Five Questions for Danfoss: Reducing Banana Losses in India

This blog is part of the ‘Five Questions’ series, examining examples of how food loss and waste is being reduced around the world.

For this post, we talked with Ravichandran Purushothaman, Danfoss President, India. Danfoss is a part of the Friends of Champions 12.3 network.

How did your company’s process to address food loss and/or waste get started?

Purushothaman: Danfoss has a long history in refrigeration. Our founder Mads Claus’ first product was an expansion valve for refrigeration systems created in 1933, and he later created the hermetic compressor for refrigerators and freezers in 1952. Refrigeration, and therefore the preservation of food, is at the very heart of Danfoss.

Seven years ago, we started a task force with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) addressing the challenges around food loss. Realizing that the food supply had major challenges, and that demand for premium food is increasing, the task force sponsored an assessment of the Indian food market, which had not been done before. As a result of its findings, the task force decided to focus on bananas, as the largest produce lost within in the Tamil Nadu region.

How did you get buy in?

Purushothaman: India produces 29 percent of the world’s bananas, and within that Tamil Nadu ranks first in production (with a 28 percent share of the Indian production).

However, it was a challenge to reach the right level of actors in India to begin reducing banana losses. The journey started with the key actors in CII, who were determined that the post-harvest management of bananas in India could be improved.

A study from the CII task force showed potential incremental improvements for farmers in India. This included a possible doubling in income to the farmers and a longer shelf life for bananas. The report asserted that the following were possible:

  • Reduction in loss or increase in sellable product by 15 percent;
  • Increase in overall price realization by 10 percent;
  • Increase in price for premium segmentation by 10 percent of the total value, getting 20 percent higher price realization; and
  • The estimated benefit for a representative district in Tamil Nadu is 65 million USD and for the whole state is would stand more than 816 million USD annually.

Even though the facts were evidentially good, the journey was filled with obstacles.

With facts in hand, the task force went first to the regional government. Appreciating the study and determination of the task force, the government encouraged them to seek a different path – they were of the opinion that they could not do anything further.

The task force was referred to the Agricultural University of the Region, which said it was unable to use the report but encouraged the task force to work with the more progressive farmers of the region.

Finding one progressive farmer, the task force convinced him to implement the post-harvest methods that the study promisingly recommended. After he, and then others, saw success with post-harvest management, the first ‘Banana Festival’ was established in 2012. It became the first forum where farmers from the region could share their knowledge and help each other to improve their farming methods.

The Festival has proven to be a huge success. And today the Indian government wants to take the concept and replicate it in many other regions within India.

What were some of the barriers you had to overcome?

Purushothaman: The journey proved to be long and filled with obstacles. But with the study ready to prove a payback time within seven years and the possible doubling of income for farmers, the stakeholders were eventually convinced.

In essence, sharing knowledge with the farmers about new technology and post-harvest management methods was what ultimately meant we could overcome any barriers.

What kind of changes or impacts have you seen as a result of addressing food loss?

Purushothaman: We’ve been able to change the production system to be oriented toward minimizing food loss, and this was from establishing the Banana Festival as a forum for knowledge sharing, which made farmers aware of the benefits of post-harvest management.

Before the study there were no or limited management systems and practices, and the cold chain infrastructure was either unavailable or inefficient. As an outcome, today the number of cold storage has increased in clusters.

Ultimately, the farmers’ incomes increased three-fold, Mr. AP Karuppiah, Chairman of Tamilnadu Growers Federation says:

“Earlier banana farmers in this belt did not know that we have to take care of the produce post-harvest as well. We were concentrating on producing more. Now we understand the use of post-harvest management techniques like sorting, grading, pack houses, cold storages, and ripening chambers. This has enabled us to reduce losses as well as get better prices for our produce because of better quality. Knowledge transfer from companies has been immense due to the work undertaken by the task force. Markets such as Austria were not known to us earlier. However, this is only the beginning and we have to do so much more in the state.”

What has surprised you and what advice would you give others?

Purushothaman: Today, bananas from Tamil Nadu have reach Europe for the first time! The Festival has been a part of ultimately improving the life quality of the farmers, whose produce is now reaching markets that were unavailable due to the previous short life span of the banana. The farmers’ incomes have increased by unbelievable numbers that would make farmers worldwide envious.

Not only do Indian farmers have a festival to get insights into tomorrow’s post-harvest management, they have also formalized their organization into one of the first-ever farmer producer organizations in India.

It’s been exciting to see what’s been achieved, and the lessons from this example can possibly have impact in other markets too.