What is the importance cold chain for the Agriculture sector?
In agriculture, cold chain counters perishability and enables connect to distant buying markets, makes it of utmost importance to this sector. Most importantly, the Cold-chain can empower the producers by extending short product life cycles and thereby allowing them to cover longer distances to reach more favourable buying markets.
Cold chain also provides mobility, it can therefore free the farmers from their traditional monopolistic buying locality and opens opportunity to link them with buyers across longer distances.
What is the overall scenario of Cold Chain in India?
In horticulture, our produce does not even have opportunity to enter the cold-chain, or the lack of connectivity options enforce excursions and hence failure in operations. On the other hand, the cold-chain as it exists, has been successful where production points were initially taken care of. We are today the largest market for milk products, the largest exporters of beef and have eradicated polio, all thanks to cold-chain. The product is properly initiated into the cold-chain and the market of end destination is properly connected in an integrated fashion. In the fresh produce sector, since there are minimal pre-coolers and packhouses, the produce has no opportunity to take advantage of the market linkage that cold-chain can bring. Hence, a farmer has no option but to dispose of his produce quickly and locally. Without having a chance to feed his produce into the cold chain, he is left to the mercy of the existing multi-layered mechanism.
If the right tools were available at farm-gate, the fresh produce would have been prepared to use the cold-chain conduit to safely transit longer distances into more favourable buying markets.
What are major challenges?
There are no special regulatory challenges. It has the maximum facilitation and the highest development focus from the government. The challenge is to break the past misconceptions on cold-chain. These arose from a narrow understanding that cold-chains were meant to cross seasons, biding time for the right opportune moment to sell.
As more and more entrepreneurs understand that the real opportunity offered by cold-chain is not about timing markets but crossing distances to reach markets, not waiting to sell locally at a later date but opening a conduit into new selling grounds- there will be faster development in the cold-chain. In more developed countries, this latter is well understood and applied. An inherent challenge is reverse haulage, but this too has various solution options.
The Logistics companies must plan to become multi-disciplinary, should cover a range of market linked activities and own appropriate assets to meet the demand, thereby ensuring their own earnings in perpetuity.
What is NCCD doing and its future goal?
NCCD has been fulfilling its core mandate, which was initially to serve as a think tank, to guide and advise the government on policy matters and it has provided inputs to help shape the assistance patterns and direction for the next five years. NCCD also took occasion to widen the scope of stakeholder interactions in this industry. In doing so, the cold-chain is now better perceived as a conduit or pipeline for flow of perishable goods, which involves producers, storage, transport, production points, packaging, environment control and technology. Today, stakeholders from all these sectors as well as various resource institutions interact with us. In the coming year, we intend to increase our interface with allied stakeholders and facilitate their plans.