Sustainable Retailing of Post Harvest Technology to the Poor: Alternative Institutional Mechanims for Developing and Transferring Technology
The project was implemented by IDEI with the funds received from NRIL. The project began in January 2000. A UK based agency was chosen by NRIL as the principal project holder. The UK agency contracted IDEI to carry out the field level work connected with identifying the area, the issues for work, the specific post harvest stage for intervention, technology identification, sourcing and adaptation.
In consultation with the UK agency, IDEI chose the tomato crop grown on hill sides by poor farmers in Himachal Pradesh. Wooden boxes, conventionally used for packaging by farmers were seen as being environmentally not sustainable and increasingly infeasible, in view of the ban imposed on tree felling, in the state. It was hence decided to find suitable technology that would replace wooden boxes for packaging tomato.
In addition to above mentioned, IDEI persuaded the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad to take interest in the project. The latter involved the largest CCC box manufacturer in India to design and test the technology. IDEI collaborated with RUCHI, an NGO that was engaged in sustained development work with the farmers in the area as an interface to work with the farmers.
IDEI undertook a detailed study of the area. Four communities in Solan district and four in Kullu district were studied deeply and farmer meetings were conducted. Farmers in both the locale had expressed grave concern about the impact of government ban on tree felling on the packaging and hence potential profitability of the produce. Farmers in villages serviced by RUCHI had acquired access to irrigation for growing offseason tomatoes through the watershed development work of RUCHI and had quickly grabbed the initiative in cultivation. This was a crop of the small and marginal farmers who could deploy their family labour in its cultivation, harvest and post harvest. Two traditional packaging forms (kilt and wooden box) and one relatively new form (plastic crates) were seen being in practice. Of these, wooden boxes were used for tomatoes sold in Delhi market, often for subsequent transportation beyond. This form of packing was the one affected by the ban. Since Delhi market was the most lucrative, farmers perceived a major threat to their income in the coming years. Packing in wooden boxes was labour intensive. Wooden material had to be first procured and then boxes prepared by nailing pieces together in the prescribed style. Men, women and children all would be busy in making the boxes one day ahead of the predetermined time for harvesting and sending the material to Delhi. Farmers reported that if they could not make enough boxes ready, then even top quality produce would have to be sold at a discount in the local market. An alternative to this was thus sorely needed.
In response, the first phase concluded with the identification and first field level as well as transportation trials of the CCC (VC-15 box of dimension 363X192X373 mm made out of 5 ply 150 gsm material with 8 ventilation holes) technology in June 2001. The second phase was directly implemented by IDEI and envisaged further adaptation and modification of the technology (for reducing box volume, improving its moisture resistance, improving its acceptance in trade circles and reducing its costs) and commercialisation of the technology through sustainable engagement of local private sector players. The producers had tied up with a manufacturer based in Delhi to manufacture 100,000 boxes with credit arrangements with a local bank facilitated by IDEI as well as RUCHI. The technology was widely and repeatedly used in future and expected to even be of use for packing of peach, capsicum and some other produce from this region.
Interestingly, IDEI team identified two basic post-harvest problems; loss of value to farmers’ produce due to this inability to make all the boxes in time and the fact that traditional forms of packaging made possible and hence encouraged marketing un-graded materials with consequent impact on realised price. RUCHI saw the regeneration
of tree cover in the region as the task to be addressed by the project. Farmers saw reduced drudgery and expenses in obtaining the boxes as the key benefits. (while making wooden boxes, nails had to be hammered in the wooden planks, most men and children working on the task would end up having bleeding hands.) The choice of the post harvest problem to be addressed thus perhaps coincidentally addressed all these concerns.