Despite India being the world’s largest producer of jute, pulses and milk and the second-largest producer of wheat, sugarcane, groundnut, vegetables, cotton and rice, a large portion of the farm produce actually fails to get to the consumers’ table due to post-harvest loss. While there have been constant advancements in technology and agricultural practices, India has still struggled to overcome the challenges of post-harvest loss.

As per a 2022 study backed by the Indian government, between harvesting and consumption, the country actually lost 5-13 per cent of its fruits and vegetables and around 3-7 per cent of crops that included oil seeds and spices. It is also reported that, while India saw an increase of over 23 per cent grains production in FY23 than FY15, post-harvest losses have only reduced by less than 1 per cent during the period.

Now, with a large majority of India being small and marginal farmers, the loss can be astronomical. Therefore, in order to ensure food security and improve the conditions of the farmers, minimising post-harvest losses is crucial. Here are some effective ways which can help do that:

Investing In adequate storage facilities

It goes without saying that storage facilities have a huge role to play in reducing post-harvest losses. India’s tropical climate can be bad news for the quality of perishable crops, and there need to be proper climate-controlled storage facilities as well as cold-storage facilities. Another thing to note is that currently, the country’s storage facilities are only able to cater to 10 per cent of the agricultural products. It is important to have proper storage spaces that offer temperature control and ventilation for preventing spoilage, pests and diseases.

Ensuring appropriate harvesting methods at the right stage

It is true that the maturity of the crops is one of the most crucial factors in the quality and post-harvest shelf life of agricultural produce. Therefore, it becomes key to harvest the crops at the right time, when the produce has completed its natural growth and is all set for harvesting. It is also important to use the most suitable harvesting methods to prevent losses from premature or delayed harvesting.

Effective handling and transportation to reduce damage

It becomes very important to put in place effective strategies for handling and transportation of agricultural produce as the majority of the losses take place during the transportation stage. Rough handling can also cause damage to the crops. Therefore, it is crucial that once the crops are harvested when they attain their maturity date, they should be properly packed for better protection, ventilation, and labeling. This along with choosing the right vehicle and other tools can go a long way in preserving the produce during transportation.

Following the process of sorting & grading for better quality control

The sorting and grading stage is also one of the most key stages when the agricultural produce, be it fruits or vegetables, is being packaged and marketed. In order to reduce the chances of loss, there need to be higher standards for post-harvest handling and grading. This helps in identifying damaged or low-quality produce, following which the produce can be sorted, which is essentially the removal of bad crops from healthy ones. The continuous check on quality control invariably helps in reducing post-harvest loss.

Upgradation of grain drying equipment

In the context of grain value chains, a significant portion of losses in both quantity and quality can be attributed to inadequate storage practices, particularly improper grain drying. This can result in detrimental effects such as mold damage and contamination by aflatoxins, which are major contributors to grain losses. To mitigate these losses, it is essential to assist farmers and farmer organisations in obtaining upgraded drying equipment. This assistance encompasses a range of options, including the provision of basic materials like tarpaulins and covers, as well as more advanced grain drying equipment and shelters that offer protection against rainfall. By enabling farmers to access improved drying solutions, we can effectively reduce food losses and improve overall grain quality.

The author is cofounder, Unnati Agri.