Australia is a large country and agri-produce has to be moved over long distances. How have you handled the post-harvest infrastructure
It is an area in which we have built up expertise over the years. Ours is a large country with a widely scattered population. Besides, theres a locational skew in production of various commodities vis-a-vis their consumption. For example almost 60% of our total milk output is produced in the state of Victoria while 90% of our sugar is produced in Queensland, 80% of cotton is cultivated in New South Wales and 44% of grapes is grown in South Australia. We needed to develop expertise to ensure the farm produce reaches the market fresh. We invested heavily in cold chains, both in terms of physical infrastructure and research & development.
It is important to note that value addition to an agro commodity does not always come from processing. Higher value can be secured by ensuring that the product reaches the end customer in good condition. This requires proper handling at the time of harvest, packaging, and temperature management while transporting.
What has been the governments role in setting up cold chains and other related infrastructure
The Australian governments role has been more on the research and development front. Such investment helped us develop the required expertise. But the actual investment on the ground, when it came to cold chains etc, was from the private sector.
Australia, like in the case of India, has many small farmers. How have they managed to add value to their products
That was a challenge we faced as the country strived to become competitive. As you know, over two-thirds of our agricultural production is now either directly or indirectly exported. Increasing competition in global markets meant that even small farmers adopt farming practices normally used by large players. They have managed this by setting up cold storages or agri-processing facilities jointly, or by sharing such facilities together. This has enabled them to add value without having to make large investments individually. They also pool their produce and market them jointly.
In what areas can Australia offer its expertise to India
We can help in post-harvest handling, cold chain management, food safety and integrity issues and health foods. In fact, we have a centre for cold chain management. Australia has identified south India, to start with, as a major area of focus to further trade co-operation in the agri-sector. India, as a whole, is being increasingly seen by businesses in Australia as a land of opportunitya market that could be even better than China.