India, the world's second largest producer of fruits and vegetables, throws away fresh produce worth Rs 13,300 crore every year because of the country's lack of adequate cold storage facilities and refrigerated transport, a report said.
"The value of fruits, vegetables and grains wastage in India stands at Rs 44,000 crore annually.
"Fruits and vegetables account for the largest portion of that wastage. 18% of India's fruit and vegetable production valued at Rs 13,300 crore is wasted annually," according to data compiled in a new report by Emerson Climate Technologies India, a business of the US-based manufacturing and technology company Emerson.
The report says that two of the biggest contributors to food losses are the lack of refrigerated transport as also the lack of high quality cold storage facilities for food manufacturers and food sellers.
Without improvements to its cold chain infrastructure, from farm harvest to table, food problems in India, which is the world's second largest producer of fruits and vegetables, will remain vast and are likely to grow, warns the report.
Currently, India has 6,300 cold storage facilities unevenly spread across the country, with an installed capacity of 30.11 million metric tonnes.
Studies have shown this is half the amount of cold storage facilities that India actually needs. Cold storage capacity for all food products in the country should be more than 61 million metric tonnes, it said.
In order to reach that target, the report says an investment of more than Rs 55,000 crore is needed by 2015-2016 just to keep up with growing fruit and vegetable production levels.
"While progress is being made, this report confirms the cold storage situation is more acute than many realise.
Emerson is seeing this in the marketplace and we commissioned this report to keep the spotlight on the issue," said Pradipta Sen, president of Emerson's India, Middle East and Africa region.
"India has more than 1.2 billion people. Better protection of the integrity of our fruits and vegetables from harvest to table should be of paramount importance. Part of the solution is more effective, more efficient and well-thought-out cold storage infrastructure in India," Sen said.
Stating that financial investment in cold storage facilities and refrigerated transport is vital, the report highlights additional challenges faced by India's cold storage industry today.
The three biggest challenges are high lifecycle costs for a cold storage facility that typically needs land and buildings to hold 6,000 metric tonnes of food; uneven distribution of cold storage facilities with 60% of existing facilities located near the point of production in just four states and too few closer to distribution points in the other 24 states; and low awareness about the best storage practices among the industry players, it says.
The report cites several positive measures implemented by the Union government to improve the cold chain infrastructure, including recognising cold chain as a sub-sector of infrastructure in the last Union Budget, creating an additional budget to set up cold storages.
It says the private sector needs to be encouraged to play a more significant role to develop the cold chain space further, including implementing proven cold storage refrigeration technology solutions available today.
According to the report, these technology solutions range from multi-commodity cold storage facilities to controlled atmosphere storage to advanced ripening chambers that can reduce operating costs, protect and improve food quality and be more energy efficient.