Pune-based startup Ecozen Solutions has set up over 300 cold-room units that have helped close to 72,000 farmers in the country to protect their Agri produce against the poor supply-chain management systems.
In India, agriculture is the primary source of livelihood for about 58% of the population. The gross value added by agriculture, forestry, and fishing totalled up to Rs. 19.48 lakh crore in the FY20. The agricultural sector plays a crucial role in a diverse country like ours. Today, movements like the farmers’ protest have shown us how farmers contribute to a large part of our country’s capital. Although farmers today can produce a good amount of harvest, the quality is often compromised. Several fruits and vegetables tend to get destroyed during transit. In a bid to resolve this issue, three IIT-Kharagpur alumni came up with a startup that has helped farmers retain the quality of their produce. Today, this brand called Ecozen solutions has aided over 72,000 farmers.
The Birth of Ecozen Solutions
Three IIT-K graduates Devendra Gupta, Prateek Singhal, and Vivek Pandey, started Ecozen Solutions in 2010. Known for its solar-powered solutions like lanterns, solar rooftops, residential and LED lighting, Ecozen Solutions has now moved to innovative creations. The most recent include more agriculture centric water pumping solutions and cold-room units called ‘Ecofrost.’
“Ecozen Solutions came about when we were in our final year at IIT. We wanted to create an impact and do something positive. From a small idea to an actual startup, we have come a long way! Today, Ecozen works in the Agri space, with the sole motive of helping out the farmers and getting them connected with the market. By the various solutions we offer, we are looking towards a better future as well,” said Devendra Gupta, founder of Ecozen Solutions. Today, big supply companies and agri-startups have joined hands with this startup to help ensure farmers can keep their commodities fresh.
The Necessity of Ecofrost
“The farmers did not have sufficient access to the market. These farmers were growing both perishable and semi-perishable crops. They didn’t want to hold onto the crops for too long. They would decide to sell them in whichever condition they used to be in. It made us think to come up with a solution. That’s how we made Ecofrost, our first cold-room unit,” said Devendra.
Advantages of a cold-room unit
The idea of having a cold-room unit was to give shelter to the ‘more perishable produce.’ In addition to this, produce like apples, potatoes, and onions, could be stored for a longer time. However, certain crops tend to get ruined within 2-3 days of harvesting them.
With the help of Ecofrost, farmers can put the fruits, vegetables and flowers in the cold-room unit for a few days. Ecofrost also helps farmers buy time to think more about the connections with the market. The pre-cooling of fruits, vegetables and flowers makes the produce fresher and prevents its perishability. It also helps in maintaining moisture at a lower temperature. Since the units are solar-powered, farmers need not worry about the operational cost. These cold-room units have been set up in Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Karnataka.
Affordability by farmers
“Say the farmers have to carry their produce to a nearby market and unload it at a cold-storage unit. These farmers would have to pay for the transportation and loading of the product in the cold storage. It would lead to a cost of Rs 3-4 per kg. If a farmer produces around 10 tonnes of harvest in a month, then with our technology, he/she doesn’t have to go to these cold-storage units. The produce is managed at the convenience of the farmer and they also save a lot of money,” mentioned Devendra.
These farmers either buy the Ecofrost that ranges somewhere between Rs 5-15 lakhs or they lease it. In addition to this, certain farmers get together and purchase a cold-room unit by pooling in the money. To date, almost 3000 tonnes of produce brought in by several farmers have been stored in these cold-room units.
Challenges of Installation
“There are a lot of challenges associated with easily perishable crops. Issues of logistics sufficiency, cancellation of orders, inability to sell the harvest due to shops being shut down, lockdowns and various other risks come from the market,” added Devendra.
With the onset of the pandemic and the lockdowns, it was difficult to install the cold-room at a few places. In addition to this, if the farmers live too far, the transportation cost becomes a huge problem. In a bid to resolve this issue, Ecozen Solutions is also looking for partners who can build these cold-room units at the specified locations. “The core technology will be sent by us. Nevertheless, to save the cost of travelling, we need partners. If we send the technology from Pune and it has to be deployed in Haryana, the cold rooms can then be built there and hence it would be cost-effective. However, to do this, we are still waiting to scale higher,” added Devendra.
The need for information around cold storage
Out of 350 million metric tonnes of produce, close to 90 million metric tonnes is the ‘more perishable produce.’ “We as consumers need to understand the importance of what we are consuming. It becomes important to check the sustainability levels as well. The better the quality of our food, the healthier we are. Our generation tends to get confused between cold storage and cold chains. They assume that when something isn’t fresh enough when it’s cold. The ‘more perishable produce’ is cooled at the farm and immediately rushed to the destination. It ensures better retention of nutrients, moisture and taste as well,” said Devendra.