Though India is the world’s second largest producer of fruits and vegetables, fresh produce worth Rs 133 billion (€1.7 billion) is estimated to be wasted each year due to acute shortage of cold storage and refrigerated transport.
A cold storage increases the shelf life of food products, as over 35-40% of agricultural produce in India are wasted due to lack of proper cold storage facilities, laments Tarun Arora, Director, IG International, India’s leading fresh fruit importer and distributor with a market share of about 15 percent in the segment at present.
IG International leads in the import of various fruits, including the Cherry which is a highly perishable fruit. The company is also introducing its own apple, kiwi, avocado and grape brands.
According to the agriculture ministry, India imported 350,000 tonne of fresh fruits during 2014-15 valued at around Rs.3,000 crore and is expected to increase to Rs. 4,000 crore by 2018. Also, India exported 835,000 tonne of fresh vegetables valued Rs.2,402 crore during the same period in 2014 -15. From a minuscule figure a few years ago,
India’s annual import of fresh fruit and export of fresh vegetables is steadily growing. A recent report showed that kiwifruit import was growing at a magnificent 60 percent annually, while citrus fruit imports were growing at 30 percent and those of apples at 20 percent respectively. New Zealand is the largest supplier of fresh fruit, accounting for imports worth $7,03,890.79. Chile and Vietnam are second and third, exporting fresh fruit worth $2,48,810.06 and $1,65,005.69, respectively.
Large volumes of fruits move from one continent to another, reducing seasonality of produce markets. However, there is a need for right infrastructure and controlled atmospheric pressure to maintain the quality of imported produce.
Fruits and many other commodities can be preserved by storage at low temperature, which retards the activities of microorganisms. The low temperature necessary for preservation depends on the storage time required, often referred to as short- or long-term shortage, and the type of product.
Storage capacity needs to be increased by 40 percent to avoid wastage. There is more wastage of fruits in the southern and western regions of India due to the tropical and humid climate. The key challenge is the transit time when dealing with perishables. Another issue is the sudden change of rules and regulations of the importing or exporting country, making the entire deal fall through. There is considerable competition from both physical outlets like bazaars and retail stores and e-commerce channels.
India needs more fruit processing units to add value to the imported fruits. The country has around 6,300 cold storage facilities, with a capacity of 30.11 million tonnes. However, some 75-80 per cent of these refrigerated warehouses are suitable only to store potatoes, a commodity that produces only 20 percent of agricultural revenue.
India needs an expansion of cold storage infrastructure in an affordable, reliable and sustainable way to increase the contribution of agriculture to the economy.
It requires combining renewable energy with innovative small-scale technologies for producing both power and cooling, says Arora. “It can be coupled with a standard home air conditioner to create low-cost cool rooms, using less energy than an equivalent commercial cooler compressor. liquid air technologies could also help to maintaining product quality.”
“It’s not only Cold storage but farmers also need reliable roads, transportation to markets, to market their produce. So good Infrastructure should be the priority,” he says.
How do we eliminate the havoc caused by middlemen who make a profit at the cost of farmers ?
According to Arora, the warehouses should be made available near the farms. Then the produce can be stored and the search can be made for a better market price.
Technology is another instrument that the farmers should opt for to get a better market price. They should enroll with different startups who can provide a common platform for buyers and sellers and removing the multilayers of middlemen and reducing them to one or two.
To avoid middlemen, the only answer is that the farmers collectively form a committee with entrepreneurs or a group of individual who will bring money and conduct farming by professionals on all the farmer’s lands and thus make a profitable business, suggests Arora.