Thriving Area of Investment

World Food India 2017 will showcase the growth potential and investment opportunities in the cold chain sector as well as other areas in the food processing industry

By Debdeep Chakraborty

The cold chain sector in India suffered years of neglect resulting in inadequate capacity addition but the present National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has managed to turn it around with investor-friendly policies.

According to a collaborative study conducted by the Yes Bank and Dutch Embassy, the cold chain industry in India is still at a nascent stage and despite large production of perishables, the cold chain potential still remain untapped due to high share of single commodity cold storage, high initial investment (for refrigerator units and land), lack of enabling infrastructure like power and roads, lack of awareness for handling perishable produce and lapse of service either by the storage provider or the transporter leading to poor quality produce. However, the study stresses, increasing urbanization and growth of organized retail, food servicing and food processing sector are boosting the growth of cold chain industry in India. The trend is shifting towards establishing multipurpose cold storages and providing end to end services to control parameters throughout the value chain.

Giving a glimpse of the Indian Cold Chain industry, the Yes Bank-Dutch Embassy study says, “Wholesalers and organized retailers are the key user segments of cold chain services with a share of 70-75 percent and 10-15 percent respectively.  Currently, about 68percent of the total cold storage capacity is concentrated in the states of West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, wherein storage of potatoes accounts for 85-90percent of the capacity.”

World Food India 2017, the flagship summit being hosted by Government of India, will showcase the might, the potential and the opportunities in the sector

The cold chain sector has been a much neglected sector for many years, under previous governments. The details were even highlighted in a study submitted in March 2015 — “Assessment of Quantitative Harvest and Post-Harvest Losses of Major Crops and Commodities in India” by the Indian Council for Agriculture Research (ICAR)-Central Institute of Post-Harvest Engineering and Technology (CIPHET), Ludhiana. However, the Ministry of Food Processing Industry, led by Harsimrat Kaur Badal, chose to accept the report as an opportunity, and commenced working on the gaps the report had highlighted.

This report, commissioned in 2012, had estimated that the annual value of harvest and post-harvest losses of major agricultural produces at national level was Rs 92,651 crore. The amount was arrived at using production data of 2012-13 at 2014 wholesale prices.

Further, it was found that cumulative wastage for fruits and vegetables stood at 4.58 percent to 15.88 percent, followed by fisheries (marine) at 10.52 percent, oil seeds (3.08 percent to 9.96 percent), pulses (6.36 percent to 8.41 percent), poultry (6.74 percent), cereals (4.65 percent to 5.99 percent), fisheries-inland (5.23 percent), meat (2.71 percent) and milk (0.92 percent).

One of the biggest causes of post-harvest losses in India was the inadequate cold-chain infrastructure. While the production of high nutrition products like fruits, vegetables, meat and poultry has gone up considerably over the years, what is lacking are the means to safely handle and move these perishable products to the market.

In 2015, the National Centre for Cold-chain Development conducted a study to evaluate pan-India consumption of perishable food items, demand, current status and gaps in cold chain infrastructure. The overall idea behind the study was to make available facts and figures that would be useful for shaping policies in the future in this regard. Besides, the government has been making interventions in several key areas based on the findings of the study.

As per the study, the total cold storage space created in the country added up to 31.82 million tonnes while the gap in cold storage space, both bulk and hub, was assessed at 3.28 million tonnes. The increase in production of perishable food items without a corresponding increase in cold chain infrastructure had resulted in a situation in the country where there was a demand supply mismatch, ultimately causing massive food loss, price fluctuations and inflation.

The present NDA government at the Centre, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is determined to reduce wastage of agricultural produce and drastically bring down post-harvest losses. With this objective, the Ministry of Food Processing Industries (MoFPI) is engaged in implementing various Central Sector Schemes.

These include the Scheme for Development of Infrastructure for Food Processing having components of mega food parks, integrated cold chain, value addition and preservation infrastructure and modernization of abattoirs and the Scheme for Quality Assurance, Codex Standards, Research and Development, along with other promotional activities.

As of March 2017, the MoFPI was assisting 135 integrated cold chain projects under its Central Sector Scheme for Integrated Cold Chain and Value Addition Infrastructure, of which, 97 have already achieved completion and commenced commercial operations. In addition, the government has approved taking up 100 new integrated cold chain projects in 2016-17 for financial assistance, for which a total of 308 integrated cold chain proposals from all over the country have been received against the Expression of Interest. Once all the 135 cold chain projects being assisted by the MoFPI are completed and commence operations, a substantial cold chain capacity would be available.

The World Food India 2017, being organized by MoFPI at Vigyan Bhavan in New Delhi from November 3 to 5, will showcase the growth potential and investment opportunities in the cold chain sector as well as other areas in the food processing industry.

(Author is a senior columnist and analyst. The views expressed above are completely personal)