Rollout of cold chains is vital


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           Rollout of cold chains is vital to help prevent losses of as much as 40% of fresh food produce in India

West Bengal faces a shortfall of 12 lakh metric tonnes of cold storage capacity. The post-harvest fruits and vegetable losses are worth over Rs 13,600 crore annually

Depending on the type of crop, cold chain has been shown to save upto 50% of the harvest.

Mumbai, 2 December, 2014The report A Tank of Cold: Cleantech Leapfrog to a more food secure world’ by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, one of the oldest professional institutions in UK, highlights that lack of proper handling and an inadequate cold and frozen supply chain or ‘cold chain’ leads to losses of perishable food produce, such as fruit and vegetables, of as much as 50% every year in India.

As of 2012, India had approximately 6,300 cold storage facilities, with a capacity of 30.11 million metric tonnes. Approximately 60 percent of the total number of facilities, are located in just four states: Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, West Bengal and Punjab alone.

The Institution, which already has 2000 professional members in India, is focusing on India as a key country for growth and research.

Key findings of the report :

·         India is the world’s largest producer of milk, and second only to China in fruit and vegetables. Yet agriculture, which makes up 53% of the workforce, generates just 15% of GDP.

·         India is a huge exporter of grains, but exports very little horticultural produce: of total agricultural exports of US$37 billion, fruit and vegetables account for just US$1–1.5 billion. One reason is that up to 50% of produce can be lost in the supply chain before reaching the consumer – at a cost of some US$4.5 billion.

·         75 – 80% of Indian refrigerated warehouses are suitable only to store potatoes, a commodity that produces only 20% of agricultural revenue. As a result only 4 million of the 104 million tonnes of fresh produce transported in India every year does so in a cold chain. This compares unfavourably with developed economies, where typically between 85–90% of fresh produce is transported cold.

·         Only 10–11% of the fruits and vegetables produced in India use cold storage. Storage capacity needs to increase 40% to avoid wastage. There is more  fruit and vegetable waste  in the southern and western regions of India due to the tropical and humid climate.

·         In 2013, West Bengal was India’s leading horticulture producing state with over 27,000 tonne of fruits and vegetables produced across the state accounting for over 10 per cent share across India

·         West Bengal has only 5.682 million metric tonnes of functioning cold storage capacity.

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers is today calling for urgent action to encourage the roll out of sustainable ‘cold chain’ in India, in order to prevent unnecessary food loss, help alleviate hunger and improve global food security.

Dr Tim Fox, Head of Energy and Environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said:

“We currently produce enough food, but the tragedy is that too much of it is lost unnecessarily through spoilage in developing countries, where it is most needed,  due to inadequate infrastructure and in particular a lack of cold and frozen supply chains.”

“Investment in cold chain infrastructure driven by renewable energy is the key to preventing these losses, alleviating world hunger, improving health through better nutrition and air quality. The Indian Government, as well as NGOs involved in development initiatives and retailers establishing supply chains, need to prioritise investment into affordable, reliable and sustainable cold chain infrastructure. This includes combining renewable energy with innovative technologies for producing both power and cooling, such as for example cryogenic energy storage using liquid air or nitrogen.”

“At today’s prices, using the cryogenic engine technology highlighted in our new report to provide the cooling of large refrigerated lorry or rail containers will cost between a fifth and a third of using diesel for the same job. It has the added benefit of zero-emission of pollutants at the point of use. When combined with the increased income to farmers from getting more produce to market, this makes economic as well as environmental sense. Getting started by harnessing the waste cold available at LNG re-gasification plants to produce the cryogen needed leads to further financial gains since up to two thirds of the energy used in the process can be saved. India is well placed to take this opportunity as it has both the LNG infrastructure and the engineering talent to make it happen. The country also has a substantial amount of surplus nitrogen production capacity that could be used to get started on using this technology.”

India’s investment in cold chain is forecast to be $15 billion over the next five years, and in order to ensure this investment is sustainable and cost effective in the long as well as short term; it must focus on powering these cold chains using renewable energy sources. Renewable energy resources are available in abundance in India and the key to unlocking sustainable cold chains is to develop technology that can either use these directly, such as cooling through solar-driven absorption, or to power existing or new technologies through electricity generation. The Indian electricity grid is extremely inefficient, and loses 30% of its power during transmission on average, compared to about 6% in the UK.

The Institution’s key recommendations in this new report are:

  1. Governments of newly emerging and rapidly industrialising economies must prioritise support investment in cold chain infrastructure to improve food security, underpin development and help alleviate poverty.
  2. Donor country governments and development NGOs must support and incentivise aid recipients to develop sustainable cold chains using renewable energy and waste cold.
  3. The UK engineering community should come together to define in detail the potential opportunities a joined-up cold economy presents for the developed and developing world.
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