CrossTree Blog

Food Loss, Policy, Strategy, Sustaining agriculture, Climate and anything else...

Farm Productivity is not an End in Itself!

Heard at a recent lecture, the expert recommendation that India should direct greater resources for raising the field level productivity of crops, to alleviate two core concerns: the food security needs of the nation and to improve incomes for farmers. 

As someone who might have believed in these platitudes till a few years ago, I think it is imperative to set some records straight, and offer a more nuanced picture.

While one cannot ignore the 'general sense', it should be understood that productivity in itself is not a 'silver bullet', and except at individual enterprise level, such focus is in many ways contraindicated.

Stop Food Loss to Counter Climate Change

Artificial refrigerant gases cause global warming... and so do gases from wasted food
India has the world’s largest footprint in cold stores. Recent estimates indicate that over the last few decades we have created 130 million cubic metres of refrigerated warehousing space. Most importantly, 97% of these happen to be users of natural refrigerant gases – in effect this is the world’s largest collection of users of ammonia based refrigeration. This is not a petty matter, as most of the developed world has cold stores that deploy artificial refrigerants. Unlike ammonia, these artificial fluids - Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) - either caused Ozone depletion or are negatively impacting Global Warming.

In Europe alone, reports indicate that almost 50% of their food chain refrigeration is using such gases with a thousand times higher global warming potential (GWP) than CO2. Ammonia on the other hand, extensively used in India, has zero GWP.

High Technology in Agriculture

Use of technology in agriculture is normally interpreted as technologies that go into on-farm machinery. However, there are many more high-tech applications, involving various sciences, which have come into regular use in agriculture.
Drones are used in farming for various reasons
For example, India has a program called CHAMAN which uses satellite based remote sensing information or geo-informatics to manage crop forecasting. High tech systems, that use overhead Drones, chemistry labs and spectrograph analytics are part of agriculture and are used to manage crops and diagnose soil health. Spread your gaze wide, and you will find almost every possible form of science being applied in the field of agriculture.

Doubling of Farmers' Income

In day-to-day conversation, a number of terms sometimes lead to confusion, especially when the words involved are in disconnect from colloquial and professional context. Revenue and profit are often used interchangeably by the average person, but these terms have separate meanings, albeit profit being an outcome of revenue. Contextual clarity on terminology is important to avoid confusion of intent or action. 

Value Realisation is directly linked to market connectivity, waste occurs when connections fail.
Revenue is a synonym for income, whereas profits mean net income. Profits, in simple terms, means the income or revenue that remains after all expenses.

Increase in Farm Yields is not always Revenue Generating

Frequently Asked Questions on AICIC Study

“All India Cold-chain Infrastructure Capacity” (AICIC)[1]
(Assessment of Status & Gap)

Q1 - The NCCD-NABCONS Study (AICIC) has covered cold storage needs for horticulture produce only and not for processed food products. Therefore, the findings are grossly underestimated?

Table 2.2 of the report provides a list of food items which were selected for primary study in the AICIC. In this selection, meat products (livestock, poultry, fish), processed products (including frozen peas, ice-cream, butter) are listed besides fresh produce. The topic is also expanded upon in other parts of the report.

In addition, to offset any lack of relevant data and information (consumption or production) of specific products, the holding periods in cold stores in the chain of various temperature categories, especially frozen products, was used to buffer the assessment of capacity required on the on a higher side. In relation, it is prudent to note that various reports suggest only 2%-4% of processing occurs in India. As such, even if none of the processed foods had been studied, the resulting underestimation would have been minimal.

Market Connectivity is Key to Reduce Food Loss


Food has one end-use, to be consumed...food loss or waste occurs when food left unconsumed - or, when food perishes before it could reach the market within its normal saleable life cycle.

Food loss can be reduced... only by ensuring that all the harvested produce reaches its logical end use. This means that food delivery mechanisms must also aim to counter the perishable nature of food, to extend its saleable life cycle.

Perspective on India's Cold-chain

India has developed an enviable capacity in the cold storage format across the country. As per the 2014 report of IARW (International Association of Refrigerated Warehouses), India had 131 million cubic metres in cold storage capacity, overtaking USA which has 115 million cubic metres. China has the third largest capacity globally with about 76 million cubic metres in cold storage space. The worldwide capacity in refrigerated warehouses was reported as 552 million cubic metres in this report by IARW. Between May 2014 and July of 2015, India added another 200 units or a little more than one million tons to its cold storage space. Though about 5% of the facilities may have become obsolete over the years, India can now lay claim to having created almost 7200 cold stores equivalent to about 33 million tons in holding size, most of these over the past decade.

The distribution of these refrigerated stores is mainly in producing areas, focused on bulk storage of long term holding farm produce. This development has helped single season harvests of crops like potatoes and apples to be traded all across the year. A major success story is the case of potatoes, which though native to Peru, have become a staple food item in India, thanks to cold stores. In case of dried chillies too, the opportunity to trade across seasons opened up as their holding life extended in cold-stores.

India’s current capacity in cold stores is also used to service market demand for the “cannot-do-without” segment like ice-creams and frozen or processed products. These products cannot exist, without cold stores, refrigerated vehicles and deep freeze cabinets at point of sales.