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Asia Pacific: Invest in cold chains to prevent food loss in India, says institution

A 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, according to a report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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

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; the report is calling of there to be a 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, states A Tank of Cold: Cleantech Leapfrog to a more food secure world.

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 report finds:

*India is the world’s largest producer of milk, and second only to China in fruit and vegetables.

Yet agriculture, which occupies 53% of the workforce, generates just 15% of gross domestic product.

*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 infrastructure 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 four million of the 104 million tons of fresh produce transported in India every year does so in a cold chain.

This compares unfavorably with developed economies, where typically from 85-90% of fresh produce is transported cold.

The institution is 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.

Invest in cold chain systems, more collaborations needed

Investing in cold chain technologies has been shown in mature economies to be a cost-effective way to connect farmers and growers with higher value market options as well as reduce postharvest losses of perishable produce, thereby improving incomes for producers and meeting increasing demand for food.

“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,” says Dr Tim Fox, head of energy and environment.

“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 non-government organizations (NGOs) involved in development initiatives and retailers establishing supply chains, needs to prioritize 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,” he says.

“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 liquefied natural gas (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 report recommends the following:

1. Governments of newly emerging and rapidly industrializing economies must prioritize 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 incentivize aid recipients to develop sustainable cold chains using renewable energy and waste cold.

3. The UK engineering community should define in detail the potential opportunities a joined-up cold economy presents for the developed and developing world.