The United Kingdom-based Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IME) highlighted that India has an inadequate cold and frozen supply chain, which is leading to a loss of perishables like fruit and vegetables by 50 per cent annually.
In its report, titled ‘A Tank of Cold: Cleantech Leapfrog to a more food secure world’, IME indicated that India’s investment in cold chain is forecast to be $15 billion over five years, and it has an inefficient electricity grid which has led to an average power loss of 30 per cent during transmission.
India is the world’s largest producer of milk, and second to China in fruit and vegetables. Agriculture employs 53 per cent workforce, but generates only 15 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Although the country’s agricultural exports are valued at $37 billion, fruit and vegetables account for $1-1.5 billion. About 50 per cent of the produce is lost in the supply chain infrastructure, before reaching the consumer at a cost of $4.5 billion.
About 75 to 80 per cent of Indian refrigerated warehouses are suitable only to store potatoes, a commodity that produces only 20 per cent of the agricultural revenue.
As a result, only four 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 85-90 per cent of fresh produce is transported cold.
The report indicated that only 10-11 per cent of the fruit and vegetables produced use cold storage. There is a deficit of 90 per cent. Storage capacity needs to increase 40 per cent to avoid wastage. The wastage of fruits and vegetables occurs more in the southern and western regions of India, due to the tropical and humid climate.
The report recommended that Karnataka and Tamil Nadu could use their existing surplus nitrogen capacity, located in industrial cities for the development of a cryogen-based cold chain in India.
“Currently, ample food is produced, but there is a high degree of spoilage due to inadequate infrastructure, and in particular, a lack of cold and frozen supply chains,” said Dr Tim Fox, head, energy and environment, IME. “The investment in cold chain infrastructure using renewable energy is the key to prevent losses. The government needs to prioritise investment into affordable, reliable and sustainable cold chain infrastructure,” he added.
“It should combine renewable energy with innovative technologies to produce both power and cooling power. It should use cryogenic energy storage using liquid air or nitrogen which is a fifth of the diesel cost and known for zero emission,” Fox said.
“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 the surplus nitrogen production capacity, that could be used to get started on using this technology,” he added.