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How technology can help reduce India’s post-harvest losses

India is one of the world’s largest producers of fruits, vegetables, cereals and other crops, but it also faces a huge challenge of post-harvest losses. According to government figures, in 2022 India lost between 6% and 15% of its fruit, between 5% and 12% of its vegetables, and between 4% and 6% of its cereals. These losses not only affect the income and livelihood of farmers, but also contribute to food insecurity, environmental degradation and greenhouse gas emissions.

However, some innovative technologies and solutions are emerging to help farmers reduce their post-harvest losses and increase their value addition. Here are some examples of how technology can stop India wasting so much of its harvest.

Solar-powered drying systems for small farmers

One of the main causes of post-harvest losses is the lack of proper storage and processing facilities, especially for small and marginal farmers who cannot afford expensive equipment or infrastructure. To address this problem, a start-up called Raheja Solar Food Processing has developed a simple air drying system that uses sunlight and solar-powered fans to dry the produce. The system is cheap and easy to assemble, and can be used to dry fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices and flowers.

The system has several benefits for the farmers. It reduces the moisture content of the produce, which increases its shelf life and prevents spoilage. It also adds value to the produce, as dried products can fetch higher prices in the market. Moreover, it reduces the dependence on middlemen and transport costs, as the farmers can sell their products directly to consumers or retailers.

How technology can help reduce India’s post-harvest losses

One of the users of the system is Kapil Jain, a rose farmer from Rajasthan, who faced difficulties in selling his fresh roses due to their short shelf life and high transportation costs. He decided to turn his roses into rose water and rose oil, and also bought a solar-powered drying system for his tomato crop. He says that this has helped him grow his business and reduce his losses.

Data-driven supply chain management for perishable goods

Another challenge that farmers face is the lack of transparency and efficiency in the supply chain of perishable goods. Often, there is a mismatch between demand and supply, leading to wastage or shortages. Moreover, there are multiple intermediaries involved in the supply chain, who take a large share of the profits and increase the cost for the end consumers.

To solve this problem, a company called WayCool has developed a data-driven platform that connects farmers with buyers using artificial intelligence and machine learning. The platform collects data from various sources, such as weather forecasts, crop production estimates, market prices, consumer preferences and inventory levels. It then analyses this data to optimise the procurement, distribution and pricing of the produce.

The platform helps farmers get better prices for their produce, as well as access to credit, insurance and quality inputs. It also helps buyers get fresh and quality produce at lower prices, as well as reduce their inventory and logistics costs. Furthermore, it helps reduce post-harvest losses by ensuring faster delivery and better handling of the produce.

Smart packaging solutions for extending shelf life

A third factor that contributes to post-harvest losses is the inadequate packaging of the produce. Many fruits and vegetables are packed in plastic bags or crates that do not provide adequate protection from physical damage, microbial contamination or environmental factors. This results in deterioration of quality, appearance and nutritional value of the produce.

To overcome this issue, some researchers and entrepreneurs are developing smart packaging solutions that can extend the shelf life of the produce by modifying the atmosphere inside the package. For example, a start-up called NanoPack has developed a nanomaterial-based film that can release antimicrobial agents into the package to prevent spoilage. Another example is a biodegradable film made from mango peel that can slow down ripening by absorbing ethylene gas.

These smart packaging solutions can offer several advantages for the farmers and consumers. They can reduce the need for refrigeration or chemical preservatives, which can save energy and reduce environmental impact. They can also enhance the safety, quality and freshness of the produce, which can increase consumer satisfaction and demand.

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