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      High-tech plastics drive India's agriculture forward

      Farmer with a future

      Vasudev Awhad did everything just right. In a profession that actually harbors many risks in India. India is a gigantic agricultural country where not all farmers can live off the fruits of their labor. But Awhad does.

      The 59-year-old farmer from Nashik in the fertile state of Maharashtra near the mega-metropolis of Mumbai cultivates pomegranates. For the extreme climate there with over 30 degrees average temperature, the super fruit with the red, juicy flesh is just right, but in itself no guarantee for good income. Because pomegranates spoiled by heat or stored for too long reduce the already falling prices that farmers can achieve on the district's markets with fresh produce. And only chilled fruit is suitable for worthwhile export.

      Cooling with the sun

      So Awhad invested in new technology. "I was skeptical at first, but my curiosity won. I wanted to know how I could increase the monetary value of my work," explains Awhad. His recipe is a solar-powered refrigerated container that sustainably cools the crops right on the spot, keeping them fresh for further sale. As a result, Awhad earns the equivalent of several thousand euros more per season - a real chunk of money for rural India.

      Dried vegetables fetch good prices
      Dried vegetables fetch good prices.

      The refrigerated container was developed by EcoZen, a start-up company from the neighboring megacity of Pune. The white, walk-in cuboid supports solar panels on the roof and efficient insulation inside - made of high-quality rigid foam with materials from Covestro. Up to five tons of field crops can be stored there and stay fresh for weeks. Because the containers generate cooling energy directly from solar radiation, they can be used in rural regions without mains supply. Ideal for improving food safety in the fast-growing markets of Southeast Asia and increasing farmers' incomes.



      "Together with our partners, we want to open up new business opportunities for the rural population and make food safer.”
      Veeralakshmanan Bagavathi, responsible for sustainability and Inclusive Business at Covestro in Indian Sub-Continent

      Awhad first saw the refrigerated container on the farm of the rural production cooperative Yuva Mitra in Nashik. There you can also find a parabolic solar dryer the size of a greenhouse and solar drying boxes in the form of raised beds. They are made of polycarbonate, a particularly durable, transparent high-performance plastic from Covestro. The local farming community comes here to dry or cool their harvested onions, broccoli florets, chilli peppers, beetroot and herbs.

      Solar dryers prevent the crop from spoiling.
      Solar dryers prevent the crop from spoiling.

      It smells like fresh vegetable broth when Veeralakshmanan Bagavathi, responsible for sustainability and the inclusive business approach of Covestro in Indian Sub-Continent, opens the door of the solar dryer. "We have already installed more than 250 large solar dryers, 3000 small drying boxes and 135 refrigerated containers throughout the country," says Veeralakshmanan. "This is a great success on the road to working with our partners, small businesses and the government to open up new business opportunities for the rural population and to make food safer.

      Deep green, orange and red vegetable slices lie neatly lined up on large trays and dry in less than two days - hygienically and without losing their aroma. The dried vegetables fetch good prices from the growing number of food processors. That is why more and more cooperative farms are investing in the new technology for cooling and drying with the help of government subsidy programs to provide small farmers and their families with a better yield.

      High losses with agricultural products

      The high failure rate of agricultural products, in particular, is a problem for the farmers: while India is the second-largest producer of fruit and vegetables worldwide, around 40 percent of the harvest intended for human consumption is ruined by blight. This adds up to an unimaginable 83 million tons per year. Losses are felt at every stage of the value chain: during harvest, transportation, processing, packaging and finally by consumers.

      In addition to the technical problems, the farmers suffer from non-transparent market conditions and incomprehensible pricing by intermediaries. A large portion of the food spoils on its way from the fields to consumers’ plates since storage, processing and trade do not go hand in hand. Acute bottlenecks can result. Therefore, it is important to provide food in suitable quantities and of better quality at local markets. At the same time, the farmers should be able get better prices.

      “We want to contribute to local economic development, fight poverty and support social progress.”
      Christian Haessler, Head of Sustainability at Covestro

      With its “inclusive business” approach, Covestro aims to accelerate the social progress of people at the lower end of the income pyramid. The company plans to support several million people in underserved markets such as India, Sri Lanka and seven other Southeast Asian countries with sustainable products and solutions by 2025.

      "We want to contribute to local economic development, fight poverty and support social progress by integrating low-income earners into the value chain," says Christian Haessler, Head of Sustainability at Covestro. "Through cooperation with local partners, we are developing models that support themselves and enable the people at the bottom of the pyramid to independently set sail for a better future.”

      The future looks hopeful for farmer Awhad. Thanks to the high-tech containers and the Covestro Initiative, one day his children will be able to continue the tradition of his parents and grandparents: Growing fruit and vegetables - and leading a good, dignified life in the country.

      Petra Schäfer



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