Q.1 How would you describe the market potential for the processing of Ragi (Finger Millet) based products and the opportunities for Ragi processing at a micro food processing level?

With a shift of focus from hunger satisfaction to nutritional satisfaction, traditional Indian grains such as Finger Millet (Ragi) are attracting the attention of the new generation of consumers. It is considered a “smart food” taking into account the fact that it is not only healthy for the consumers but also for the planet earth. Ragi is an environmentally sustainable food grain, considering the less requirement of water for its cultivation in comparison to conventional crops such as paddy. To add to this, Ragi is prescribed as a healthy alternative to rice or wheat for managing common lifestyle disorders. The finger millet has also shown a good export potential to western countries and this should be tapped with the right approach from the government, researchers and entrepreneurs. It is also a non-perishable produce with an impressive shelf life.

Q.2 Could you please tell us about the support and facilities provided by the Kerala Agricultural University to micro food processing enterprises?

The Agri Business Incubator at the Kerala Agricultural University (KAU-ABI) offers state-of-the-art technologies for the processing and value addition of millets including Finger Millet. This includes the facilities for the primary and secondary processing of the Millets. Further, types of equipment such as nutribar equipment, extruders (hot and cold), dryers, blenders, beverage carbonation units, etc. for the development of value-added products, are available at KAU-ABI.

The KAU-ABI provides assistance for obtaining venture capital, seed stage funding, registration and licensing, and research & development for the budding agripreneurs. They also provide capacity-building programs such as Startup Incubation Program, assistance to prepare business plans, hackathons, one-day entrepreneurship development programs, competitive events, networking & facilitated learning sessions. 167 startups were assisted in establishing startups under agriculture and allied sectors and 49 selected startups bagged Rs. 6.31 crore as pre-seed stage and seed-stage funding from the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare in the RKVY-RAFTAAR scheme.

We have organized 100 training programs on Entrepreneurship Development to promote business management skills among all social strata, especially women, students and other marginalized sectors. Through these initiatives, around 2500 entrepreneurs/farmers and about 1150 women entrepreneurs have benefitted.

Q.3 What are your thoughts on the scope of value addition in the processing of Ragi (Finger Millet)?

Finger Millet is an ancient food that is fed to people of all age groups including infants to the geriatric population. Interestingly, it is also used as an enteral food. Hence, Finger Millet has the potential to be used in a minimally processed form without the addition of any preservatives or food additives. It can be further diversified to convenience food suitable for the smart generation of the 21 st century. Millets have less consumer preference possibly due to their bland taste. Several research institutes across India have developed an extensive range of Millet-based value-added food products. Finger Millet has been used for the preparation of a wide variety of pasta, noodles, cookies, biscuits, soup mix, malt, breakfast cereals, carbonated beverages, ice creams, etc. These institutes have made the technologies available to the general public at a nominal cost. Ready-to-eat and ready-to-cook products based on Finger Millet are also gaining popularity.

Q.4 With the immense experience that you have gathered over the period, how do you think the PMFME Scheme would be able to empower micro food processing enterprises?

The PMFME Scheme motivates more entrepreneurs including self-help groups to come forward with innovative ideas in the area of food processing. The One District One Product (ODOP) approach promotes the value chain development, technology dissemination and support infrastructure for a wide range of food products including major Millet-producing districts across the different states of India. The credit-linked subsidy and the training programs under the PMFME Scheme support micro- enterprises to venture into food processing with minimal risks. The PMFME Scheme supports clusters and groups such as FPOs/SHGs/ producer cooperatives along their entire value chain from procurement to value addition.

Q.5 What would be your advice to aspiring food processing entrepreneurs?

The United Nations has declared the year 2023 as the International Year of Millets to popularize Millet grains and to support its cultivators across the globe. Hence, potential entrepreneurs have large opportunities in the Millet processing sector, vested with a huge responsibility for introducing high-quality novel products based on Millets. In this context, the Government of India has launched several schemes, including the PMFME Scheme, for encouraging entrepreneurs venturing into the area of Millet processing.

Food processing entrepreneurs have a significant role in addressing several challenges in the Millet processing sector, especially for Finger Millet. This includes various aspects ranging from dehulling of the small grains to packaging of the processed products. There is immense scope for social entrepreneurship pertaining to small Millets, helping Millet farmers, promoting healthy eating and contributing towards women empowerment. While technologies transferred from eminent organizations are a ready-made solution, entrepreneurs can also come up with their own innovative approaches.

About the Guest

Starting his career as a Scientist in the Agro Processing Division, CIAE (ICAR), Bhopal, Prof. Sudheer has put in more than two decades of illustrious service as a teacher, researcher, and extension scientist. With a Ph.D. in Agricultural Engineering from IARI New Delhi and Post-doctorate from KU Leuven Belgium, he is presently heading the Department of Agricultural Engineering, RAFTAAR Agri Business Incubator, and Centre of Excellence in Post-harvest Technology at College of Agriculture, Thrissur, KAU. He has secured research funding from the Ministry of Food Processing Industries, NAHEP- ICAR, Kerala State Council for Science, Technology & Environment, Ministry of Rural Development, Ministry of MSME, NABARD, RKVY, Food Corporation of India, and Government of Kerala, and has to his credit 330 research publications, six textbooks and several bulletins in the field of Post-harvest Technology. His contributions to the post-harvest sector of Kerala have been recognized with the Krishi Vigyan Award for the best Agricultural Scientist, by the Government of Kerala. He has also received the 'Bhakshyamithra Award' for being the best food processing scientist for promoting food processing entrepreneurship in the State.

(Content shared by Dr. K P Sudheer, Professor & Head, RKVY RAFTAAR Agri Business Incubator, Kerala Agricultural University)

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed are those of the above guest and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Ministry of Food Processing Industries.