India needs 70K pack houses in cold chain: Study

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New Delhi — As per the latest report by the National Centre for Cold-chain Development (NCCD), the country needs about 70,000 packhouses (or packing houses), each equipped with a pre-cooler and dispatch room for onwards transport links, to fulfil the current consumption at urban clusters. Currently, the country only has about 250 such pack-houses.

On the other hand, India does have large cold storage facilities. The gap in cold store capacity is projected at only about 3.5 million tons in space. As per recorded data of 31 March 2014, the country has created cold stores of 31.8 million metric tonnes in holding capacity. This breaks away from various earlier reports that suggested that India required a total of 61 million tonnes of cold storages for its perishable produce. To match this storage, the country is said to have less than 10,000 refrigerated vehicles, whereas the requirement is estimated at 62,000 vehicles.

The transformation needed
The transformation needed

Lack of packing houses and transport connectivity results in a breach in the integrity of cold-chain. This also results in most of the cold storage capacity being used to store only crops like potato, dried chillies, pulses, etc. which do not need onwards cold-chain connectivity.

Minister of State for Agriculture and Farmers Welfare Sanjeev Balayan released the study titled “All India Cold-chain Capacity Assessment (Status & Gaps)” here yesterday. The study has been undertaken by the NCCD along with NABARD Consultancy Service (Nabcons).

A unique aspect of this study is that it takes into account the actual per-capita consumption of food items, thereby making the assessment realistic and relevant to existing market demand. The study analyses the requirement of all types of cold-chain infrastructure, directly linked to the flow of perishable foodstuff to urban clusters of India.

This is the first ever study that undertakes a holistic approach to cold chains as it evaluates all the necessary logistics components, including modern pack-houses, refrigerated transport, cold stores as distribution platforms and ripening chambers, besides traditional cold stores. The report has highlighted that the gap in India’s cold chain is not as much due to a lack of cold storage capacity, but more to do with various other components, necessary to implement farm-to-fork connectivity.

Releasing the study, Dr Balayan said that “the cold-chain sector is part of India’s second green revolution and high-value products such as fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, poultry and dairy are critically dependent on it. This study by NCCD has underlined the missing links in agri-logistics and will help devise long-term plans and policies to improve our cold-chain networks. The report highlights that in future, development focus needs to be more on modern packing houses and refrigerated transport, which are important to initiate the appropriate logistics chain from villages to city centres.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has frequently expressed the need to improve market-linked connectivity for agricultural produce. This study is an important step in this direction and provides inputs for planning future development.

Previously, the main focus was on creating of cold stores. This report explains how farm-gate infrastructure in the form of modern packing houses and reefer vehicles is key to connecting the farmers with the distribution network. The report lays emphasis on modern packing houses, which are used to prepare and precondition the fresh farm produce for subsequent logistical connectivity in the cold chain, are a critical missing link. Without these village-level facilities, farmers of high-value fruits and vegetables are not able to take full advantage of the cold-chain.

At the release of the study, Secretary at the Department of Agriculture and Cooperation Siraj Hussain said, “This is the first such study that directly correlates the food consumption with source points, making the evaluation more relevant and market linked. This study has demonstrated that cold-chain development needs to address “end-to-end” connectivity from farm-gate to consumers. To be future ready, India requires modern and smart logistics to serve as the logistics bridge between source points and markets.”

The existing food distribution suffers food losses due to lack of integrated cold-chains. Establishing modern supply chains for perishable food items, not only minimises the food losses, but also empowers the farmers to reach across to more distant markets. Integrated cold-chain, enables the farmer groups proactively connect to various demand centres and take advantage of the recently launched National Agriculture Market.

This empowering aspect of cold-chain, allows for a greater geographical spread of markets by countering produce perishability, and is key to gainful and improved value realisation for farmers.

To support cold-chain as an important agri-logistics intervention, the Mission for Integrated Development of Horticulture (MIDH) under the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, is providing incentives to entrepreneurs for the development of all such relevant cold-chain infrastructure components. Also present at the release of the report were Shri Sanjeev Chopra, Joint Secretary (DAC-MIDH) and Shri Pawanexh Kohli, Chief Advisor & CEO of NCCD.

The assessments made in this study have disregarded cold-chain use where the produce is harvested within 300 km of the consumption centres since the selling cycle is manageable well within the normal holding life of the perishable produce. The study has also suggested that the additional time gained by using the cold-chain should be used to reach out to the concentration of consumers to better use the remaining shelf life. The example of the quick and efficient supply systems developed for milk distribution is highlighted. The document includes key definitions, making it the first comprehensive listing of terminology used to add clarity to the concept of cold chains.

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