The Cold Chain

A cold chain can be defined as “a temperature controlled supply chain. An unbroken cold chain is an uninterrupted series of storage and distribution activities which maintain a given temperature range. It is used to help extend and ensure the shelf life of products such as fresh agricultural produce, seafood, frozen food, photographic film, chemical and pharmaceutical drugs. Cold chains are common in the food and pharmaceutical industries and also some chemical shipments.”

The economy of India is agriculture based. India has the capacity to be one of the largest food suppliers in the world as evident from the fact that 52% of India’s total land is cultivable. A per annum statistics of India’s food producing capacity will make the picture clear.
• India produces 63.5 million tons of fruit
• India produces 125.89 million tons of vegetables
• India produces 105 million metric tons of milk (India is the largest producer of milk)
• India produces 6.5 million tons of meat and poultry
• India produces 6.1 million tons of fish
However, most of this food produces are perishable. An insufficient and inept cold chain network results in the invariable wastage of 40% of India’s total agricultural products per annum.

The Government has ultimately shifted its focus to the cold storage sector and implementing plans to revamp the entire cold chain system through new policies and incentives to minimize the production wastage. The Government in liaison with the private sectors is launching new ventures, which will also help to improve the rural infrastructure of the country. The budget of 2011-2012 included improving the cold chain infrastructure of the country by exempting the excise duties on various electronic equipment necessary for setting up of a successful cold chain network. Some other measures of the Government included import of duty free refrigeration units, exemption of excise duty on conveyor belts, Trailers and Semi trailers used in agriculture, and tax benefits to companies investing in cold chain network.

A cold chain network consists of two basic logistical wings

1. SURFACE STORAGE: Storage of temperature sensitive products in refrigerated warehouses. However, the bottlenecks faced by the installation of such a facility in our country are numerous, of which a few are mentioned below. A minimum of one million cubic feet of storage area is necessary for such an integrated refrigerated cold storage, meeting international standards. This would necessitate a plot of land of at least one acre, which is rather rare in our country. The energy cost is also very high, because the refrigeration units consume considerable power accounting for about 30% of the net cold chain expenses in our country whereas it is a known fact that India is always suffering from a power deficit of 17% to 18%. Hence there is the need for a backup power supply system. The cold chain network service providers are unable to invest such considerable amounts necessary for the establishment of a proper cold chain network as a result of which cold storage in India are limited to cater to only one kind of commodity whereas, ideally, different commodities require different temperature controls.

2. REFRIGERATED TRANSPORTATION: This essentially constitute of reefer trucks, container ships and trains for the transportation of temperature sensitive products. The success of a cold storage network provider depends on the transportation of such temperature sensitive products from one destination to another without any viable loss. However, once again the poor investment capacity of the service providers affects the quality of the produces. The standards of temperatures for such transportation being Chiller(-20C), Frozen(-180C) and Deep Frozen(-250C), the reefer trucks as well as the container ships and trains need to be fitted with much higher grade and costlier refrigeration equipments which, once again, is a matter of considerable investment.

The total value of the cold chain network in India is approximately USD 3 billion, and is expected to touch the USD 5 billion mark by 2015. A Task Force has been developed which revealed in its report the necessity to set up a National Center for Cold Chain Development (NCCD). In accordance with the report, The Ministry of Agriculture in India has set up NCCD in 2012 as an autonomous body with the sole motive of mandating protocols for “technical standards for cold chain infrastructures for perishable food items” that will include fresh fruits and vegetables too. NCCD will work in close conjunction with the industries and other stakeholders involved in the cold chain market. NCCD will also include an applied research and development wing to keep pace with the advancing cold chain network technologies. It has also been empowered to certify and rate different cold storage facilities across the country. The Human Resource Development wing of NCCD will seek and employ skilled manpower and its Consultancy wing will provide advises to the Government in improving the cold chain network throughout the country. Hopefully NCCD will be able to curtail the substantial loss in “post harvest perishable food items”, securing the availability of fresh food produce to the consumers at an affordable rate.