13 Jan 2016

Logistics 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.
Cold-chain buys time, to reach more markets... by temporarily countering perishability it allows produce owners more time to reach buyers, to expand their market footprint to realise greater economic value. In turn, this promotes gainful livelihood and justifies any efforts to increase production.

Cold-chain is not to preserve endlessly...
it applies technology to merely stretch the marketable time of a perishable product, for a very finite duration. This or any time in hand should be fruitfully utilised and not wasted in-situ storage, especially when dealing with high perishable fresh produce.

Saleable life extension, is best utilised by moving to markets, reaching closer to, or at shelves. Consumers complete the cycle by purchasing the produce as food. Food lost in the delivery chain is avoidable loss, and loss in hand of consumers is called waste.

Supply chain intervention is best used to reach more shelves and increase access to more buyers. This logic applies to all products. The time matrix is determined by the saleable life span of the product and time taken to access markets.

Cold stores do not directly reduce food loss - Cold stores are only one piece in the cold-chain. All inventory has a time limitation, even grain perishes if left in storage - store only to buffer the supply, against demand.

Physical loss of food has a multiplier effect in associated waste of inputs. Six apples lost means loss of >500 litres of the water used to produce them, a dozen tomatoes equals >200 litres of water. Add to this power, fertilizer, disposal of waste, etc. The total has a major impact on our ecological footprints.

Food loss adds needlessly to greenhouse emissions, contributing to climate change. The answer is to bring what is produced to gainful end-use. The risk of loss is greatly mitigated when your product is closer to consumer, on the shelf. 
Without cold-chain all will be lost, with cold-chain connectivity there is scope to reach the produce to gainful realisation.
Without market access, all food will eventually perish, unused - lost even when kept within temperature controlled environs. Hence, cold-chain is a solution only when used to facilitate market access, to reach many more consumers.

Cold-chain is only a logistics tool, a service that uses cooling and other techniques, to make it feasible to access multiple markets, taking perishable produce where it could not normally have reached.

Understand cold-chain as a bridge, not merely as a storage system. When used as a physical conduit to markets, cold-chain is always successful as it then expands the geographical reach of producers, and by reaching more consumers provides real cause to produce more at farms.

Refrigeration brings intrinsic challenges in fresh produce care, which when not understood can make its application the premier cause for food loss. Cold-chain is not just about cooling, but includes specialised post-harvest handling in the supply chain of fresh produce. Cold-chain also helps to organise the business of agriculture.
"Refrigeration itself is not a cure; market linked cold-chain can be!"
India's cold-chain successes are many and echo in eradication of polio, from 350,000 infections per year; in being the world's largest exporter of beef, albeit carabeef; in being among the top 10 exporters of fresh grapes; in having the world's largest dairy production and consumption; in being amongst largest exporters of poultry and eggs, etc. All of these success stories used the cold-chain to directly link with an end-use. None of these used technology to defer the trade, but to reach out to the end-user.

Failures in cold-chain are where its usage remained fledgling, misunderstood - namely, the domestic trade of various fresh fruits and vegetables. This area needs multi-disciplinary skills akin to life care - knowledge of biology, physics, logistics and time management, not of refrigeration alone. Without feasible market links, in this sector the loss is large. Due to perishability, time, range and access to consumers is limited, and after a short period, all that remains unsold perishes. Luckily, some of the would-be-loss of fresh produce can be processed into food products.

Food processing - though also using temperature controlled technologies, is to be differentiated from cold-supply-chain - is essentially a manufacturing process that transforms raw whole produce into other food formats. However, it involves adding resources anew in a second phase of production and not merely in the produce delivery system. 

Processing is an option typically pursued when all alternatives to deliver fresh have been exhausted or not possible. Food processing is best when extracting value from non-table variety fresh produce, or wherein culled produce is transformed into food products or ingredients. Non-food processing - composting, dye making, medicinal, etc., is another end-use that also helps recover agriculture losses.
Food loss is not just related to a Food Crisis but about an Ecological crisis.

Manipulating the cold is an old art, from the mountains in Peru to the Himalayas of India

In ancient Indian lore, there were; rishis and rishikas; men and women known to penance for extended periods. A weakness of the body disturbed their concentration... it could not survive without water and food for longer than a week or so.

To resolve this bother, they would climb atop the Himalayas, stripping off their garments before entering their meditative stage. They had learnt that exposure to the chilling cold reduced bodily demands, thereby letting their mind remain longer at whatever they were contemplating. Effectively, they had bought extra time, for multiple weeks, their body literally living only on fresh air, for far longer than is normally possible.
The concept used by seers bygone, is what cold-chain uses in case of the fruit and veggie supply mechanism. Innovative uses of the cold is ancient practice, we need to do more.

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