Importance of Cold Chain in Agriculture and Allied Sectors


The importance of maintaining a cold chain in agricultural and allied sectors can’t be overstated. A properly functioning cold chain helps reduce food wastage, preserve quality, and ensure the safety of perishables like fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products. Let’s delve deeper into various aspects of how cold chain influences these vital industries.

Role of Cold Chain in Reducing Food Wastage

India suffers from high post-harvest losses each year, with estimates placing food wastage at around 30-40% annually for fruits and vegetables alone. One of the primary reasons for this is lack of adequate cold chain infrastructure across the supply chain from farms to markets. Cold storage facilities help maintain the freshness and extend the shelf life of produce by slowing down metabolic processes. By ensuring temperature-controlled transportation from farms to processing plants or markets through refrigerated vehicles, cold chain minimizes decay and spoilage. It plays a key role in reducing wastage of perishables estimated to be worth billions of dollars each year. Proper cold chain would allow for year-round availability of products and reduce price volatility in the market.

Importance of Quality Preservation

Maintaining the quality and nutritional value of agricultural produce through an efficient cold chain is crucial. Refrigeration helps slow down biochemical changes and microbial activity in fruits and vegetables, thereby retaining their natural color, texture, flavor and essential vitamins and minerals. Timely shifts of produce to cold storage facilities or refrigerated vehicles prevents moisture loss, wilting and browning – all of which damage the organoleptic properties. For meat, fish and dairy, temperature control throughout the supply chain from slaughterhouses/dairies to retailers is a must to prevent quality deterioration through bacterial growth or enzymatic reactions. A robust cold chain aids quality assurance and fetch higher market prices for farm products.

Ensuring Food Safety

Cold chain plays an indispensable hygiene role in keeping foodborne illnesses at bay. Rapid product perishability makes agriculture highly susceptible to contamination by pathogens during handing, transportation and storage in the absence of appropriate refrigeration. By maintaining the chilled environment, cold chain inhibits microbial proliferation including that of Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria, etc., thus preventing food spoilage and protecting public health. Time-temperature abuse during any part of the cold chain can significantly compromise safety. Modern refrigerated warehousing with HACCP-compliant protocols and GPS-enabled fleets for transportation are vital cogs in the food safety wheel.

Challenges of Cold Chain in India

While the need for cold chain is well-recognized, its development in India still faces several challenges:

Lack of Infrastructure: There is a massive gap between the existing cold storage capacity of around 32 million tons and the demand of over 70 million tons across the country. Most older facilities are in disrepair while new investments are inadequate even for major commodities.

High Operational Costs: Cost of establishing and running refrigerated facilities from source to destination is substantial due to high capital expenditure and operating expenses of equipment, energy charges etc. This price sensitivity poses challenges for widespread adoption.

Fragmented Farms: India’s highly fragmented farm sector with numerous small and marginal holdings dispersed over large regions makes centralized collection and transportation logistically difficult.

Unorganized Value Chain Actors: Presence of multiple intermediaries and lack of integration between farmers, pack-houses, transporters and retailers results in non-standard practices and temperature excursions.

Policy and Awareness: Absence of supportive policies, loans, tax benefits etc. and lack of cold chain education among value chain participants inhibits scale-up and efficient management of facilities.

Government Initiatives to Boost Cold Chain

To address some of the above barriers, the central and state governments have rolled out several initiatives to facilitate cold chain infrastructure development:

Operationalizing the Rs. 10,000 crore scheme under Agriculture Infrastructure Fund for loans at low-interest rates for setting up integrated cold chain projects.

Providing Rs. 7664 crore budgetary allocation under the ‘Scheme for Integrated Cold Chain and Value Addition Infrastructure.’

Supporting private sector participation through Viability Gap Funding and Public Private Partnership models to plug gaps in storage, transport and processing segments.

Promoting Farmer Producer Organizations to help smallholders collectively utilize cold storage and logistics through hub-and-spoke models.

Establishing Central Sector Infrastructure Development Scheme for projects of national importance at mega food parks, seaports etc.

Supporting establishment of cold storage clusters and control & monitoring of temperatures in vehicles through IoT-based technologies.

Using Krishi Udaan initiative for air transport of fruits, vegetables, fisheries etc. to distant markets.

Implementing schemes for capacity building, training and extensive IEC campaigns regarding importance and management of cold chain.

If these initiatives are effectively implemented along with private investments, India can hope to develop an efficient cold chain network that positively impacts its agriculture and food processing sectors immensely in the coming years. A well-functioning cold chain will play a pivotal role not just economically but also socially by way of job creation and reduced price volatility advantage to consumers.