SMEs struggle to stay afloat after reopening units

Shortage of manpower, raw materials hits food processors

A total of 680 small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Ernakulam district engaged in producing food items and products like hand sanitisers have returned to business but are reeling under severe shortage of manpower and raw materials.

The units have been given special permission to restart operations in the lockdown period to ensure the supply of essential food items and products that help combat the spread of COVID-19. But unit owners are facing an uphill task as they find it difficult to get enough hands to factory floors.

The units that are now open constitute about 40 per cent of the food processors among the 23,000 micro, small and medium-sized units operating with Industries Department registration in the district. Food processors are mostly engaged in making products from farm produce that include ready-to-eat materials, spices and spice powders.

“We are working with about 10 per cent of the manpower availability when compared to normal times,” said V. Srinath, a food processor, on Tuesday. He said that arranging a common transport for workers was not possible because of the care being taken to ensure social distancing. “Those who have vehicles come on their own,” he added.

An Industries Department official said that small and medium-sized units were able to operate to some extent while some units were helpless as they were not in a position to arrange transport of workers and raw materials on their own.

Transportation hit

Raw material supplies have also been hit. One of the reasons is the shortage of drivers. The transportation of raw materials has also become costly. In fact, industrial unit owners are now paying more than double the amount for transportation because of the shortage of drivers and the fact that drivers do not get food or refreshments on their way as in normal times.

The shutdown has also brought down the movement of pineapple and plywood from central Kerala to markets in other parts of India. This used to be the major cargo from Kerala sent to central and north India. However, with plywood factories coming to a standstill and pineapple loads uncertain, lorry owners are demanding the cost of the return trip plus the expenses involved in managing lorry crew and drivers.

Mr. Srinath said nothing could be done immediately to solve these issues as the threat of COVID-19 continued to persist even now.

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Printable version | May 28, 2020 9:13:02 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/smes-struggle-to-stay-afloat-after-reopening-units/article31281854.ece

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