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Why is India, 5th largest growing economy hungry and its farmers poor?

India loses 40 % of its total farm produce due to post-harvest loss. In terms of volume, the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables that India loses every year is the same as the amount consumed by the people of the United Kingdom in one whole year.

For Jaganlal, a farmer of Chilla village, farm produce is the only source of livelihood but rarely does his produce fetches him enough to feed his family or give him financial security. He belongs to a  community of around 3000 small and marginal farmers like him who solely depend on farm produce for survival. Their biggest agony, however, is not that they can not produce enough to fetch them a good income after the sale of their harvest. Jaganlal and other farmers of his community are miserable because the wastage of their harvest is much bigger than what they can sell. Due to the lack of sufficient storage facilities for perishables produce like vegetables and fruits, these farmers have no choice but to see their harvest go to waste and manage with whatever little they are able to sell.

Chilla village which is just 33 kilometres away from the capital of India, Delhi, is a case study reflecting the sorry state of post-harvest storage facilities in the country. No wonder India suffers a post-harvest loss of around 93,000 crores per year,  which is close to 40 % of the country’s total production. In terms of volume, the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables that India loses every year is the same as the amount consumed by the people of the United Kingdom in one whole year. In other words, what they consume, we waste and Jaganlal and his co-farmers represent thousands and lakhs of such farmers in the country who reel under poverty in want of proper storage facilities.  These farmers can barely make up for their costs by selling their produce in mandis (retail markets) and making profits is like a far-fetched dream.

For the fifth largest growing economy like India, this is a significant amount of food wastage when it has a dismal  97 ranking in Oxfam’s food availability index out of 101 in the Global Hunger Index

Massive Problem of Post-harvest Loss in India

Farmers in India are considered the backbone of the economy as they make up 60% of the workforce. The statistics however paint a dismal picture. Despite being the second largest producer of fruits and vegetables, India only imports produce worth 1.47 lakh crores; a number which highlights the impending problem of post-harvest losses.

Post-Harvest losses refer to the losses taking place after harvesting but before final consumption, the primary cause of which is a lack of proper storage and transportation facilities.

inadequate measures to check or minimise post-harvest loss result in multiple problems for farmers. They not only lose their harvest due to rotting but distress selling leads to a loss of bargaining power. Small and marginal farmers, who constitute close to 86% of the farmer base, bear the brunt of this problem.

According to an assessment by Enactus DCAC, the country witnesses a gap of 84-99% in achieving the target of improving its storage facilities. Out of the available storage facilities 75% is consumed in storing only the potatoes and the rest are either very expensive, inaccessible or not environment friendly.

It is important to have an eco-friendly and affordable storage solution, which minimizes post-harvest losses by providing a portable storage solution and enhancing forward linkages, through a self-sustaining social enterprise.

Eco-friendly storage solutions

One of the options is capacity building for portable storage which extends the shelf life of the product and works on the principle of evaporative cooling.

Enactus DCAC
Enactus DCAC team during a field visit
The storage works In three ways:
  • It maintains a lower temperature inside the storage

  • Ensures the right amount of humidity to preserve the freshness of produce and

  • Contains an ethylene gas converter which slows down the ripening process.

Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), the premier agricultural organization of the country, is helping in customising and refining the storage according to the needs of the communities. IARI has collaborated with the agricultural department of Michigan State University which is mentoring and helping delve deeper into the problem of post-harvest losses.

Effectiveness seems to have shown remarkable results in comparison to conventional storage preserving its freshness for up to one whole week de-stressing farmers from distress selling.

There is a 5-step model which is helping farmers to handle their perishable produce better with longer shelf life.
  • With the help of community Identification ground surveys are conducted in farming communities dealing in fruits and green vegetables.

  • Farmer Mobilization drives are then carried out to explain the working and benefits of our storage.

  • The affordable eco-friendly storage solution is then set up in the farming community.

Under the project, Zaraat, a farmer is charged on a ‘pay as you store basis’ for the storage solution with a minimal charge of Rs.1 per kg of produce stored every day. This allows the farmers to utilize the storage without having to bear the burden of the entire cost. Out of the revenue generated, 70% goes to the entrepreneur allowing him to earn a sustainable income of Rs. 6,300 while the rest is equally divided between recouping our storage cost (15%) and reinvestment purposes (15%).

Farmers’ Empowerment is a necessary requirement

Besides storage issues farm residues have also been a big issue for the farmers. Crop residue such as lady’s finger stems were of no use to the farmers and were being burnt as a result adding a burden to the environment. Farmers are being trained in using Composting bins. The compost thus produced substitutes for the use of fertilizers while initiating a zero-waste model and ensuring healthier consumption.

Working with such a diverse number of farmers required it was important to find a mechanism to monitor the data of all our beneficiaries. For this purpose, many agri-tech enterprises are collaborating with Project Zaraat.

Enactus DCAC team
Enactus DCAC team

It surveys the farmers for relevant information on various parameters such as land size, equipment available, livestock possessed etc. after which the platform provides us with predictive analysis. This gives us useful insights regarding crop cycles, harvesting time and resources available which can help prevent further losses.

To ensure the project’s sustainability, Zaraat is helping farmers evolve as entrepreneurs to oversee the project empowering them with the ownership of the storage facilities after recouping the investment.

These steps have helped reduce reduced post-harvest losses by a whopping 60% and minimized energy consumption by 20%. This has not only helped generate a revenue of more than 3.7 lakhs and directly impacted the lives of more than 250 farmers, but Zaraat has also now become a harbinger of hope for farming communities across 3 states.

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