Powering the energy starved first mile cold chain

Proper post-harvest management training combined with infrastructure can boost sectoral growth and drive the economy. With the above solution, the farmers have reliable access to cold storage services in the vicinity of their farm lands, thereby enabling them to securely store their perishable produce without having to worry about power supply, price or climate uncertaintiesBy Mr. Prateek Singhal, Co-Founder & COO, Ecozen Solutions (P) Ltd. on Dec. 26, 2015

Introduction

Over the past few decades India has seen a steep growth in the production of perishable horticulture commodities having limited shelf life but high on nutrition value. The technological advancements and improved scientific way of farming have contributed to the growth. Even though the production has increased there are issues of inflation, wastages of fresh produce, and demand supply imbalances. The wastage is mainly due to the ineffective post-harvest management.

The lack of refrigerated transport and adequate high quality cold storage facilities for both food producers and food sellers (retailers) has been widely cited as the primary reason for food wastage in India. According to a report by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), India currently wastes close to INR 44,000 Crores worth of food produce per annum. It has been analyzed that 2/3rd of this wastage happens close to the side of production. Further in spite of being the 2nd largest producer of fruits and vegetables we stand 15th globally when it comes to export. The food processing sector is still in nascent stage in India. One of the major reason for all these is lack of modern facilities like pack-houses, cold rooms, at the farm level to pre-cool and also reefer transport to ensure these commodities reaches the consumption point in the right condition. The inadequate cold chain infrastructures at farm level also pushes farmers to sell their produce at a low price in case of over supply more often than not, affecting their livelihood adversely.

Cold chain is important for increasing the shelf life, balancing the supply demand fluctuations, cutting the transport bottlenecks in maintaining the quality of produce. By developing an integrated supply chain, including cold chain we can reduce the wastage of perishable horticulture commodities. Cold chain infrastructure comprises of cold storage infrastructure, transport infrastructure and point of production infrastructure. In India refrigerated transport is still at its beginning phase and is way behind if compared with world standards of cargo movement.

Presently, reefer transport business in India is estimated at INR 10-12 billion which includes reefer transportation demand for both exports and domestic. Approximately 105mn MT of perishable commodities is transported across India annually, but only approx. 4mn MT is transported through reefer vans/trucks etc. In a study conducted by Yes Bank in 2014, Indian cold chain can be divided into 88-90% with cold stores and 10-12% with refrigerated transport. It observed a shift in trend for use of multipurpose cold storages and end-to-end services.

The majority of growth has been driven by pharma and frozen foods segment as far as cold chain is concerned. Horticulture and fresh produce has occupied back seat because of primarily two reasons- (a.) Fresh produce is seasonal, what happens to the infrastructure during the off season months. This leads to lower ROI as compared to perennial commodity models. (b.) Lack of affordable and reliable energy to power the energy starved first mile cold chain.

Solution

Ecofrost Technologies has developed an innovative solar powered cold room system for storage of fruits, vegetables, flowers and other perishables. The solar cold room incorporates several break-through, patent pending technologies that makes the product suitable for a reliable operation on the field. The innovative thermal storage technology provides backup up to 36 hrs during non-sunshine hours. The normal battery systems have the disadvantage of high charging- discharging losses and high replacement costs.

The system is completely portable and can be shifted from one location to another with great ease; idea of portability is to utilize the unit for different seasonal crops grown across different regions. The system also has the capability to charge itself completely with just 5-6 hrs of grid power. It automatically detects critical conditions and will switch to grid and charge the system in case of poor sunshine days. Operating the system on Diesel Generator is also possible. The system also is efficient to ensure that the diesel generator operates at optimal loading condition thus ensuring maximum efficiency.

It has pre-cooling capability and also has staging space. It can serve as an ideal part of a pack house.  The system also has a remote predictive maintenance system which can diagnose if the system is failing and communicate the same to the service team. The service team ensures that the system is up and running before the thermal storage backup expires. The storage volume is close to 1000 cu ft and dimensions are 20ft x 8ft x 8ft. The temperature can be managed between 20C to 200C, suitable for almost all the horticulture and floriculture produces plus humidity can also be controlled 80-95% inside the system. Practically, very minimal running cost is incurred as compared to its counterparts driven by electric supply.

Conclusion

The changing nature of cold storage logistics, and expansion of value-added capabilities, only raises the stakes for looming food safety regulations. Thus, there is a clear requirement for interventions in post-harvest management at the first mile, i.e. the farm, to arrest the value loss. Proper post-harvest management training combined with infrastructure can boost sectoral growth and drive the economy. With the above solution, the farmers have reliable access to cold storage services in the vicinity of their farmlands, thereby enabling them to securely store their perishable produce without having to worry about power supply, price or climate uncertainties. This further enables an improvised livelihood and will minimize the food wastage by a significant proportion. Farmers can also store their seeds and saplings during times of inclement weather. This reduces chances of crop failure leading to greater financial prosperity for farmers and improved standards of living.

Further, in order to bridge the gaps in the cold chain with limited energy supply in the current scenario, development of solar powered refrigerated transport systems, pre-cooling and staging facilities, pack-houses, storage at retails and more will bring about the much needed revolution the cold chain scenario, thereby enabling food security. Proper pre-cooling facility at the farm level and storage at the mandi level will help the farmers to reduce their wastage and increase their financial earning. This will also support the food processing industry tremendously and extend our reach in the export segment.

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