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Augmenting capacity will enable losses reduction
Saturday, 22 February, 2020, 15 : 00 PM [IST]
Venkatesh Ganapathy
Indias agricultural sector roughly contributes to 17% of GDP. India is the second-largest producer of fruits and vegetables across the world yet Indias production contributes to only 1.7% of the total international trade of fruits and vegetables. Only 10-11% of fruits and vegetables produced in India use cold storage. Out of 76.42 million tonne of fruits and 156.32 tonne of vegetables produced in India, about 40% get wasted due to lack of cold storage facilities.

Cold storage is the method for bulk handling of the perishable commodities between production and marketing processing by preserving them in fresh and wholesome state for a longer period by controlling temperature and humidity within the storage system. Cold storage facilities can lead to better organoleptic qualities, reduced spoilage, and longer shelf lives. Organolepticproperties are the aspects offood that create an individual experience via the sensesincluding taste, sight, smell and touch.

Fruits and vegetables have a very limited life after harvest if held at ambient harvesting temperatures. Proper post-harvest cooling can reduce respiratory activity and degradation by enzymes; reduce internal water loss and wilting; reduce the production of the natural ripening agent, ethylene. Thus, fruits and vegetables of the highest possible quality can be sold at the most appropriate time.

Cold Storage Facilities
Temperatures have to be low or else this will adversely affect the quality of fruits and vegetables. The relative humidity of the storeroom should be kept as high as 85-90% for most of the perishables. Cold storage can be combined with storage in an environment with addition of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide (in case of grapes) nitrogen and so on.

Compatibility issues during storage need attention. Apple can be stored with grapes, oranges, peaches, and plums and not with banana. Grape is compatible with all other vegetables except cabbage. Potatoes and cabbage cannot be stored together. To deal with such incompatibility issues, foodstuffs are categorised into three temperature ranges (based on their thermal compatibility).

Cold storage unit should be in the shade of prevailing wind and direct sunlight. Factors that determine the choice of a cold storage unit are temperature and duration of storage, handling and stacking method, type of; commodities to be stored together, prevailing climatic factors like temperature, relative humidity, rainfall, wind and water.

Designing of cold storage facilities will need balance between operating and maintenance costs. Proper storage practices include temperature control, relative humidity control, air circulation and maintenance of space between containers for adequate ventilation.

Factors Limiting Cold Storage in India
India is plagued by lack of quality cold warehousing infrastructure with only 25% of the volume available for fruits, vegetables, processed foods and pharmaceuticals.

Reportedly, 68-75% of storage capacity is dedicated to potatoes. Potatoes produce only 20% of agricultural revenue. Less than optimal technical standards result in lower performance of refrigerated systems.   

The other challenges
  • Lack of skilled/ trained labour
  • Uneven distribution of cold storage facilities across the states
  • Initial investment costs are high (Rs 50 million is needed for a facility with a capacity of 6,000 metric tonne); exorbitant land prices add to the problem. To set up a multi-commodity cold storage of 10,000 tonne capacity, investment of around Rs 20 crore is needed (a payback period of 6-7 years)
  • Errant power supply adds to the cost
  • Absence of refrigerated transport facilities, bad roads and interstate barriers
Small-scale farmers are eager to sell their produce as fast as possible after the harvest as the market value of vegetables decrease by 25-40% daily. As supply becomes excess and prices fall, farmers suffer losses. Shortage in supply leads to increase in prices. Cold storage facilities can stabilise food prices.

Needs to be done
The government has plans to invest Rs 21,000 crore in the next five years to ramp up cold storage facilities (by 40%). Existing plant and machinery needs upgradation. Investment in affordable, reliable and sustainable cold chain infrastructure  use of renewable sources of energy along with advanced technologies for cooling (example  cryogenic energy storage using liquid air or nitrogen) has become crucial.

An integrated logistics support and cold storage solution is needed to extend the shelf life of fruits and vegetables. Cold storage facilities have to increase across the country. The future belongs to multicommodity storages rather than storage of single commodities. Modern cold chains have to use climate control technology (to reduce the rate of metabolism in harvested fruits and vegetables and extend the shelf life) and modern packaging and handling from the time of harvesting of the produce to the point of sale. Within an hour of harvest, the produce can be pre-cooled to suck out the farm heat from the produce and retard decay.

Augmenting cold storage capacity will reduce losses for farmers and will ensure that customers have access to fruits and vegetables of superior quality. This will also lead to stability in prices.

(The author is associate professor, Presidency Business School,
Bangalore. He can be reached at kalakadvganpathy@gmail.com)
 
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