Rethinking Food Miles for Sustainable Supply Chains

Posted on October 11th, 2023

How much of the food you eat today is locally produced? How much will travel hundreds, if not thousands, of miles before it reaches your plate?

When it comes to food lifecycle, the distance it travels from farm to plate (commonly referred to as Food Miles) has a significant share of carbon footprint. The ‘Buy Local’ food movement, with the goal of consuming food produced and grown locally, has been gaining traction in recent years as a way of eating fresh and high-quality food and reducing one’s environmental impact at the same time.

The greater the distance the food travels, more is the energy spent on transportation resulting in more CO2 emissions. These emissions have a significant impact on air quality and contribute to global warming. Simply put, the more the food travels, the more greenhouse gases (GHGs) it contributes to, which directly impacts climate change.

The exact environmental impact also depends on the means of transport used. Cargo ships are the most efficient, followed by trains, then trucks, and lastly airplanes. That means a product flown from Chicago to San Francisco has a significantly larger carbon footprint than one shipped thousands of miles away from India to San Francisco.

Reducing Food Miles has its benefits:

Fresh produce contains more nutrients

The quality and nutritional value of Agri produce can be affected by maximized handling, storage at improper temperatures, and rough transport. So, the closer you are to the source of produce, the more nutritional it will be.

Less travel means a safer food supply

Less transportation and handling also means less chances of contamination throughout the supply chain ensuring safe and hygienic food.

Reduces food wastage

Food wastage is a tragic waste of resources, and has a large and damaging impact on climate change. Food wastage alone causes 10% of GHG emissions. Rotting food generates methane which over the long term has 28 times more global warming potential as compared to CO2.

India’s cold chain challenge

The United Nations (UN) estimates that more than 40% of food produced in India is wasted before it reaches the consumer. Keeping perishables fresh during transit is a challenge in India’s diverse weather.

One of the major reasons for food wastage is the lack of an efficient cold chain infrastructure that includes refrigerated transport, pack houses, collection centers, and cold storage.

To reduce food loss, strengthen food security, and improve rural livelihoods, India must close the logistical gap between farm and fork. Cold chain inefficiencies are responsible for up to half of post-harvest food losses in the country. A more effective cold chain would bring farmers closer to consumers, assuring them of fairer prices and access to new markets. Moreover, the optimization of the supply chain of perishables can ensure the reduction in food wastage and better utilization of the food stock.

Making sustainable cold chains a reality in India was envisaged in the India Cooling Action Plan (ICAP) that highlights the missing elements of the cold chain, which would be key to reducing food loss. The missing elements include ripening chambers, refrigerated transport, and rural packhouses – organized facilities where farmers’ produce is aggregated, pre-cooled, and packed. According to ICAP, India needs over 125,000 rural packhouses against 500 packhouses that we have today.

There is an urgent need for improving supply chain efficiency and an innovative analytics-led platform to intelligently connect farmers to consumers with reduced Food Miles, minimum wastage, and better returns.

Rethinking Food Miles for a cold chain deficit India

Realizing that India still has a long way to go to achieve a cohesive cold chain infrastructure, WayCool has taken the initiative of rethinking Food Miles by infusing new-age technologies like AI, ML, and Advanced Robotics at multiple stages of the Agri supply chain.

From identifying and recreating environments to grow exotic produce closer to its collection and distribution centers, to electrifying its delivery fleet, WayCool has succeeded in reducing greenhouse gas emissions of over 35 tonnes per vehicle per year. Add to it our automated distribution centers that minimize human handling, and thereby reduce food wastage, and you get food that is not only fresh but also hygienic and safe.

Here’s a short video of how we are reducing Food Miles, the WayCool way.

Sustaining Sustainability is the Way of the Future!

Posted on October 11th, 2023

Irrespective of who we are, where we live and what we do, we have a moral obligation to one another, to our future generations and to every other species in order to sustain the planet. The choices we make today have huge long-term implications on our future generations. Thus, consciously practicing sustainability ensures that we make responsible choices that promise a safe and liveable future to everyone. It improves the quality of our lives, protects our ecosystem and preserves natural resources for future generations.

Today, as we strive to recover from the pandemic and rebuild, it has become the need of the hour to direct our focus and resources towards sustainability. In the corporate world, sustainability is associated with an organization’s holistic approach, considering everything right from manufacturing to logistics to customer service. Just relying on professional communications and good intentions are no longer enough. Leading business houses are boldly committing to protect and support the planet for the future, while simultaneously achieving their current business goals.

