Ensuring availability of food to the Indian population will be a major challenge in future with decreasing agriculture land and ever increasing population. One way of achieving this target is efficient use of food materials produced and saving them as much as possible. Thus, it becomes necessary to know about the route/ channels through which crop and livestock produce reaches to the consumers. Each operation and channel causes some losses of food materials in one or other form. Knowledge of extent of losses and their reasons will help in making strategies for reducing the losses. Therefore, the present study on assessing the harvest and post-harvest losses of 45 crops and livestock produce was taken-up. Data for estimating their losses were collected from 120 districts of India covering 14 agro-climatic zones. Stratified multistage random sampling method was used to select the respondents. The data were collected though inquiry and by observations visiting the fields by staff of AICRP centers. Data were cross-checked, scrutinized and randomly validated as described. Data which were found unfit for further analysis were discarded and finally data of 107 districts covering harvesting, collection, sorting/grading, threshing, winnowing, drying, packaging and transportation as well as storage loss at household, warehouse/cold stores, wholesaler, retailer and processing unit level were analyzed using statistical analysis software (SAS) for estimation of loss of each crop at National level. The salient findings of the study are summarized below.
• The losses in cereals were estimated to be in the range of 4.65% (Maize) to 5.99% (Sorghum). Harvesting, threshing and storage at farm and wholesaler level contributed more towards losses.
• The total losses in pulses ranged from 6.36% (Pigeon pea) to 8.41% (Chick pea). Harvesting, threshing, storage at farm and processing units were identified as major contributors in total losses. Use of improper threshers, delayed harvesting and improper storage practices were probably the reasons of losses in pulses.
• Estimated losses of oilseeds ranged from 3.08% (Cottonseed) to 9.96% (Soybean). In some instances highest loss of 12.3% of groundnut at storage level was also seen. Harvesting, collection, threshing and storage at wholesale level were the major contributors towards total loss. Delayed harvesting and improper method of harvesting, improper thresher, and storage practices were identified as main reasons for losses.
• For fruits, the losses ranged from 6.70% (Papaya) to 15.88% (Guava). Harvesting, sorting/grading, transportation, storage at wholesaler and retailer levels were the main operations and channels where losses were found to be high. Considerable losses during storage in market showed the need of multi-crop cold storages. Cold chain is essential to reduce the losses of fruits.
• The losses in vegetables varied from 4.58% (Tapioca) to 12.44% (Tomato) owing to harvesting, sorting/grading, transportation, storage at wholesaler and retailers levels. At retailer level tomato loss in one instance was even found to be 18.20%. Glut in the market during the harvesting season led to higher loss in farm operations. Contribution of storage losses in total loss was considerable. Cold chain, multi-commodity cold storages and low cost short duration structures such as ICAR-CIPHET evaporative cooled storage structures are essential in checking the loss of vegetables.
• In plantation crops and spices, the losses ranged from 1.18% (Black pepper) to 7.89% (Sugarcane). In general harvesting, threshing, and storage at wholesaler and processing units level contributed more towards losses. Staling loss of sugarcane due to longer period of holding before crushing caused considerable loss and affected juice recovery. Problem of each crops needs to be addressed separately.
• The loss of egg was 7.19% owing to less use of cold storage in market. Organized poultry farming showed positive impact in reducing the loss in egg.
• The loss of inland fish was 5.23% whereas loss of marine fish was 10.52%. Throwing uneconomical fish was the major contributor to the loss. Considerable loss during storage at wholesaler and retailer levels advocates the need of cold chain for fish.
• The loss of sheep and goat meat was 2.71% whereas the loss in poultry meat was 6.74%. Considerable loss at wholesaler and retailer levels indicates the need of proper and hygienic meat shops with cold chain/carcass handling system.
• The loss of milk was observed to be 0.92%. Increase in loss during storage at processing unit needs attention.
• In comparison to losses during 2005-07, the losses during 2013-14 have been reduced significantly for wheat, mustard, groundnut, mango, guava, mushroom, tapioca, arecanut, black pepper and coriander. The estimated losses however significantly increased in comparison to 2005-07 for maize, sorghum, chickpea, soybean, sunflower, citrus, sapota, cauliflower, cashew, marine fish, meat and poultry meat. For remaining commodities, the changes in loss were statistically non-significant at 5% level of significance.
• Average range of losses altogether for food grains, oilseeds and fruits and vegetables were found to be 4.65% to 15.88%, which indicate that overall losses have gone down by about 2% as compared to previous study in 2005-07 despite tremendous increase of production in past 10 years.
• The economic value of harvest and post-harvest losses of major agricultural and livestock produce was also calculated using production data of 2012-13 and wholesale prices of 2014 and results of this study. The estimated annual value of the losses is about Rs. 92651 crore.
• Improvements in infrastructural and transport facilities were found to be helpful in reducing the post-harvest losses. Effects of increased number of cold storages in reducing storage losses were clearly visible but such storage facilities are still inadequate in number. Development of cold chain and construction of cold store with the pace of production are essential for majority of perishables.
• The losses were found to be higher in eastern plateau and hills region (Tribal belt of India comprising Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisa, eastern part of Maharashtra) and east coast (coasts of Odisa, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu). Proper training to the farmers and other stakeholders and infrastructure is therefore essential for these regions of India.
• Improvements in farm operations are essential and needs to be addressed immediately. R&D interventions are needed for controlling losses during harvesting, threshing, sorting/grading and retailer level storages. Problem of insect-pests particularly in pulses and oilseeds storage need to be dealt with integrated pest management strategies. Infrastructural improvement is required at market level. Location of markets, marketing practices, handling methods and polices needs to be looked into for changed scenario of demand and supply pattern.
This study provides the estimates of losses in various operations and storages in different channels. It also presents the changes in scenario of harvest and post-harvest losses in India over the past 10 years. Harvesting and threshing practices should be standardized and refinements in machines are needed to reduce the loss further. Appropriate techniques and infrastructure for short-term storages needs to be popularized and made available. Proper processing, value addition, storage of marketable surplus and excess produce during glut period in production catchment have potential to reduce the losses and stabilize the prices as well. Training, demonstrations, incubation and entrepreneurship development, skill development and appropriate publicity of proven post-harvest technologies coupled with favourable policies may help in this regard. Investment in post-harvest infrastructure and mega Food Park is the need of hour for further reduction of losses.