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Reducing food loss and increasing farmers’ income: Supporting efficient, climate-friendly agricultural cold chain in India.

Reducing food loss and increasing farmers’ income: Supporting efficient, climate-friendly agricultural cold chain in India.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), with support from K-CEP, is announcing a new initiative that will mobilize $50 million for efficient, climate-friendly agricultural cold chain in India. This work will be conducted in partnership with the Alliance for an Energy Efficient Economy (AEEE) and Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL).

Food loss in India

In India, rising temperatures and extreme heat pose a significant threat to food and nutrition security, as well as public health in general, highlighting the importance of access to cooling for all.  The risk of food and nutrition insecurity is further exacerbated by a shortage of reliable and unbroken cold-chain infrastructure (e.g., cold room storage, refrigerated transport, etc.) across the country.

According to a 2012-2014 study by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), up to 6% of cereals, 6.1% of pulses, 10.1% of oilseeds, 18.1% of fruits, and 13% of vegetables were lost during harvest, post-harvest activities, handling, and storage. Overall, it is estimated that post-harvest losses in India total around $12.4 billion each year.

Not only do these losses negatively impact farmers’ incomes and food security, but they also result in a waste of many natural resources, such as soil quality and water, and contribute a significant amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Agricultural cold chain in India

By investing in the development of agricultural cold chains, UNEP, AEEE, and EESL aim to reduce food loss, ensure greater nutrition and food security, and improve farmers’ income and rural livelihoods in India. All of which are key development priorities of the Indian government.

While the expansion of cold chains will reduce food loss and its associated GHG emissions, conventional cold chain infrastructure consumes huge amounts of energy, uses climate-polluting refrigerants, and relies on fossil-fuel intensive vehicles for transportation. This expansion is crucial for India’s development and to reduce food loss, but it is paramount that efforts ensure cold chain expansion prioritizes sustainable energy and refrigerants and delivers resilience and economic benefits for farmers and other food producers.

UNEP, AEEE, and EESL will work in India’s rural and peri-urban areas to mainstream efficient cold chain infrastructure that uses renewable energy supplies and refrigerants with low global warming potential (GWP). In addition to piloting innovative and replicable technologies and participatory business models that maximize value for farmers, the project will also work on enhancing policy and support programs and creating economic activities and new job opportunities in rural India.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the upcoming roll-out of a vaccine, significant work on medical cold chains is already underway in India. While this project will focus predominantly on the agricultural cold chain, yielding both climate and development benefits, there is strong potential to integrate medical cold chain, particularly during the next few years. As such the project will explore the potential for rural stores, packhouses, and transportation to play a role for both vaccine and produce.

The project will kick-off in early 2021 and will run until early 2024.

Published January 14, 2021