Mentor's Perspective

Managing Post Harvest losses in India- A public policy approach

Horticulture products like fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers and herbs are inherently perishable. Perishability starts immediately after they are plucked out from plants or ground. During the stages of cleaning, sorting, grading, transportation and distribution and marketing, substantial losses occur – the loss can be an invisible loss like weight loss to slight deterioration in quality to complete loss of crop. The reasons can be many: Physical damage during handling and transportation, non availability of controlled atmosphere storage to even cases where the whole produce may get wasted due to non availability of a market.

Post harvest (PH) losses in India range from 30% to 40% ( Rashad Hegazy, 2013). In some cases, the losses may go even up to 50%. In developed countries, PH losses are mainly at retail and domestic household levels unlike in India where the losses happen at farm level and at wholesaler level. Public policy approach in India has primarily been directed towards building cold storages to avoid post harvest losses. Building Cold Storages is necessary but not a sufficient condition for reducing the post harvest losses in our economy. For bringing down losses to an acceptable level, investments in pack-houses, cold chain transportation and also availability of micro storage at mandi level are required. The whole challenge needs to be looked from an integrated perspective along with crop specific interventions. One crop may be more suitable for packhouse and storage level intervention while other crops may require intervention at distribution level. A third crop may require both long and short term commodity financing interventions as well.

An approach for reducing post harvest losses should include the following:

  1. Collaborative and Area Specific Approach: One agency or one person cannot do that. A lot of grass root work has been done by local agencies like Navdanya, Kaushalya Foundation and CTI ( Compatible Technology International). Local NGOs, corporate and other bodies at grass root level needs to be involved at the stage of policy formulation, skill building, training and development and execution level.
  2. Targeted Subsidies: “One size fits all” approach of subsidies has done more bad than good. Unless the subsidies are targeted at changing the behaviour of individual, technology adoption will not happen at rapid pace. It makes much more sense to fund a packhouse or a farm level cold storage of 20 feet than giving indiscriminate subsidies on Urea and DAP.
  3. Focusing on adoption of technology: The current approach used by policy makers focuses on grant in aid to help farmers adopt the technology. It simply assumes that if benefits are available, the farmers will adopt the technology. While this approach has been quite successful for certain practices, for promoting Cold Chain and Post Harvest Management, it has not. Adoption does not happen when subsidies are available. Adoptions happen when we are able to show a clear relationship between adoption and profitability or adoption and reduced costs.
  4. Reducing the cost of ownership of a solution: Behavioural change involves “hooking to a solution”. Waiving user charges for first few transactions and shared economy can be a few learnings which can be used to devise solutions for the same. Similarly funding an FPO rather than funding ten different farmers will be cost effective, efficient and bring economies of scale.

Overall, an integrated bottom up approach, targeted subsidies towards changing behaviour and adoption of technology as well as finding ways and means to reduce the cost of ownership of post harvest solutions will go a long way in reducing post harvest losses in Indian Horticulture.

Authored by:  Anand Gupta, VP (Sales and Marketing) at TESSOL, a cold chain startup which is solving the secondary and last mile cold chain delivery challenges for Food, Agricultural and Pharma sectors

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