worth blue economy for India. He mentioned about the newly invented trawlers in Kochi shipyard which can travel up to 100 nautical miles as compared to 8-10 nautical miles by fishermen, which can significantly increase production of fish.
The minister also talked about commodities such as honey, bamboo and jute, which too are produced in abundance in the country. He said that Amazon has exported India’s MSME products of Rs 70,000 crore and high altitude honey on its platform costs Rs 6,000 per kg. Claiming the honey made in India to be of the highest quality without any adulteration, despite ongoing debates about honey from different countries, Gadkari said it can be exported to the whole world.
Similarly, the production of incense sticks made of bamboo has been increased 20 times more in India and the government is encouraging people in the agricultural sector to invest more in this sector.
Focusing on faux meat
Another interesting trade product Gadkari took note of was soybean. Taking note of the US’s growing market of faux meat, he talked about the huge availability of soybean in India, an important ingredient in that market. “Soybean cakes contain 49% protein and in the US they are successfully making vegan meat. Therefore, there is a huge potential in India and we can collaborate with American companies if we can make soybean. Our mutton and chicken price is more than Rs 600 per kg and the vegan meat will get Rs 200. So it can also be a value added product for the farmers,” he said.
He also pointed out that detergent powder was being made from sugar in India and exported to countries like Russia and Dubai. It is both eco-friendly and cost-effective. Gadkari mentioned that India has a shortage of edible oils. The country has been importing palm olive oil from Indonesia, Malaysia, and various regions in Southeast Asia at a cost of Rs 90,000 crore. In addition to this, it is also importing soybean oil from Argentina and sunflower oil from different parts of the world.
All eyes on ethanol
Touching upon the subject of food vs fuel the minister said that the government has given permission to making ethanol from corn, rice and other food grains. In addition to this, the government is planning to make second generation ethanol from biomass using bamboo.
“We need to accept the policy of diversification of agriculture towards energy and power sector. We are spending Rs 8 lakh crore on import of crude oil. We are facing severe air pollution because of diesel and petrol. For the last 12-13 years I have been constantly talking about ethanol. And, now we have accepted it but it is too late. The US has a lot of ethanol available from corn and their rates are very less and ready to export to India,” he said.
He added that even vehicle manufacturers in India like TVS and Bajaj have launched motorcycles and scooters with 100% bioethanol. This is a small change without any major cost difference. Ethanol has proven to be useful as aviation fuel in the Air Force.
“One of the sectors where we can create cooperation between India and the US is the processing of ethanol. In India, we have successfully completed a trial in the textile and synthetic fiber industry where they are using ethanol as a chemical in place of petroleum-based chemicals. Therefore, we need to accept the new technology, innovations and research related with ethanol, where there will be a good combination and a win-win situation for both the nations,” he said.