Reducing post-harvest food loss in rural India
Rural areas across the globe often lag behind urban areas in access to technology. Such is the case in rural India, where a lack of cold storage infrastructure to keep produce fresh results in food spoilage of up to 40% — before the food even reaches consumers. That amounts to 86 million tonnes of spoiled food per year in India, enough to otherwise feed 100 million people.
In the same country, almost 200 million people go to bed hungry every night despite agriculture being the work of 42% of the population. Farmers face stress from inconsistent and extreme weather, uncertain prices, and a lack of coordination, resulting in income insecurity that contributes to farmers having the highest suicide rate of any profession in India.
What started out as an intense intrigue in why so much food goes to waste has developed into Veera, a socially focused startup started by good friends Nick Ashcraft, Varun Jain, and myself. Our mission is to address this farmer struggle and reduce the volume of their harvest spoiled in transportation through an affordable and effective cold storage solution.
Understanding the problem
What about India's cold chain leads to so much food spoilage? A myriad of questions, interviews, and searches led us to realize that the current supply chain is costly, unorganized, and unreliable. Farmers told us stories of struggling to sell their vegetables, distributors complained that farmers were growing too much of the wrong things. We read up on all that we could and talked with involved parties as much as possible, eventually forming bonds with farmers, farmer producer organizations, startups, and governmental agencies in Bihar and Kathmandu.
Collaborating to ideate
As we developed a solid understanding of the issue, we began brainstorming and talking through various ideas to save food from going to waste. After lots (and I mean lots) of trial and error, we saw promise in one of the oldest technologies we had come across: evaporative cooling. As we began putting together a prototype, we received a grant to meet and interview farmers and stakeholders on site in northern India and Nepal to get their input and better understand the purposes and qualifications the box should meet.
Testing a solution
Taking what we've learned from our research, interviews, and advisors, we worked to create an evaportative cooler that, without the use of electricity, would double the average lifespan of produce. As we continue developing this prototype, we’ve sent over a similar product to begin testing and plan to iterate and recreate as we receive feedback on it!
Won Carolina pitch party challenge (twice)
Admitted to CUBE, Carolina’s social startup incubator
One evaporative cooler currently being tested in north India!
Asking questions and empathizing is the best way to experience the feelings and pain points of the users/people whose problems you’re looking to solve
The more iterations you can try the better off you will be!
There’s no skill we can’t learn, adaptability is key