Cold storage facilities could cut immense losses for apple farmers in Chamoli, Uttarakhand

In 2020-21, over 64,879.26 metric tonnes of apples and 3,67,309.04 metric tonnes of potatoes were produced in Uttarakhand, a large chunk of it in Chamoli district. But, due to a lack of cold storage units, farmers are forced to sell their produce at a very low rate. Setting up cold storage facilities can cut down post harvest losses and increase farmers' income.

satyam kumarsatyam kumar   6 Aug 2022 7:13 AM GMT

Cold storage facilities could cut immense losses for apple farmers in Chamoli, Uttarakhand

A big chunk of vegetable and horticulture produce goes waste due to lack of adequate cold storage facilities in Chamoli. Photo: Pixabay 

Chamoli, Uttarakhand

About seven kilometres from Joshimath in Chamoli district, Uttarakhand, are villages Badgaon and Merag. They fall in what is known as the vegetable belt. Along with vegetables, this area is also known for its apples.

However, things are not so rosy for the apple farmers there and many young people are giving up their cultivation and moving to other occupations or migrating to big cities.

"The reason is that we do not have any cold store facility to store the apples once they are harvested," Richa Devi, Merag village head, told Gaon Connection. "We have to sell off the produce immediately, no matter what the price, as they will spoil otherwise. We cannot keep it unsold for long, and because of this, we barely make any profits," she continued. The other alternative is to just allow the apples to rot on the trees, she added.

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Post harvest losses translate into huge financial losses to the farmers in India. In the state of Uttarakhand, where Richa Devi lives, a large number of farmers are into horticulture. As per the state government statistics, 64,879.26 metric tonnes of apples and 3,67,309.04 metric tonnes of potatoes were produced in Uttarakhand in 2020-21.

But, the Himalayan state has only 17 cold storage and three Controlled Atmosphere storage (CA storage) facilities with a total capacity of 59,900 metric tonnes, as mentioned on the website of the Horticulture Department of Uttarakhand.

These cold storage units are way below what is needed for the storage of perishable food and horticulture crops in the state.

"Cold storage facilities are a must if farmers in the hilly districts are to increase their income," Jagadamba Prasad Maithani, chairperson of the non profit Aagaas Federation based in Pipalkoti (Chamoli), told Gaon Connection. "It is also necessary to make the facilities easily accessible because transporting produce in the mountainous terrain is expensive. Every two or three villages should have a cold store, managed independently by co-operatives," she added.

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Lack of adequate cold storage facilities leave farmers in Uttarakhand with great losses. Photo: Satyam Kumar

High post harvest losses in India

A large chunk of food grown by the Indian farmers is lost as post-harvest losses. According to the Cool Coalition, every year, farmers in India incur nearly USD 12,520 million in post-harvest losses due to inadequate storage facilities and a lack of energy infrastructure. This is worrisome as almost 82 per cent of farmers in the country are small and marginal farmers with land holding of less than two hectares.

Between 25 per cent and 35 per cent of cultivated food is wasted due to a lack of proper refrigeration and other supply chain bottlenecks, and only six percent of the food produced in India currently moves through the cold chain.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has reported an annual loss of 40 per cent of fresh fruits and vegetables worth US$ 8.3 billion in India.

At the beginning of 2020, there was a shortfall of 12.6 million tonnes of cold storage capacity in the country, as noted by the National Centre for Cold Chain Development (NCCD), an autonomous body set up by the Indian government to establish cold chains for perishable agriculture and horticulture produce.

"There are no cold storage facilities available in Joshimath," Ramesh Bhandari, senior horticulture inspector, Joshimath, told Gaon Connection. Joshimath falls under the Chamoli district of Uttarakhand.

"Former chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat had announced setting up a cold storage at Badgaon and our department had also identified a building with a storage capacity of nine to ten metric tonnes, for it, but nothing came of that," Bhandari said.

However, according to the senior horticulture inspector, there is a look out for land to set up a cold storage in Badgaon village in Chamoli. "About 10 kms away from Badgaon there is a cold storage under construction at Karchu village and it should be ready in a year or two, and the farmers of Merag can utilise the cold storage too," he said.

Along with vegetables, this area in Chamoli district is also known for its apples. Photo: Satyam Kumar

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Lack of access to market

Not just cold storage, the farmers face problems in apple cultivation, right from the flowering of the apple blossoms to its harvest, Richa Devi, head of Merag village, said.

"There is the menace of monkeys that damage the flowers. Farmers spend all day and night standing guard trying to protect their farms from this, and they are also attacked by the wild animals," she said. According to her, if they do manage to save the apple flowers from animals, their next headache is how to sell their harvested fruits in time.

"We have no government facility available to us," she pointed out. The apple farmers have to approach the shopkeepers in Joshimath directly in order to sell their produce. But, the shopkeepers can only buy a limited amount and farmers are left with the remaining and rapidly spoiling produce on their hands.

"We do not have enough governmental purchase centres in the districts as a result of which farmers have to travel long distances to find buyers for their produce," Bhopal Singh Rawat, the vice president of Kisan Sabha in Chamoli, told Gaon Connection.

"Most of the farmers here are smallholding farmers and they grow radish, cabbage, cauliflower, etc. But these are grown in smaller quantities and harvested at various times of the year, so there is not that much problem selling them," Mohan Singh Kandhe, who has a small shop in Badgaon and operates a small mandi from there, told Gaon Connection.

Not just cold storage, the farmers face problems in apple cultivation, right from the flowering of the apple blossoms to its harvest. Photo: Saurabh Chauhan

Kandhe buys the produce from the farmers and reaches it to the markets. "The problem is with produce such as potatoes and fruits such as apples that are harvested in large quantities, all at the same time. Not having a cold storage makes it imperative we sell these at the earliest at whatever price one gets for them," he pointed out.

"During the rains, landslides block roads and we are unable to take the produce to markets elsewhere. There is no way of knowing how long it will take for the roads to be cleared and reopened, and we are left holding the vegetables and fruits with nowhere to sell them," Kamdhe said.

"Sometimes farmers from Joshimath have to travel ninety kms to Karnaprayag to sell as the only government mandi is located there," Rawat of Chamoli's Kisan Sabha said. He added that the rising price of fuel had led to an increase in transportation charges, which also the farmer has to bear. And, because of these problems more and more farmers prefer to sell to middlemen who take full advantage of this and exploit them, he added.

"If there were more government centres in the mountainous districts and if there was a guaranteed MSP (minimum support price), farmers would get a fair deal and would not think of abandoning agriculture altogether," Rawat said.

"We have frequently represented the problem to government authorities, but so far nothing has come of it. If a cold storage facility is made available to our farmers, they can cut their losses and sell their produce at the right time," Richa Devi said.

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