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On turning sixty...

Last updated: 13 December, 2010
Preethi Nagaraj

HISTORY OF RESEARCH

Housed in the sprawling Cheluvamba Mansion, which once belonged to the Maharajas of Mysore, the Central Food Technological Research Institute was set up on October 21, 1950, to cater to the food needs of the country. Today, CFTRI is all set to redefine the needs of the future to build healthier homes and families, reports Preethi Nagaraj

Slice of history : The  CFTRI premises in Mysore. DH Photo by  H G Prashanth At a time when branded baby foods were yet to become a household name, instant food was just a far-fetched concept, storing and transporting eggs was a herculean task, India’s premier food technology research institute, the CFTRI, was working relentlessly to find an indigenous solution to baby food from buffalo’s milk, so that millions of babies could grow up healthily on that staple diet. When it finally succeeded in the early 60s, the country heaved a sigh of relief. For, the import of tonnes of unaffordable baby food finally stopped.

Amul, courtesy the technology developed by CFTRI, entered homes, and families, notwithstanding their economic backgrounds, could afford to give their children good, safe and reliable baby food with nutrition.

Housed in the sprawling Cheluvamba Mansion, (thanks to the philanthropy of Maharajas of Mysore), CFTRI began functioning and introduced instant foods to the world. The institution was set up on October 21, 1950, precisely to cater to the food needs of India, the second largest food producer in the world today.


Having helped the country stand up on its feet and meet its food challenges in the past, along with developing indigenous food storing and processing technologies, Central Food Technological Research Institute has played a dynamic role in ensuring the country’s food security. And all this, relentlessly for the last 60 years, without making a noise or claiming credit for every contribution it has made to the ever-changing lifestyle of Indians.

The Institute has played a phenomenal role in creating and nurturing entrepreneurs, by means of technology transfers, training and constant endeavours of capacity building, and holding hands of small scale entrepreneurs.

Redefining the needs of the future

Conventionally, in the Indian context, 60 is an age when one starts to slow down. In case of an organisation, it is that time when the past looks richer than the future, what with global economic slowdown affecting businesses, but, at India’s premier food research institute, which just celebrated its diamond jubilee few months ago, it is time to redefine the needs of the future to build healthier homes and families - nutrition-wise, and be a part of empowering the needy by developing technology to make food more affordable.

It is rather important to note that the organisation, apart from being focused on research, has also responded to human tragedies that hit the nation, in the most humane way possible. When the tsunami struck, affecting lakhs of people along the coastal areas in South India, CFTRI was on the spot within 24 hours, satiating the raging hunger of the affected, with over 18 trucks of processed food.

“It was a whopping 70 tonnes of food, comprising about three lakh meals for people with diverse food needs. Not everyone was aware of the real situation, and only those scientists who reached there from the Institute could assess and offer feedback so that the entire staff at CFTRI could react immediately to meet the food needs,” says V Prakash, the Director of CFTRI, who is also a Padma Shree awardee.

As for its active role in introducing safe methods to store food even during its early years of inception, when the world was waking up to these concepts in the recent years, CFTRI was the first to point out the dangers of a few and address some serious concerns. On its part, the institution introduced safer methods too, of insect control and contributed to safe food colourants and additives. 

This apart, CFTRI maintains the repository of information on Indian foods at the Central Traditional Knowledge Digital Library set up by CSIR, New Delhi. 

Today, when the world looks at Oryzanol with awe, which comes from rice bran, a team of scientists and technicians at the Institute are busy researching on nutraceuticals - foods which have therapeutic effects on the body, drawing from the knowledge treasure of Ayurveda.

“Our future technologies will be eco-friendly, cost-effective and adaptable to and affordable for Indian kitchens,” adds Prakash, stressing the fact that kitchen gadgets will be the pointers to remove drudgery of days ahead, apart from meeting young women’s nutritional needs.

It has indeed been a long journey for an institution that started with just a few people, that has now evolved into a solid pool of talent and knowledge, with over 200 scientists, technologists, engineers, and 300 other technicians, skilled workers and support staff.

Its multi-disciplinary spread (across 16 R&D departments) covers almost every field of scientific areas connected with foods and their relationship to humans, including the cutting edge area of food biotechnology with enzyme technologies.

*When the Bengal famine of 1943 and the repercussions of World War II brought the Indian government face-to-face with reality, it was felt that food security was to be achieved with right kind of scientific and research intervention.

* Thus the Industrial Research Planning Committee of the CSIR and the Food Industries Panels of various Ministries of the Government of India proposed the formation of a food technology research institute in 1943.

* The proposal was accepted in principle by the governing body of the CSIR in February 1948.

* When it was decided that the institution be located in Mysore, the then Government of Mysore offered Cheluvamba Mansion, a royal building surrounded by a sprawling estate, to house the institute.

* The Cheluvamba Mansion was built for the use of the third princess of Mysore, during Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV’s time.

n*The then prime minister (also ex-officio President of CSIR) Jawaharlal Nehru himself came to Mysore in December 1948 and formally received the building.

* After its inauguration in 1950, CFTRI started out on its endeavours with a network of dedicated scientists into one of the most fundamental aspects of human life.

* With over 75 pc of the population occupied by agriculture, and hardly any support from the scientific community to develop post-harvest technology till then, the country welcomed the birth of CFTRI with open arms and set great expectations on this institute. And, CFTRI has surpassed those expectations.

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