According to a report by the Shell Foundation, global food production has increased by 17% in the past 30 years, but almost half of that never reaches end consumers. Also, the number of people battling hunger globally has risen to more than 815 million and this is set to increase further as the world’s population inches towards 9.1 billion by 2050. Closer home, India currently is the world’s largest producer of milk, the second largest producer of fruits and vegetables and has a substantial production of seafood, meat, and poultry products.
However, we incur food losses worth about $14bn, most of these being post-harvest losses, due to inefficiencies in its cold supply chain. These include lack of temperature monitoring in cold storage, using nonrefrigerated vehicles for last mile transport or for shorter distances, lack of tracking and tracing technology to monitor distribution, lack of reefer vehicles, and inaccurate handling of products with untrained drivers and delivery agents, and many other issues in terms of managing the perishable products. Shippers also incur heavy revenue losses due to systemic gaps in the cold chain.
The lack of affordable cold storage and cold transport facilities is another common challenge faced by rural farmers and food producers. Since fresh produce has a limited shelf life, farmers with no access to refrigerated storage are forced to sell their harvest at lower costs, so as to avoid wastage. This leads to financial losses and also reduces their access to wider markets. A strategically planned cold storage and cold transport facility can help solve several wastage problems and help fight hunger while also benefiting farmers.
Listed here are key benefits of how a robust, tech-enabled cold chain can bring about food security in the country:-
Effective temperature-controlled storage has been known to not only prevent fresh produce from going to waste but also enhance its shelf life. With a smart warehouse management system that is integrated with a digital cold chain platform, it is possible to supervise and ensure real-time updates and modifications, so as to maintain optimum temperatures throughout the storage and transport process for perishable goods. This also ensures that the end consumer receives a better quality of product that is nourishing and healthy.
One of the major concerns that farmers face due to the lack of adequate cold storage infrastructure, is the restriction to only grow crops that are resilient and do not require refrigeration. However, these may not always be high-paying and often, also go waste due to poor market prices and middlemen. With the help of robust cold storage and cold supply infrastructure, farmers can now explore several high cash-yielding options like fruits and exotic vegetables, which offer them better revenues.
With the use of tech-enabled cold storage facilities, it is possible for farmers to increase the shelf life of their products and enhance the quality too. And with the help of better cold transport facilities, that are tech-enabled with real-time tracking and monitoring, it is possible to increase the market reach of the product. Current restrictions in access to cold chain infrastructure mean farmers can only sell their products and reduced rates, to nearby markets only so as to avoid wastage. With increased self-life and better cold transport facilities, farmers can expand their reach to markets further away from their existing geography and explore chances for better revenue.
Considering the above benefits, it is clear that an efficient cold supply chain infrastructure can help in many ways. By reducing wastage and enhancing the shelf life and quality of products and improving financial returns to farmers, it also provides them the autonomy and freedom of choice to explore a wider set of crops to grow, newer markets to sell, and the choice of selling to the highest bidder at the best price, instead of selling it out of fear of wastage and loss. This autonomy and freedom for farmers are also significant as it helps them create a sustainable ecosystem for quality harvest and experiment with better farming practices, all of which can help garner food security and fight hunger.
The recently announced National Logistics Policy (NLP) and supporting initiatives by the government, including the National Centre for Cold Chain Development (NCCD), are focused on infrastructure development projects, with 135 cold chain projects, 40 mega food parks, and grants above Rs 7,000 crores. Also, policies in the form of subsidies, tax benefits, and technical training are adding momentum to the evolution and management of a Cold Supply Chain. However, making these benefits accessible to smaller farmers in tier 3 towns and villages and making them affordable, is a task that needs to be undertaken through partnerships with private players and social impact organisations, working with the farmers and the government.