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Food logistics is an integral part of human life. Our daily needs include food, some of which are highly perishable and some of which less perishable. Logistics includes handling all types of food and the growing demand of home delivered food and online ordering, be it fresh food of frozen food, is adding to the demand on food logistics sector. It is observed that around 20 to 30 per cent of the foods, with a big share of perishables, are lost due to poor handling, lack of processing, poor packing, inefficient storage, distribution, retail and transport including last mile delivery. If all the above activities are managed scientifically, hygienically and efficiently, the food loss across the world would be minimal, opines Arvind Surange, CMD, ACR Project Consultants Pvt. Ltd. He is also a Fellow Member of ASHRAE and a past president of ASHRAE.

Activities in food logistics sector include collection of goods, material handling operation, storage, transport and delivery – the modes of transport being air, road, rail and water. These activities need mechanisation and refrigeration all of which work on energy using fuels. According to Mr Surange, “Logistics operators mainly use HFC refrigerants which have high GWP and contribute to global warming. Usage of energy in handling, use of fuel in transport are the factors which also cause global warming. Nonavailability of good road infrastructure, unreliable power, lack of trained operators, not maintaining right design conditions during storage and transport of food, improper handling are all factors which result in inefficient functioning of the logistics sector.”

“On the other side”, he adds, “there is higher demand for food exports, flexibility on storage and delivery methods, increase in geographical footprint of last-mile delivery services. All these result in higher use of logistics and hence resulting in higher global warming.”

“Food loss and waste” refers to the edible parts of plants and animals that are produced or harvested for human consumption but that are not ultimately consumed by people. In particular, “food loss” refers to food that spills, spoils, incurs an abnormal reduction in quality such as bruising or wilting, or otherwise gets lost before it reaches the consumer. Food loss is the unintended result of an agricultural process or technical limitation of food logistics for storage, transport infrastructure, packaging, or marketing. According to Atul Khanna, India Representative, Global Cold Chain Alliance (GCCA), “Food waste refers to food that is of good quality and fit for human consumption but that does not get consumed because it is discarded—either before or after it spoils. Food waste is the result of negligence or a conscious decision to throw food away.”

Talking about how poor food logistics contributes to global warming, he said, “Agriculture releases CO2, CH4, N2O to atmosphere is expected to raise CO2 equivalents to 18 Gigatons by 2050, 14 per cent could easily be avoided by better management of food utilisation and distribution due to poor food supply infrastructure. Food waste alone could alone increase GHG emissions to 1.9-2.5 Gigatons from 0.5 today, thus, affecting the climate change.”

India is the second largest producer of fruits and vegetables. The government has initiated action to reduce the wastage of food and effective processing of the same. These efforts are surely showing dividends and this will eventually bring in better revenue for all farmers, said Soji Abraham, Sr Vice President, Rinac India Ltd.

He adds, “Recent studies indicate that agricultural products contribute around 12 per cent to global greenhouse gas emissions. Supporting industrial agriculture perpetuates these disturbing practices, which our government is creating awareness about amongst varied farmer groups. This is in turn is encouraging farmers to employ better farming methods and practices.”

Efficient cold chain comes to rescue

Cold chain is the best mode to preserve perishable food, enhance its life and availability over long periods of time. However, cold chain operation faces many challenges such as:

 Its impact on environment
 High energy usage demanded by its operations
 Substantial water requirement, and
 Shortage of trained personal leading to inefficiency in operation.

It is therefore imperative to plan, design, construct and operate cold chains using sustainable (green) features to address all the above-mentioned issues and make it utmost environment friendly and energy efficient.

Cold chain logistics based on such sustainable features would certainly play a positive role in minimising global warming. With the current industry volume and growing demand for cold chain, efficient implementation of cold chain logistics can prove to be a key factor in reducing global warming. Mr Surange outlines measures to enhance cold chain logistics efficiency:

• Use of energy efficient equipment in refrigeration and proper use of good quality thermal insulation in containers, storage chambers, packaging can ensure reduced heat and energy losses.
• Automation and controls in refrigeration system operation can increase efficiency.
• Natural refrigerants with very low GWP. For example: Ammonia, CO2, Propane, etc, and refrigerants such as HFOs need to be introduced and used more and more in logistics sector which have zero or very low impact on global warming.
• Introduction of the right IT solutions like GPS tracking and monitoring, IoT based solutions for temperature and humidity tracking, routes visualisation and planning solutions can help in increasing efficiency of supply chain.
• Enabling partnerships in fragmented players across various modes of logistics and across geographies can prove beneficial.
• Use of renewable energy sources can be promoted. For example: refrigeration systems running on solar power, electric powered vehicles, etc

Thus, according to Mr Surange, “Along with reducing food wastage, focussing on energy usage, equipment and refrigerant selection and IT and automation to increase efficiency will help in controlling global warming.”

Khanna of GCCA also believes, “With adequate and efficient cold chain logistics, food loss will be negligible during production, transport, storage, distribution and retail as also food waste at the consumer level due to extra servings or expiry dates or not appealing good to eyes. Thus, the carbon footprints used to produce the food will be well utilised to meet sustainable development goal of fighting hunger and emission of the gases like methane by food rotting shall also be prevented with proper cold chain which otherwise could have caused global warming.”

He further adds, “Refrigeration system, of course, has to use environment-friendly refrigerants which are available with good precision towards saving environment.”

Solar powered distribution truck

Fuel usage for transportation and storage is another global warming potential, hence limiting to the extent is advised. The recent past has witnessed a widespread use of solar power for various types of storage and processing purposes. Detailed studies are underway to discover reductions in the usage of fuel for transport refrigeration and results of these are definitely visible. One such initiative is the new solar powered distribution truck launched in India by a leading cold chain company. “The state-of-the-art transport refrigeration system ‘ecoVan’ (by Rinac India) is developed on the theme of our Prime Minister’s vision of doubling all farmers’ income by 2020. It supports this vision by aiding in the collection of produce from the farm and distributing directly to the end-user by using this refrigerated truck. One more added advantage is that this truck runs on solar power,” Mr Soji informs. This ecoVan will be displayed in the upcoming REFCOLD India at Gandhinagar, Gujarat.

Cold warehousing

Regarding cold warehousing, land availability at the right location is a huge impediment, due to large space requirements. New technology, with automated warehouses, is turning out to be a boon to this industry. According to Mr Soji, “Many entrepreneurs are looking at the avenue of using ASRS (Automated Stacking and Retrieval System) for their storage requirements, which gives them 37 per cent land saving, 40 per cent power saving and low human error due to automation.”

Along with these advantages, solar is being utilised as the major power source for running the refrigeration. First such multi-commodity warehouse is coming up in India under the SAMPADA scheme of the Government of India. Such storage houses will have online monitoring and control system which will provide sufficient traceability. It can also be used at different locations and linked together fluctuation in price and control the potential shortages. This is used as distribution hubs, closer to consumption spots will reduce transportation costs and will ensure better shelf life.

By Subhajit Roy, Group Editor