With big corporates like Reliance and Bharti entering the fresh fruit and vegetable business, can innovation be far away? Think of apples and oranges that can stay without refrigeration for more than week in any weather, without losing any of their looks, freshness or nutritive value - and how much it would help these new players in retail!
This is precisely what will soon happen with the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi Chemistry Department having developed a liquid solution, which keeps fruit and vegetables from rotting.
It has been estimated by the National Horticulture Board of India that more than Rs 40,000 crore is lost annually because fruits and vegetables go bad as they are being transported from one part of the country to another.
Speaking to Hindustan Times Prof HP Chawla, who headed the project, claimed, "The solution has been tested in nine different laboratories in the country. It has immense commercial value. We have already obtained the product and have applied for the process patent." Apart from apples and oranges, grapes, capsicum and tomatoes have been successfully tested by coating them with the solution - they remained perfect.
IIT Delhi has developed the solution in collaboration with the Synthetic and Natural Molecular Technologies (SANMOTECH), a Technology Business Incubator Unit, which is part of a research organisation set up by IIT Delhi itself to develop innovative, marketable specialty products and processes.
Prof Chawla has been working on coatings, which delay the biodegradation of fruit and vegetables and years. "The solution can be coated, sprayed or the fruit can be dipped in it to increase its shelf-life. It has been developed from natural products of Indian origin, as an alternative to traditional waxes. The coatings have been designed to slow the complex process that takes place within the fruit leading to its spoilage."
He said the solution was natural, safe and non-toxic and tasteless. The project had found support from the Food Processing, Environment & Forests, Science and Technology and Rural Development ministries with the initial funding amounting to Rs 1.70 crore.
Chawla noted that large-scale use of the solution would not only increase the average fruit farmer's earning, it would also reduce solid waste pollution and the associated effort and expense of handling and disposing off rotten fruit and vegetables. Its use will also open up new employment opportunities for rural youth in the agro-industry area.
The National Research Development Corporation (NRDC) has been scouting for companies willing to market this solution. Somenath Ghosh, chairman and managing director, confirmed to Hindustan Times that NRDCC was at an advanced stage of negotiations with a few companies to market the solution.
Sources in NRDC said executives from Reliance Industries and from Middle East countries have both shown interest. "We are negotiating with them to get a better price, which would be royalty for the developers," said Ghosh.
Upendra Vats, Assistant General Manager, Fresh Fruits and Vegetables, Processed fruits & Vegetables, Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority said, "Any solution that can enhance the life of fruits and vegetables is good for the export."