India is one of the world’s largest food producers, yet 25-35% of the produced food is wasted due to a lack of proper refrigeration and other supply chain bottlenecks, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). 

Only 6% of the food produced in India currently moves through the cold chain, compared to about 60% in developed countries. 

Currently, there are barriers that prevent farmers from accessing sustainable cooling solutions to save food. These include high upfront investments costs for equipment, limited access to finance, uncertainty related to new technologies, limited technical know-how of cooling systems and hygrothermal sensor data, limited expertise in postharvest storage practices, and in some cases – limited access to electricity. 

To help overcome these challenges,  the Basel Agency for Sustainable Energy (BASE) and the Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA), both based in Switzerland, have partnered to create the Your Virtual Cold-Chain Assistant mobile application. 

This is a data-driven tool that enables smallholder farmers in India to access relevant information and gain access to sustainable cooling facilities for their produce, minimizing food waste, and increasing their revenues.

To finance the project, BASE and EMPA will split US$10 million in grants with the seven other winners of the global “Inclusive Growth and Recovery Challenge,” organized by data.org. Launched in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation and the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, the challenge aims to tackle society’s greatest challenges and help people and communities thrive by harnessing the power of data science. 

Data inputs

Your Virtual Cold-Chain Assistant app will use various data inputs such as weather and climate data, geographical location data, fresh-produce yields, hygrothermal cold-storage sensor data, forecasted remaining shelf life of produce and real-time market prices. This will enable farmers to make decisions on cooling needs based on lifecycle benefits, rather than upfront costs, and have access to easy-to-use information so that they can make optimal decisions on produce and farm management.

“The project aims to break the negative cycle of poverty for smallholder farmers in India – while also improving food security, reducing food loss, minimizing the impact of food production on the global climate, and increasing smallholder incomes by up to 30% per year,” explained Thomas Motmans, Project Lead at BASE.

The app will provide smallholders with:

  1. An optimal cold-chain facility and maintenance contract, given their resources and yield, financed through a servitization business model; it can scale with the growth of their business.
  2. Real-time instructions on how to control storage of products to have the least food loss and energy use.
  3. Instructions guiding farmers on when to sell their produce to have highest market value and minimize waste.

This project complements BASE’s Cooling as a Service Initiative.

Learn more about the Inclusive Growth and Recovery Challenge and the other awardees at: data.org/challenge-awardees

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