India is an agricultural economy falling second in global agricultural production. According to the International Society for Horticultural Science, almost 30-40% of perishable items like fruits and vegetables. This amounts to 40 million tonnes of food going to waste annually in the country.
There have recently been huge changes in the pre-harvest practices with sustainable innovations. In particular, there is a decent amount of wastage post-harvest. Most of the harvest rots in the period between the farm and when it reaches the market. This happens primarily due to a lack of storage facilities and decent transportation near farms.
This drove Dr. Jagadis Gupta Kapuganti to bridge the gap and help the farmers. Heading a research team at the New Delhi-based National Institute of Plant Genome Research (NIPGR), he has found a deliberate solution. It is a safe, user-friendly and cost-effective technology that would help delay the ripening time of the produce.
‘Shelf life enhancer’:
This product called the ‘shelf life enhancer’, would aim at slowing down the ripening process. This in turn would reduce the post-harvest loss in time taken to store, transport and eventually consume the produce.
“It is an energy-efficient and a cheaper alternative to cold storage facilities. The device is expected to reduce the post-harvest losses in storage and transportation by allowing fruits and vegetables to ripen slowly. Through research we have also identified that the device can enhance the nutrient composition in the fruits and vegetables,” says Dr. Jagadis.
Fruits like bananas, mangoes, chikoo’s ,etc. ripen at a high rate. The maximum shelf life of these products normally is just two to three days.
Functioning of the device:
Ethylene, a gaseous component, accelerates the process of ripening of fruits and vegetables. So, this device aims at reducing the production of ethylene. Nitric oxide is highly instrumental in curbing the ethylene amount in the produce.
“Nitric Oxide is produced by oxidative and reductive pathways in plants. We discovered the pathway and conditions which can stimulate nitric oxide production from leaves. We made a formula which can stimulate Nitric Oxide production from leaves.”
Jagadis began working on this device in 2019. The prototype, funded by the Biotechnology Industrial Research Assistance Council (BIRAC), and incubated at the FITT, Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi, is made using polyacrylic material, wood and plastic.
Here, we can see the connected compartments. In the smaller chamber, there is nitric oxide being induced from the edible leaves. In the larger chamber, the fruits and vegetables are placed.
It took Jagadis and his team quite some amount of effort and time to get the perfect formula. Dr. Kapuganti says the amount of Nitrous Oxide produced is very low, i.e. ‘one part per billion (PPB)’ range and thus not harmful.
They conducted many tests using mango, pineapple, bananas, tomatoes and other perishable items. The items were not only placed in the shelf life enhancer but also in a separate box with no nitric formula. The difference between both of them was quite evident. In the ordinary shelf, within a few days, the fruits and vegetables had rotten. Some of them even showed growth of bacteria and fungus.
“While the ones placed outside showed the growth of bacteria and fungus within a few days, the ones on the shelf were fresh for at least a week. The tomatoes did not ripen for three days, banana and mango stayed fresh for seven days and pineapple for 10 days,” says Dr. Jagadis.
The fruits and vegetables in the shelf life enhancer were fresh for almost 7-10 days. He then pointed out that it was due to the presence of nitric oxide that helped slow down the release of ethylene.
Nutritional values and disease resistance:
Some people might think that this process can hamper the natural nutritional values of the produce. Jagadis also checked the before and after nutritional values. There was a significant increase in the value of vitamins, minerals and also iron content.
Fruits and vegetables like mushrooms and broccoli also showed an increased disease resistance.
Solar-powered ‘shelf life enhancer’:
Keeping in mind the electricity shortages in rural areas, they have also created a design that is compatible with solar energy. These use thermoelectric coolers that maintain a temperature of 25 to 27° celsius. These ‘shelf life enhancers’ are going to be quite cheap at Rs.2000, so farmers can afford them. The researchers are also looking for ways to make it environment-friendly.
Large scale trials of the ‘shelf life enhancer’:
Jagadis through his new startup Fruvetech Pvt Ltd is planning to manufacture and license these devices. In 2020, they have also made a move and submitted national and international patents for the device. Receiving a grant from the Sri Padmavathi Venkateswara Foundation, Andhra Pradesh the team has started on-ground trials with farmers.
With this ‘shelf life enhancer’ Jagadis and his team aim at helping reduce food wastage in the country.
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