Being actively involved in such efforts is creating a remarkable difference in terms of not just growth and risk management but also in achieving significant return on capital, thus creating a value based environment.

For us, at WayCool, this has been the mantra since day one. We strongly believe that our focus should be more than just profits, or the “bottom-line” and we ought to measure the environmental and social impact that we leave behind.

There are multiple benefits of incorporating sustainability in business:

  • Brand is protected and possible risks are mitigated
  • Being purpose-driven is a competitive advantage in today’s world
  • There is an ever growing market for sustainable goods
  • Co-operative action can drive change
  • Most importantly, and unlike popular belief, technologies that bring sustainability also improve the bottomline, given how cost curves stack up in emerging markets such as India, for resources such as energy and water.

The long-term growth approach at WayCool comes from the choices that we make. The strategic pillars of our Environmental Social Governance (ESG) structure namely Sustainable Operations, Climate Action, Social Value, Enriching Workplace are designed not only to bring efficiencies but also to deliver both quantitative and qualitative impact.

Energy Efficiency

  • Through energy efficient systems and technologies

Climate Action

  • Use of renewable energy power
  • Clean and Green logistics
  • Carbon removal and sequestration

Water Security

  • Offset operational water use through recycling and
  • reuse measures
  • Harvest rainwater and recharge groundwater

Minimize Food Waste

  • Reduce food dump generation
  • Avoid landfill of food waste

Reduce Food Travel

  • Better planning, storage and transport practices

Social Value Creation

People, in general, are only interested in sustainability if they are educated about it, and if its overall importance is effectively communicated. After all, human well-being and the well-being of society is part of what sustainability stands for. This is precisely why WayCool delivers social value through our engagement programs with the farmers and vulnerable communities in the country. Our agricultural extension program ‘Outgrow’ is designed to empower farmers with additional farming income by adopting sustainable and regenerative agriculture practices. Further, our entrepreneurial program designed for women has delivered significant change in their level of confidence and sustainable income source. That’s not all, through our co-partnering and developing rural livelihood programs, we have developed several rural entrepreneurs by providing mechanized garlic peeling and spices packaging technology and necessary training on Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP).

To sum it all up, sustainability is a major challenge, one that matters beyond individual companies. But reassuringly a number of large companies are developing forward-thinking sustainability policies. It is really becoming clear that sustainability is a megatrend that isn’t going away, and we at WayCool are proud to be a part of it.

Building successful business models through sustainable practices

Posted on October 11th, 2023

When it comes to developing sustainable food systems, India is at the forefront even as other countries argue over who should bear the weight of climate change. We are on the verge of a seismic transformation fueled by technology, quite similar to the ‘Green Revolution’ that helped India recover from an agricultural catastrophe in the 1960s. It is vital to understand the real work that is being done to protect the environment while still generating profit because no business activity is viable until it becomes profitable. 

WayCool, while addressing the significant difficulties faced across the food sector, is leading the way with its full tech stack. Our climate-smart ‘Soil to Sale’ value chain is extended throughout food sourcing, processing, and distribution, moving over 900 tonnes of agricultural produce every day from a network of 85,000+ farmers.

Green Initiatives = Optimum Resources = Reduced Business Overheads

As our work at WayCool demonstrates, climate-smart strategies can also be business smart. Our distribution centres (DCs) are solar-powered, and we employ low-energy lighting and fans throughout our buildings. The switch to solar power has enabled us to cover 75% of our daytime energy demands with green electricity, increasing our overall renewable share from 0% to 5% in the previous year. The energy-saving lights and sensors installed across our facilities may appear to be minor upgrades, but it has saved over 8,000 kWh of electricity till date—that is equivalent to more than six tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions! This is just one of many energy-saving projects. In the previous fiscal year, our entire solar endeavours helped avert nearly 79.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

WayCool’s innovative water treatment systems allow for recycling for two to three days, and quick treatment and reuse of wastewater created. Over 6.2 million gallons of wastewater has been processed till date, and redirected for home uses, gardening and groundwater recharge, resulting in savings of at least Rs 40,000 per centre.

