'RVC to help in removing bottlenecks to curb perishable goods prices'
While being the chairman of National Center for Cold-chain Development, please shed some light on the main objectives of the organisation?
The main objective of the NCCD is to recommend standards and protocols for cold-chain infrastructure/building, including post-harvest management so as to harmonise with international standards and best practices and suggest mechanism for benchmarking and certification of infrastructure/building, process and services provided by cold chain industry. The NCCD aims to undertake and coordinate the task of human resource development (HRD) and capacity building by conducting in-house training, short-term/long-term courses relevant for cold-chain development in the country.
How NCCD is helping its stakeholders in cold-chain development?
The NCCD assesses and develops appropriate IT-based management information system for the cold-chain infrastructure to undertake and coordinate research and development (R&D) work required for development of cold-chain industry in consultation with stakeholders. The NCCD recommends appropriate policy framework relating to development of cold-chain to facilitate and foster the development of multi-modal transportation facilities for perishable agricultural, horticultural and allied commodities and establishment of National Green Grid Perishable Commodities.
Despite the fact that the cold-chain management is considered as the spinal cord of our agrarian economy, what are the main challenges in this sector?
There are many challenges, but some of the remarkable hurdles that the cold-chain industry is struggling with are lack of knowledge about the technicalities in the sector. As per the normal practice, people associated with this sector were making godowns (warehouses) first and then fitting ACs in it, considering the fact that they have established a cold-chain and their perishable products will last for longer period. Farmers were advised by owners to keep their produce in cold-chains and sell their perishable products when the demand of the product is more in the market. There was a general belief among farmers that fruits and vegetable stored in cold-chains will last for longer period, which is not a valid thought. Like other things, every agricultural produce has a fixed life span and cold-chains can only extend the life of the produce for some time. It couldn’t stretch the life and quality of any agricultural produce for a longer period of time. The products also die quality wise, in the cold-chain and only body mass remains, which is of no use. This was the big mistake in the policy which was happening over the last ten years. Other challenge is transportation as a van ferrying perishable items are being mostly harassed on the highways. Most of the transporters have complained that their movements are hassled.
Please explain cold-chain and its functionality?
Cold-chain is all about buying time, but in general perception, cold-chain is just about increasing the shelf life of any agricultural produce, which is not true. Actually the shelf life is used for such products which are stored on the shelf. For example, if a tomato has a normal life of four days, we cannot increase its shelf life, but with the help of cold-chain the organic tissues of tomato can be preserved for some more days. When any fresh fruit or vegetable goes into cold-chain management, its tissue will die after certain period of time and a buyer will buy only the dead fruits and vegetables. Its natural phenomena that when we pluck a fruit or vegetable from plant, its gets separated from mother’s umbilical cord, which transfers nutrition, including water to the product. When we kept it alive, we just increased their life— the saleable period —as there is no stopping to perishability. So such saleable life should be broken up into different categories such as pre-conditioning, transportation, front and short term storage. Also there is confusion among farmers that sorting and grading is cold-chain management, which is not apt. Sorting is just price-based selection of food item, while packaging is as per size, which makes transportation easier.
People consider cold-chain as nerve centre, but it’s not. The cold-chain management is just a transit centre. The nerve centre is rural India where crops are treated as child by farmers and nobody can teach them about the upkeep of their crops.
You have launched Reefer Vehicle Call-in-Centre (RVC) service for smoother transportation of perishable goods. How will it work, please explain?
Since cold-chain is always dependent on time-distance matrix and India has the second largest cold storage capacity next to America. The drivers of reefer vehicles are struggling with lots of ‘unwanted’ problems, which can be sorted out amicably to enable smooth transportation of perishable goods across the country. The RVC will facilitate in creation of a database of bottlenecks and their types experienced during the transportation of goods on the national highways. The database that will be created on the basis of response generated from this exercise will help in devising long term plans and policies to alleviate bottlenecks and thus control inflation in prices of perishable goods in the country.
With the launch of the RVCs, the vehicles that carry perishable goods like vegetables, fruits, dairy products, poultry, pharmaceuticals and others can register their complaints related to the bottlenecks like extortion, transit delays, harassment and others on toll free number 18002676223. The information provided by the RVC would help transporters to en-route trips away from critical zones and improve service options for refrigerated transport services. Our aim is to fast track movements to bring out multimodalities to bring in green corridor. Perishable goods must be given faster access as our essence is to save foods not because of consumers but also for price realisation. It stitches the country together.