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Cold Chain Logistics: Recent Innovations in Indian Agri Value Chain

Published on - March 2018
Author - Pankaj Mehta, Managing Director, India & South Asia, Carrier Transicold

Indian agriculture is one of the main drivers of India’s economic growth. It ranks high in production and is moving from a supply driven to a market-driven segment. An efficient post-harvest management and agri-logistics system including aggregation, pre-conditioning, pre-cooling and refrigerated transportation not only helps to reduce food loss, but also aids in expanding the reach to distant markets. The extension in holding life using controlled atmosphere cold storage also overcomes price fluctuations based on seasonality. A well-established cold chain can play a crucial role in enhancing the economic returns to farmers, and thus has been a focus area in the recommendations for the government initiative on Doubling Farmers Income.

Majority of Indian farms are small and are not in a position to invest directly in infrastructure or transact at wholesale markets. A study by the National Center of Cold Chain Development (NCCCD) highlighted that cold-chain development is incomplete due to a large gap in farm gate infrastructure or pack-houses along with refrigerated transportation. Without such preconditioning centres, the produce cannot be readied for the cold-chain.

The recent announcement by the Government for upgradation of existing 22,000 rural haats into Gramin Agricultural Markets (GrAMs) will allow development of physical infrastructure. These GrAMs will be electronically linked and will allow farmers to make direct sale to consumers and bulk purchasers.

The Government has also approved a Scheme for Agro-Marine Processing and Development of Agro-Processing Clusters (SAMPADA) with a focus to create modern infrastructure with an efficient supply chain management from farm gate to retail outlet. Such initiatives would help to create employment opportunities and reduce agri wastage. There is huge opportunity to reduce food loss and improve food distribution by implementing cold chain technology. With a focus on the Agri-logistics sector, we are working closely with several stakeholders to help plug the identified gaps by offering Carrier cold chain solutions, such as availability of reefer trucks in remote areas where cultivation/harvesting takes place. These infrastructure interventions have helped our customers get better returns over their investments and have benefitted farmers, traders as well as transporters.

To clear the perception that the cold chain is complicated and too expensive for small-holder farms, a pilot study was conducted on the impact of the Cold Chain on the kinnow fruit from Punjab. The study measured the effects of cold storage and refrigerated transport from Abohar to Bangalore, a roughly 2,500 km (1,600 mi) overland journey that is a four to five-day drive by truck.

The study demonstrated that investment in refrigeration pre-cooling equipment and refrigerated trucks can reduce food loss by 76 per cent while increasing profit margins up to 23 per cent. As a result, the kinnow selling season was extended by one month, the selling region was expanded by 2,500 km, from Punjab to Bangalore, and CO2 equivalent emissions from wasted food were reduced by 16 per cent. Further impact of the pilot has been in the second year, with more than 80 refrigerated ocean containers of the fruit shipped during the selling season, and around 350 refrigerated truck trips were made – up from zero, just two years ago. The cost per tonnage of refrigerated goods could also be reduced by using multimodal or rail reefers.

Cargo safety, efficiency and reliability of temperatures are key to effective refrigerated transportation. Carrier products offer superior technology, advance controls, remote monitoring, safety devices and automation. For example a driver on a long trip can set the desired temperature and take a break without worrying about any temperature changes. When running on electric standby mode, the Carrier unit is designed to automatically switch to diesel engine mode should the electrical supply fail. The various cooling, heating and defrost cycles are controlled through an advance microprocessor-based controller with other features such as sleek design, self-diagnosis, error alarms, high customization managed through an easy to handle cab command.

The Indian agricultural landscape is very unique and diverse and the commodity value chains are difficult to organize and stabilize. The concept of “One Size Fits All” does not work in such a scenario. Creation of technology based solutions that are innovative and tailor made and address the challenges across the agri value chain are required to be worked out. This is the key to success in the business of cold chain in India.

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