Building for a better tomorrow

Our carbon sink project, Miyawaki Urban Forest, has been implemented at a time when there is a shortage of carbon offset programs. Influenced by the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the Miyawaki Urban Forest has grown from a tiny space with a single seedling to a 14,660 sq ft big undertaking, absorbing huge amounts of carbon from the atmosphere. It was expected to sequester 0.86 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions in its first year of operation and up to 180 tonnes upon full development for the next 10 years. 

Feeding India the right way

WayCool engages with thousands of farmers, through its farmer engagement program ‘Outgrow’, to promote regenerative agriculture practices such as natural input adoption, mulching, crop diversification, livestock integration, cover cropping, and minimum/no-tillage. These improved practices have been implemented at Waycool’s model farm Outgrow Agricultural Research Station (OARS) for over 2 years, completing 25+ harvest seasons. The results achieved at the model farm demonstrate a significant reduction in the farmer’s cost of cultivation (between 5% and 30%) and improvement in soil health (increase in soil organic carbon – SOC value from 0.5% to 0.88%), which in turn protects the local ecosystem and enhances the yield and quality of produce while sequestering carbon emissions.

Agriculture consumes 70% of all water withdrawals worldwide, with around 60% lost owing to improper application. Through our GMX 100 micro-weather station, GIS-enabled IoT system, farmers are enabled with plot and crop-wise irrigation recommendations, AI-based pest and disease predictive analytics and rainfall prediction, hence eliminating excess irrigation and water resource loss. At the OARS model farm, WayCool also demonstrates structures for water harvesting and conservation like drip-irrigation systems, field channels, farm ponds and percolation ponds, that have the potential to harvest and recharge more than 7,00,000 litres of rainwater per year.

Bridging the gap between produce and customer

Exotic vegetables usually come at a hefty price because they are obtained from remote and hidden locales. However, WayCool has been able to find other sourcing places by applying advanced soil and weather analytics through Village Kart, a leading exotic and organic fresh fruit organisation. We saved approximately 280 kg of CO2 emissions every vehicle journey by lowering food miles travel from 360 km to just 2 km. This has had a favourable environmental impact, and the shorter travel time guarantees that buyers receive the product as soon as possible, preserving its freshness. We not only reduced food travel miles, but also transported food responsibly by including EVs in our last-mile delivery. EVs have completed over 353,293 kilometres of carbon-free travel, saving approximately 85.2 tonnes of tailpipe carbon dioxide emissions.

While the majority of the planet is talking about sustainable development, action on the ground has stalled. We at WayCool have had tremendous success in walking the talk. We think that true sustainability is only feasible if the business model generates profit, which is the foundation of any successful firm. WayCool has discovered the right combination of environmentally responsible practices and company success.

Groundwater and Its Impact on Food Systems

Posted on October 11th, 2023

Water shortage, or rather the availability of clean water, is an issue that has been nagging humanity for quite some time. Despite the struggles and disparity, an increasing number of organisations have started leveraging the power of technology to ensure minimal wastage and conserve this invaluable resource.

Water is a critical input towards agricultural production and food security. Irrigated agriculture represents about 40% of global food production. South Asia, the OECD countries, and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries have the highest dependence on the depleting groundwater sources for food production. 

According to a study, groundwater depletion in India will result in up to a 20% reduction in food crops nationwide by 2025. Groundwater accounts for about 60% of irrigation supplies in India, making it precarious for food security. The usual issues causing depletion are unsustainable consumption for irrigation and mismanaged consumption for industrial usage. This becomes a serious concern considering that India accounts for 10% of the global agricultural production.

How climate change is further accelerating groundwater erosion

Although invisible, the impact is visible everywhere. The ground reality is that globally 1 out of every 8 people suffers from a lack of access to safe drinking water.

The Indian sub-continent has the dubious distinction of being an overpopulated country. With this, climate change and groundwater depletion form the crux of the concerns and challenges faced by many.

Climate changes, including erratic rainfall in arid areas, have put additional stress on groundwater resources. These resources serve about 85% of the domestic water supply in rural areas, 45% in urban areas, and represent 60% of irrigated agriculture. Moreover, overexploitation of this invaluable resource adds insult to injury by posing threats to livelihoods, food security, and climate-driven migration. 

An example of this is the Doula village, located 55 kms northeast of New Delhi. Until the 1980s, the harvests of rice, millet and mung beans were irrigated with clean water directly from the river or with groundwater extracted from shallow wells. The industrial development near the Hindon River has polluted the waterways and even contaminated the freshwater aquifers. Today, Doula village suffers from severe hydrological mismanagement. 

