Smart tech helps Indian farmers reduce foodwaste and boost income

Clean cold - the hidden environmental cost

Harnessing smartphone technology so that Indian farmers make better business decisions could help to tackle the sustainable cooling challenge facing India and the wider world, according to a new report launched today.

Using mobile apps and data analysis to manage harvesting and logistics could help to reduce the amount of food wasted between farm gate and supermarket shelf, whilst boosting farmers’ incomes and reducing the environmental impact of much-needed food cooling.

The recommendation is part of a four-point ‘roadmap’ developed by experts at the University of Birmingham working with the Shakti Sustainable Energy Foundation and MP Ensystems to uncover the cooling needs of farmers in the states of Haryana, Punjab, Maharashtra and Karnataka.

The plan’s authors recommend four key actions in ’Promoting Clean and Energy Efficient Cold-Chains in India’:

  • Promoting new business models that involve the communities taking charge of their own cooling needs;
  • Establishing ‘Living Labs’ in rural communities where new technology can be tested;
  • Providing training to enable people in the food industry to use new technology; and
  • Creating a new framework for delivering IT-based cold chain solutions; particularly IT-based services to manage harvesting and logistics, and selling surplus cooling capacity.

Effective refrigeration is essential to preserve food and medicine. It underpins industries and economic growth, while air conditioning is key to sustainable urbanisation and human productivity and makes much of the world bearable - or even safe - to live in.

Toby Peters, Professor in Clean Cold Economy at the University of Birmingham, commented: “We’re proposing a radical new approach to cooling provision with recommendations combined with Government of India action to address needs from the first to last mile of the cold-chain as well as those of the broader rural community.

“We must build capacity whilst demonstrating the efficiency of new technology that people will be able to use easily and affordably. For example, with increased penetration of mobile-based apps and technologies in rural areas, there is potential for an information-based system to help make informed marketing decisions and boost farmers’ incomes.”

The problems in India are acute, where up to 50% of food is lost post-harvest because of lack of cold chain. The report highlights that only 4% of produce that would benefit from a cold-chain actually does so, compared with around 70% in the UK.

Pawanexh Kohli, CEO, National Centre for Cold-chain Development and Visiting Professor at the University of Birmingham commented: “Cold-chains enhance economic wealth, cash flow and security for farmers and improve food quality, safety and value to the customer, but they must achieve this with minimum environmental impact.While we can reduce the loss of food in the delivery chain through use of technology, existing cold-chain is an energy intensive application, often relying on diesel to provide off-grid and on-vehicle cooling – this is not good for the planet.”

Krishan Dhawan, CEO, Shakti Sustainable Energy Foundation commented: “Cold chains are expected to grow rapidly in the next couple of years. Under a Business-as-Usual scenario, most cold chains will run on diesel and adopt carbon intensive cooling and refrigeration technologies. The way forward is for India is transition to cleaner and more efficient cold chains, in order to tackle climate change and to achieve wider socioeconomic benefits.”

Mahesh Patankar of MP Ensystems and Senior Advisor with the Regulatory Assistance Project commented: “Cold-chain infrastructure and business models need to be grounded within the communities – providing them the solutions to enhance their livelihood while catering to a country’s nutritional requirements. Enhanced IoT and Blockchain techniques proposed by the research team are designed to bring substantial benefits to those who need it the most.”

The report was launched at the two-day Clean Cooling Congress, which opened in London on 24 April – hosted by University of Birmingham with the World Bank Group and the UK Department of Business Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and Mission Innovation.

Representatives from governments, manufacturers, research and development organisations will attend the two-day Clean Cooling Congress, which opens in London on 24th April.

With populations and incomes growing, urbanisation continuing and climate change causing rising temperatures, the world will need to provide far more cooling. Between now and 2050, it is estimated that 19 pieces of cooling equipment (such as room-size AC units, refrigerators and industrial size chillers) will be deployed every second. Despite this massive increase in cooling provision, access to cooling for all people that need it will still not be a reality, and the poorest in many hot countries will feel the impact.

How the world meets this challenge and provides cooling services to a growing middle class and to the vulnerable poor in the coming decades will have important ramifications for our climate: without innovations and targeted interventions the energy demand for cooling could increase more than five times by 2050 – and fast growing direct and indirect GHG emissions associated with cooling equipment can easily outpace all our attempts to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement and halt global warming.

Clean cold - how do we meet urgent global need for cooling without over-heating the planet? - is now at the heart of the climate and development debate, which concerns many of the world’s international development and environmental agencies.

ENDS

For more information or a copy of the report, please contact the University of Birmingham Press Office on +44 (0) 121 414 8254.. For out-of-hours enquiries, please call +44 (0) 7789 921 165.

Notes for editors

  • The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions, its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers and teachers and more than 6,500 international students from over 150 countries.
  • The Clean Cold Congress is held on 24 and 25 April - a global event around sustainable, accessible cooling for all who need it, without over-heating the planet. Representatives from governments, manufacturers, research and development organisations are attending the event.
  • The World Bank Group is a unique global partnership: five institutions working for sustainable solutions that reduce poverty and build shared prosperity in developing countries. It has 189 member countries, staff from more than 170 countries, and offices in over 130 locations.
  • The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is the UK Government department responsible for business, industrial strategy, science, research and innovation, energy and clean growth, and climate change.