On Tuesday, the Mint reported that the government plans to run an onion irradiation pilot to reduce the rot and increase their shelf life before tossing them into storage. So, in today’s Finshots, we use this story to dive into India’s broader post-harvest loss problem of not just onions, but all perishable crops. And how irradiation can be a tiny part of the solution.
Often we’re told to be thoughtful about how much food we serve ourselves. If you can’t finish it, it’s simply best that you don’t take it. Being callous here translates into a significant food wastage problem. But there’s also another side to food wastage. The kind that happens before this food travels to your plate ― we’re talking about post-harvest loss.
According to a study backed by the government, in 2022 India lost about 5–13% of its fruits and vegetables and 3–7% of other crops including oil seeds and spices between harvesting and consumption. If we were to give it a number, it’s a problem worth over ₹1,52,000 crores!
And it hasn’t witnessed any significant drop over the years. To put things into perspective, India grew 23% more grains and crops in FY22 than it did in FY15. But the post-harvest losses have only reduced by less than 1% during the same period.
So why has the progress been so feeble, you ask?
Well, to begin with, India has a post-harvest infrastructure problem. See, tropical weather can affect the quality of perishable crops. You can’t just sit them in a room until they’re ready to go. You need proper packaging material, climate-controlled storage environments and even proper cold storage facilities while crops are transported. But we don’t have enough of it.
Take storage facilities for instance. India’s storage facilities are only sufficient to accommodate 10% of its plantation products. And if you look at cold storage, India has a capacity of just 32 million metric tonnes of cold chains as against the 35 million metric tonnes that it actually needs.
And although there isn’t enough data to tell how much of this is shared amongst crops, meat, fish, eggs and dairy; it’s a given that the latter would naturally occupy most of the storage space.
But here’s the thing. The government actually has schemes that help farmers set up better post-harvest infrastructure. Pradhan Mantri Kisan SAMPADA Yojana (PMKSY) for example is a scheme that specifically aims to finance a certain percentage of the cost that goes into building cold storage chains and other infrastructure that adds value to crops.
This means that if farmers invest in such facilities, the government contributes anything between 35–75% of the cost up to ₹10 crores, depending on the state. That should be a great way to help alleviate the problem. Then why isn’t it helping?
You see, schemes like these don’t cover single or standalone storage facilities. And nearly 85% of our farmers are either small or marginal farmers who may not be able to invest heavily in such infrastructure. Even if they take advantage of credit schemes, they still have to bear a portion of the project cost and repay their debts. It just may not be viable. Sure, renting cold chains or storage houses is an option. But these rents don’t come cheap. So, farmers would rather bear post-harvest losses than carry the burden of these fat costs.
Enter irradiation, a small step to bring down that burden.
Irradiation is a process where food is passed through gamma radiation to destroy bacterial microbes. This delays spoilage and ripening, preventing sprouting and increases the food’s shelf life. And it’s not a new technique.
See, India began mango irradiation in 2007 and 10 years later we successfully exported irradiated mangoes. Soon after, we began researching the effects of the technique on increasing the shelf lives of crops like potatoes and onions. And research by the National Horticulture Research & Development Foundation has proved that irradiating onions can help prevent 6% of summer losses.
In 2018 the FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India) even gave the process a go-ahead by busting safety myths and introducing guidelines on irradiation. It doesn’t harm your food, only sterilises it. And till now we’ve only used it to improve the quality of exportable produce, mostly poultry, fish and eggs. But it can be a great way to store locally consumed crops for a longer period too.
But here’s the catch. Irradiation is only a prelude to proper storage, not a substitute. Besides, setting up an irradiation facility also needs a good investment of ₹6–10 crore. So again, the cost of using it won’t come cheap.
And this sounds a lot like coming back to square one. The bottom line ― the government needs to focus on increasing access to affordable post-harvest infrastructure.
Without that, we’ll have no solutions. Rather, only a string of ballooning problems and post-harvest losses.
Until next time…
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Ditto Insights: Why Millennials should buy a term plan
According to a survey, only 17% of Indian millennials (25–35 yrs) have bought term insurance. The actual numbers are likely even lower.
And the more worrying fact is that 55% hadn’t even heard of term insurance!
So why is this happening?
One common misconception is the dependent conundrum. Most millennials we spoke to want to buy a term policy because they want to cover their spouse and kids. And this makes perfect sense. After all, in your absence you want your term policy to pay out a large sum of money to cover your family’s needs for the future. But these very same people don’t think of their parents as dependents even though they support them extensively. I remember the moment it hit me. I routinely send money back home, but I had never considered my parents as my dependents. And when a colleague spoke about his experience, I immediately put two and two together. They were dependent on my income and my absence would most certainly affect them financially. So a term plan was a no-brainer for me.
There’s another reason why millennials should probably consider looking at a term plan — Debt. Most people we spoke to have home loans, education loans and other personal loans with a considerable interest burden. In their absence, this burden would shift to their dependents. It’s not something most people think of, but it happens all the time.
Finally, you actually get a pretty good bargain on term insurance prices when you’re younger. The idea is to pay a nominal sum every year (something that won’t burn your pocket) to protect your dependents in the event of your untimely demise. And this fee is lowest when you’re young.
So if you’re a millennial and you’re reading this, maybe you should reconsider buying a term plan. And don’t forget to talk to us at Ditto while you’re at it. We only have a limited number of slots everyday, so make sure you book your appointment at the earliest:
1. Just head to our website by clicking on the link here
2. Click on “Book a FREE call”
3. Select Term Insurance
4. Choose the date & time as per your convenience and RELAX!