Doula village is no exception. Other regions, too, stand unsafe to water pollution and industrial development, among other issues. 

Why arresting groundwater erosion is critical

India is on the brink of a widening emergency. The country consumes over 600 billion cubic metres of water annually, of which 245 billion cubic metres come from aquifers. So, just over 40%! India is far more dependent on water pumped from aquifers than any other nation. Over 90% of the groundwater in India is used for agriculture irrigation. The remaining 10% makes for about 85% of the country’s drinking water. 

The grave issue is that about 80% of the 1.35 billion residents rely on groundwater for drinking and irrigation. What’s more, India houses 16% of the global population and holds only 4% of the global freshwater resources. 

This is further amplified by spoilt aquifers and water scarcity. Water reserves are getting smaller and dirtier. 

Yet another issue is the one highlighted by NITI Aayog – the annual per capita water availability will reduce to 1,140 cubic metres by 2050. A concomitant result will be a fall in cropping and imbalances in food security. 

The Jal Shakti Ministry gauged that about 17% of groundwater blocks are overexploited. Another issue is that, between 2004 and 2017, the percentage of safe blocks decreased while those of semi-critical, critical and over-exploited ones steadily increased. According to the data from 15,165 locations in 32 states tested by the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB), groundwater had higher levels of contaminants than permissible limits of Arsenic (697 locations), Fluoride (637), Nitrate (2,015), Iron (1,389), and Salinity (587).

Initiatives taken by WayCool to save groundwater

  • Efficient Water Management

Traditionally, sewage trucks were called upon to dispose off the wastewater, thereby incurring recurring costs on sewage handling. But WayCool has installed a competitively-priced water treatment system. With this, every bit of wastewater generated gets treated promptly. In addition, the water used for washing the crates at one of the warehouses is passed through a multilayer filtration system enabling recycling for up to 2-3 days. These practices fulfil the SDG 6 of clean water and sanitation.

All the wastewater gets fed into the treatment unit to make water suitable for reuse. From here, it gets redirected to the domestic use, gardening or harvesting system.

The cost-savings? For one warehouse alone, this translates to over INR 40,000. This is money saved on sewage trucks and reduced freshwater withdrawal.

  • Technology-based Irrigation Management

WayCool has installed an indigenously developed micro-weather station at its Outgrow Agricultural Research Station (OARS) model farm near Bengaluru. This micro-weather station accurately analyses the prevalent local climatic conditions, including rainfall, temperature, humidity, and soil moisture. Furthermore, WayCool has acquired GramWorkX to bring predictability to farming. GramWorkX’s smart farm resource management solution analyses the real-time micro-climatic conditions and accurately predicts the weather conditions in the days to come. These actionable insights in turn help farmers monitor and optimise water usage as compared to conventional methods.

  • Smart Drip Irrigation

WayCool has covered 100% of the cultivated farm area at OARS through drip and pitcher irrigation systems. In fact, the WayCool agronomist team reaches out to the Outgrow farmers base to largely adopt these efficient irrigation practices. This brings down the cost of cultivation for the farmers substantially that is incurred on water pumpsets operating electricity cost, weeding and inter-culture.

Tangible impact

The overall benefits are better regulation and monitoring, cost-savings and accurate and predictive insights.

The endeavour of the water treatment system at the WayCool facilities has resulted in 2.2 million litres of wastewater being treated till date, of which approximately 75% is taken to groundwater recharge. The IoT smart metering devices installed at warehouse operations, have not only helped in the real-time monitoring of the water use patterns but has also enabled data-backed decision making.

Furthermore, on the farming side, harvesting rainwater has given effective water control and replenishing of the groundwater table.  The initiative via farm pond structure at WayCool model farm captures 100% of rainwater. In the last year alone, about 700,000 litres of rainwater was collected. On the other hand, about 90% of the Outgrow farmer base have implemented the drip irrigation system, which has delivered 30-40% less water usage for irrigation purposes. Finally, by leveraging technology to render efficient irrigation, the GramWorkX micro weather station implemented at our OARS farm has reduced water usage by over 40%.

Going forward, WayCool aims to be a water positive organisation through efficient operation practices, water treatment infrastructure and the creation of additional water catchments.

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