Prime Minister Modi has set India the target of doubling farmers’ incomes by 2022. With upwards of 40% of food lost between the farm gate and market, to double farmers’ income immediately highlights the need to significantly enhance cold chain logistics and fast connectivity with markets. Food that is allowed to rot, rather than being sold, reduces the income of farmers, diminishes their capacity to invest in their land or in new techniques, and it reduces their incentive to grow more food.
It’s no good to just keep food cold – it also needs to be kept on the move – from the people who grow it to the people who need it; especially to the urban areas where there is both demand and people can afford to pay higher prices for top quality produce. That means a genuinely joined up cold chain, including refrigerated vehicles as well as buildings. Large investment in cold chain logistics to mitigate post-harvest losses has been identified by the Indian government as a vital component in the 7-point strategy.
It is equally vital that this new cold chain infrastructure should be clean. Conventional diesel-powered transport refrigeration units, for example, emit not only high levels of CO2 but also grossly disproportionate amounts of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM). To double farmers’ income by expanding the use of conventional, highly polluting cold chain technologies would simply mitigate one problem by significantly worsening another. India has taken up ambitious targets to make the overall agriculture and food chain more sustainable as part of its climate change initiatives. If the government is to meet dual objectives of increasing prosperity while reducing environmental impacts, then it will have to look to innovative approaches around clean cold and cold chains.
Clean cooling technologies, which can support environmentally sustainable cold chains, are being developed by entrepreneurial UK start-ups. These include Dearman’s zero-emission transport refrigeration system, solar-driven cooling for pack-houses, and even small transportable ammonia-water absorption refrigeration which can be used to transport medicine.
When joined up into a coherent yet environmentally friendly cold chain, which enables food to be harvested, packed, transported and sold at a controlled temperature, the social, economic and environmental benefits could be enormous including:
· Raising farmers’ income by countering limitations of perishability so as to maximise market reach.
· Increase gainful productivity by reaching more food produced to more consumption centres.
· Reducing food loss that is incurred in the traditional supply chain. Reducing food losses not only to raise farm incomes but also moderate food price inflation
· Expanding the selling range of farmers promotes faster evacuation at farm-gate, greater farm-level productivity, improved resource usage (water, labour, land and fertiliser) – further bolstering farm economics and rural communities
· Tackling toxic air pollution by leapfrogging conventional, highly polluting cooling technologies and adopting zero-emission technologies
Access to clean cold would also allow farmers the potential to move up the value chain system since cold also allows farmers to branch out into food processing – seen as a further key part of the strategy to double farmers’ income; and it may even enable them to join the e-commerce revolution, by trading their surplus crop online to reach new markets..
The challenge now is to translate global science into local solutions. We need to build on the India-UK Tech Summit to enable British technology developers and the Indian organisations to work together to define the technologies and the systems that work in a uniquely Indian context and create a roadmap for rapid deployment.
In so doing, we could create a launching pad for high quality, high impact UK-India partnerships that would help deliver Prime Minister Modi’s vision of helping farmers and the environment at the same time.