Prof. Paras Sharma, Head of the Department of Food Technology at Aizawl’s Mizoram University, talks about the enormous potential of India’s food processing sector, telling Education Post’s Tanay Kumar that this sector will see a massive pouring of investment in the very near future.
After completing your graduation in biology, what inspired you to study food technology?
First, this branch was in its initial phase in Indian academics. It was a risky decision as being a biology student, transitioning to another stream can be quite a risk one. There were some other institutes also which were providing this study. To tell you honestly, I didn’t know much about the stream of food technology, but I thought I have got an opportunity to study a new subject so I must do it.
I thought that since food is always a vital necessity for everyone in the world, and the population is only increasing, food becomes the first and foremost priority. And the demand for food processing was only growing in the world, and it still is. So, that was my reason to choose this stream for further education.
For our readers, please explain the difference between food technology and food processing. And, what are some other branches that students definitely must think of as a good career option?
Food technology is surely the prominent one, then there is food processing, food science. Food science deals with the chemical compositions of all the foods available and its preservation, while food technology is the application of it. Food engineering is another branch where companies use large or even small machines to prepare foods and the viewpoint of sustainability is really important in it. In food engineering, designing of those technologies or engineering, whether it is about preparing them or even processing them, is important.
Further, Nutrition Science is another stream that is very important. Until and unless, one doesn’t know about the nutrition that masses require, how would an organization make any headway.
You completed your entire formal study in food technology and food science from north India and you’re teaching at a university in northeast India. What differences have you found in the two areas of our country when it comes to food processing and food sciences?
When it comes to food processing, northeastern India is entirely different than the other parts of the country. Most of the northeast Indians consume meat in their meals while the rest of the India relies on both vegetarian and non-vegetarian diets. Many parts of northeast India are tribal and so their foods include meat and they are not much into consuming fish because of lesser availability in the region.
Here in the northeast, almost every family and everyone consumes non-vegetarian food at least one time a day. Processing of meat and non-vegetarian food is entirely different from the vegan ones as they need more preservatives and other chemical additions. While south India is rich with numerous spices and condiments, northeastern people don’t rely much on different spices. Here food is a kind of more based on leafy and green vegetables. And it also helps them in their living. If you see the data mapping of anemia across the country, you’ll find that people in the northeast are rich in their blood quality.
Do students of food technology need to be good at every science subject, I mean, PCBM (physics, chemistry, biology, and mathematics)?
Absolutely not. There is no necessity to be a kind of topper in each of the PCBM subjects. It surely is good if a student can do well in each of these, but one need not take much stress if one can excel in two and can be average in the other two.
I was a student of PCB (physics, chemistry and biology). So, if they are looking for a program like food engineering then they should be good at each of these subjects. If students are opting for food science, then their biology and chemistry have to be good. So, they must take a check of the subjects and their own aptitude as well.
What are some reasons students should opt for food technology and food processing in higher education?
There is a tremendous demand in the food processing sector. In fact, India has a proper full-fledged Ministry of Food Processing. If I state some figures of Lok Sabha, the food processing sector is the fifth largest industry in terms of production, consumption, exports and potential growth. Till 2019- 20, this sector has been growing at an average annual rate of around 11%. With around 12% share in the Registered Factory sector in the year of 2017-18, this sector has been providing major employment in the country. Also, foreign direct investment (FDI) in this stream has been only growing and in fact, for people’s surprise, this sector has received around $5 billion from 2014 to 2021.
Earlier, India was processing only 2% of its food two decades ago. Now, we have reached up to 8%. So, we surely have achieved some good results, but still there is a huge gap to fulfill. Developed economies are putting more effort in food preservation and processing. Food sector of some countries is entirely based on processed food.
Students can think of becoming food quality inspectors, food quality managers, food technology engineers among many other great roles. Today, many small food vendors have come up in India who want to make it big in this industry and they are surely looking for skilled, knowledgeable and willing workforce in this sector.
The Union Ministry of Food Processing is also providing lots of opportunities to those who want to venture into this field. Solely dedicated to train and create skilled workforce in food technology and food processing, the ministry has established two National Institute of Food Technology, Entrepreneurship and Management (NIFTEM), one at Sonepat (Haryana) and the second one at Thanjavur (Tamil Nadu). With the collaboration of CSIR (Council of Scientific & Industrial Research), there is one Central Food Technological Research Institute in Mysuru.
Many central and private universities are now offering courses in this stream for students. In fact, IITs have also started offering this and its allied courses at their campuses. There are many private institutions also that are offering this course.