Cool chain technology boosts Indian fruit exports

Delhi, India: Refrigeration system makers, Thermo King and Carrier Transicold and shipping line Maersk are among companies developing technologies to boost fruit exports from India.

To win sales in India, Ingersoll has developed Thermo King refrigeration units that are narrower and less power-hungry so they can fit onto local trucks, said M S Manjunath, head of its cold-chain business in the country. The business unit expects to become a $500m enterprise by 2012, helped by investment plans totaling about $100m, Chairman and President Venkatesh Valluri said.

United Technologies’ Carrier, the world’s largest provider of temperature-control products, has introduced small chiller units that can be powered by vehicle engines rather than using a separate generator, said Pankaj Mehta, assistant director at the local unit of Carrier Transicold. The company also intends to start selling refrigerated railroad cars during the next few years as India builds new lines, he said.

Copenhagen-based Maersk has introduced cargo boxes that keep bananas fresh for up to 50 days by controlling oxygen, carbon dioxide and nitrogen levels as well as temperature and humidity, according to its website.

The technology enables Indian banana farmers to send their goods as far as the Baltic Sea region, said Rizwan Soomar, managing director at Maersk Line (India & Sri Lanka). The containers also have been used for avocados, he said.

The Maersk system helped Navsari, western India-based Desai Fruits & Vegetables ship 2,000 containers of bananas to the Middle East in the year ended March 31, Desai Chief Executive Officer Bjoern Witte said. The company’s wastage levels are about 2% for bananas, he said.

Desai is now looking to send bananas to eastern Europe and Ukraine as part of a push to boost exports fivefold by 2015, he said.

India is the world’s biggest grower of bananas, mangoes, papayas, lemons and limes but poor infrastrucutre prevents the growth of any export trade.

India produced 26.3m tonnes of bananas in 2008, of which 0.1% was sold overseas, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization. Ecuador, the biggest exporter of bananas, exported 79% of its 6.7m tonne crop that year, the latest for which figures are available on the organization’s website.

“Reducing waste can directly translate into income for farmers and lower prices for consumers,” said Sankalpa Bhattacharjya, a senior director at KPMG in Guragon, India. “It will have a long-lasting impact by lowering food inflation.”

As much as 40 percent of India’s banana crop is lost to wastage, according to KPMG’s Bhattacharjya. That would equal 10.5m tons based on the 2008 data, more than the total crop in the Philippines, the world’s second-biggest producer.

Cold-chain investments may also help India become a major exporter of other crops, including apples and strawberries, Bhattacharjya said.