Engaging With Stakeholders In The Cold Chain
In the concluding part of the series on horticulture, the emphasis is on post-harvest management, with special focus on cold chain, and engaging with stakeholders to ensure that extended shelf life of perishables adds to farmers’ incomes and higher availability of fruits and vegetables
As mentioned in the last column, the government has extended fiscal and policy concessions to the cold chain sector to ensure longer shelf life for perishables. The policy seems to have yielded positive results, because of the total cold storage capacity of 30 million MT, nearly half (14 million MT) was created on account of interventions by National Horticulture Mission (NHM), Horticulture Mission for North-East and Himalayan States (HMNEH), National Horticulture Board (NHB), Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development and Authority (APEDA), Ministry of Food Processing Industries (MoFPI) and Department of Animal Husbandry and Fisheries (DAH&F). Given the multiplicity of institutions working in the sector, the government decided to establish a National Centre for Cold Chain Development (NCCD) during the year 2011-12 in a public private partnership mode to address all issues relating to cold chain management, including standards, protocols and HRD.
The main objectives of NCCD include recommendation of standards and protocols for cold chain infrastructure, including the post-harvest management so as to harmonise them with international standards and best practices and suggest mechanism for benchmarking and certification of infrastructure/ building, process and services provided by cold chain industry. It is also mandated to undertake and coordinate Research and Development (R&D) work required for development of cold chain industry in consultation with stakeholders. Another important responsibility is to undertake and coordinate the task of Human Resource Development (HRD) and capacity building. It may also conduct in-house training, short-term/long courses relevant for cold chain development. Last but not least it has to play the role of a think tank to the government on all aspects of cold chain development, and engage in a continuous dialogue with all the stakeholders. All these are now discussed in greater detail below.
Standards and Protocols
While it is true that standard setting bodies like BIS (Bureau of Indian Standards) and BEE (Bureau of Energy Efficiency) have been given the responsibility of laying down and enforcing standards, NCCD will play the lead role in keeping abreast of the latest developments in the sector, especially cutting-edge technologies. Refrigeration technologies are looking not just at temperatures, but also air quality and energy efficiency, with focus on renewable. Towards this end, NCCD keeps in touch with the International Institute of Refrigeration, a Paris-based inter-governmental institution, and its counterparts in countries which have more evolved systems, especially in Europe and North America where cold chain has been in existence for a longer period. However, NCCD calibrates the standards to suit Indian conditions because the temperature conditions, dietary habits and range of movement of produce are quite different from that of Europe. Some things are significantly different: most vegetables are grown in areas from where the produce can be transported overnight without any need for refrigeration, short-term and intermediate storage is as important as long-term storage, and power supply is so erratic on rural feeders that solar, bio-mass and diesel-based systems are plausible options, and in many cases these are kept as back-up, thereby pushing both capital and operating costs.
Co-ordinating & Funding Research
While IITs of Delhi and Chennai, as well as several National Institutes of Technology do have departments/centres for refrigeration, there is need to link these research centres to understand the specific requirements of farmers’ organisations, large aggregators and logistics companies. Most state agriculture universities now have an engineering college as well, but many still do not have a department for refrigeration technologies and post-harvest management. However, if India wishes to meet the demand supply gap in this sector, the need to have competent professionals cannot be underestimated.
HRD and Skill development
If refrigeration and installation engineers are not supported by trained and committed technical and operating staff, the entire system can collapse. Just as a hospital cannot do without nursing and paramedical staff, the cold chain will be rendered ineffective in the absence of trained technical and skilled manpower. This is perhaps the weakest link in the chain: refrigeration engineers are in short supply, but trained foremen and shop floor workers, or drivers and conductors in refrigerated vans are practically non-existent. Many drivers of refrigerated vehicles are known to switch off the air-conditioning at night to save on diesel, thereby leading to quality deterioration ! NCCD will have to work with the technical and vocational education directorates across the country to provide these skills in polytechnics and industrial training institutes. Some steps in this direction have already been initiated, including the two-week course on cold chain management for graduate engineers by NHB and the Global Cold Chain Alliance, and the training for drivers of refrigerated vans.
A Think Tank for the government
While the government and the Planning Commission have spelt out the Mission statement: cold chain has to be supported to increase the shelf life of perishables so that farmers get higher incomes translating this into action by breaking it into actionable points is the responsibility of the NCCD. Towards this end, the NCCD has to engage with its members and stakeholders and spell out ‘what is to be done’ so that government can take an informed decision on the subject.
Engaging with Stakeholders
Easier said than done, especially as the stakeholders are so wide and diverse. Thus the NCCD has several categories of membership ranging from growers associations, farmers producer organisations and co-operatives and association of retailers to companies engaged in manufacture and installation of refrigeration equipment, associations of cold chain owners, individual companies owning integrated cold chains, chambers of trade, industry and commerce, regulatory and development agencies (WDRA, FSSAI,BIS), PSUs, academic and resource institutions and individuals who have distinguished themselves in cold chain, or any of the associated fields. The NCCD is also empowered to set up technical committees and co-opt members to carry out its broad mandate. The question is: what is the writing on the wall? Ambitious yes ! Practical…let’s hope for the best.
By Sanjeev Chopra
(An IAS Officer, the author is Joint Secretary & Mission Director, National Horticulture Mission, Government of India. The views expressed are personal.)