Cold Chain Infrastructure: The Bridge between Agriculture and Food Processing

Mr. Anuraaga Chandra, Head India, Sales for Danfoss Climate Solutions

India is largely an agrarian based economy with almost 60% of the population dependent on this sector for its primary source of livelihood. Our food and grocery market is the world’s sixth largest and the country is among the 15 leading exporters of agricultural products in the world. The Gross Value added by agriculture, forestry, and fishing was estimated at Rs. 19.48 lakh crore (US$ 276.37 billion) in FY20. Despite the high levels of food production, India ranks 94th among 107 countries as per the 2020 Global Hunger Index. Today, we face a food loss problem that amounts to about 40% of all the overall food produced every year. With hunger and malnourishment on the rise globally, urgent action is required to bring down the unacceptable levels of food loss and waste.

Why the gap and how do we address it?

Several schemes and policies by the government are aimed at strengthening post-harvest management, however, the challenge of reducing food loss and waste requires action throughout the supply chain, right from the producer to the consumer. It is to be noted that food loss and wastage happens at all levels in the value chain from harvesting, processing, packaging, and transporting to finally consumption. This is predominantly because most, if not all, agricultural produce is perishable and would require refrigeration throughout the value chain from farm to fork. The need of the hour now is to create a sustainable and efficient cold chain ecosystem to reduce the amount of food loss in the entire value chain thereby helping India feed its population of 1.3 billion and conserve valuable resources, like water and energy, at the same time.

The current cold chain food storage facilities are also only concentrated in a handful of states, leaving most states in underserved. There is a massive potential for growth of cold storage facilities to serve such a large agrarian market such as India. Opportunities currently exist in Tier-1 cities in India like Chennai and Bangalore for organized cold storage of not just agricultural produce, but also dairy and fisheries produce, given that these cities are the largest consumers of food in general. But an ineffective and inefficient cold chain, which includes food service refrigeration, wouldn’t serve the purpose of reducing food loss either.

The current available refrigeration systems in India’s cold chain infrastructure need a large technological bolster. These are predominantly manually controlled and monitored and do not correct themselves automatically when there are changes in outside air temperature. A lack of self-actuating refrigeration systems amounts to massive losses of produce stored.

Another example of ineffective refrigeration system are the ice cream and Ice-making machines that require manual interventions which lead to long lead times. Since ice cream is a perishable dairy product, ineffective cooling can result is wasting an entire batch of milk used in the ice cream making process. Need for Environmentally Friendly Digital Cooling Systems Synthetic refrigerants like CFC (Chloro Fluro Carbon) and HCFC (Hydrochlorofluorocarbons) are still very prevalent in the Indian refrigeration and cold chain ecosystem.

Massive leaps in R&D are currently being sought to make refrigeration and storage of food efficient and effective, to reduce food loss while being environmentally friendly, to meet global climate goals. Therefore, addressing these two broad issues of using intelligent technologies to counter waste and the use of natural refrigerants to counter climate change need to quickly be adopted in the Indian cold chain ecosystem.

According to JLL, India’s cold chain sector is expected to grow at over 20 per cent CAGR by 2025, due to the transformation from conventional cold storage to modern storage space.

Food Quality: The Smart Way

Danfoss offers a wide range of mechanical, electronic controls and compressors that meet the challenging demands of the entire supply chain. Danfoss India provides completely digital refrigeration systems that sense changes in temperature and load both inside and outside the cold storage to ensure minimal use of energy and loss of food. The solution offered to Pagro Foods Ltd. by Danfoss is a prime example of the intelligent cooling systems comprising of smart-sensing technologies that are available in the company’s portfolio.

A supplier of frozen vegetables in the southeast Asia region, the company uses highly efficient individual quick freezers (IQF) that help in minimizing food loss and maximizing profits for the farmers. While systems such as IQF are currently used in the food processing industries, these can be scaled to cater to the food service industries, like ice cream production and cold storage as well. These technologies have a trickledown effect on the consumer as well withcost reduction in final goods, since historically the cost of food loss was borne by the end consumer.

The use of natural refrigerants like R290 Propane, R600a Isobutane, R1270 Propylene play a crucial role in helping with the climate directives of the country while being as efficient, if not better than CFCs and HCFCs.

Conclusion

India’s rapidly rising population has led to an increase in the requirement of all resources, including energy and water. This underscores the need for efficient production and distribution of food. Reduction in food loss thanks to enhanced refrigeration systems across the cold chain ecosystem, has a myriad of benefits right from feeding the massive population and conserving resources required for cultivation, as well as being environmentally friendly. With India’s rise to global prominence in the world of agricultural produce, consumption, and exports, advanced refrigeration systems stand to play a pivotal role.

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