By the Managing Director & CEO, National Commodities Management Services Limited

The pandemic has come as an eye-opener for the entire world and has changed the lives of many forever. Socioeconomic turmoil and hardships caused by the pandemic are hard to define. From a global health crisis to deep economic turmoil, the impact of the pandemic on jobs and incomes has been unprecedented.

In India, the economic consequences of the pandemic have been staggering for different sections of society. Many of those with limited means and protection, such as workers in informal employment, have severely suffered the consequences of this crisis. Nationwide lockdown and sealing of inter-state and international borders to control the pandemic triggered reverse migration of informal migrant workers back to the countryside.

According to a report by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), employment shrunk by a massive 30 per cent in April 2020. Even when Covid-19 cases declined and mobility restrictions eased in June 2021, the recovery in labour markets remains uncovered. The recovery in June notwithstanding, job losses compared to January 2021 was of the order of 17 million, states the report.

The impact of the pandemic on society is a long-lasting one and something which is not easy to measure. The new challenges arising from the pandemic have affected the progress on SDGs. The overarching aim “leave no one behind” announced during the adoption of 17 SDGs by United Nations Member States in September 2015 seems to be under threat by the current growing inequalities. It will require renewed enthusiasm and approach to enact in principle the 17 SDGs.

SDG-8 and Indian agriculture: Agriculture and allied activities account for about 20 per cent of India’s GDP as per the Economic Survey 2020-2021. Around 41.49 per cent of Indian population found employment in agricultural activities as per the World Bank collection of development indicators. It is for the first time in the last 17 years that the share of agriculture in GDP has reached almost 20 per cent, making it a redeeming feature in GDP performance during 2020-21. Given its huge contribution to the Indian economy and the number of people associated with it, agriculture and its allied sectors are critical for achieving the SDG-8 of Decent Work & Economic Growth.

Primary food processing as an avenue for growth Every farm produce requires some form of basic processing such as drying, shelling, milling, grinding, etc. This form of processing is known as primary processing. Rice mills, flour mills, and pulse mills, fall under this category.

Primary Food Processing (PFP) is the first value addition to a crop and a substantial share of food grains undergo primary level processing such as hulling, milling, grinding, etc. before getting consumed. In India, where the consumption of processed food is still at a nascent stage, primary food is the most common form of food processing, and a large chunk of food grains are consumed just after primary processing.

It is a significant first step in the food value chain and therefore every effort should be made for the promotion of the PFP industry. It is one industry that can generate employment directly at the farm gate and can help in raising farmers’ income. Through primary food processing, farmers can realise a higher value for their produce as the value of a finished product is always higher than a raw product.

Agriculture and its potential (