Portfolio Learning

Understanding how solar powered decentralised food processing can increase value-chain efficiency

Sustainable food processing provides an untapped opportunity for social investors to combat the daily ~$19.4 million post-harvest crop loss in India.

India’s food processing sector is significantly hampered by efficiency challenges, further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, up to 40% of smallholder farmers’ total produce results in post-harvest loss. SF partner S4S Technologies has shared new learnings exploring the advantages and challenges of renewable energy-powered decentralised food processing.

With support from SF and the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office under the CASEE programme, S4S installs solar powered dehydrators to convert fruit and vegetables into dehydrated products. Operating across the entire value chain, S4S reduces post-harvest loss and ensures that revenue is generated for farmers.

Its unique business model means S4S is well positioned to assess the efficiency of solar powered decentralised food processing, and it has produced a learning brief that uses a mixed method approach analysing data collected over a period of six weeks. Key informant interviews were carried out drawing on customer experiences from both centralised and decentralised facilities.

Findings from the research suggest:

  • Decentralised food processing reduces reliance on transportation resulting in less transport-related greenhouse gas emissions;
  • Decentralised facilities lead to increased operational flexibility and resilience, including improvements in energy efficiency and cleanliness;
  • Food processing can be optimised by drawing on the strengths of both centralised and decentralised models.

S4S makes clear that a common effort from partners across the ecosystem and access to capital for off-grid processing and food companies to scale their business model is vital, and that addressing the lack of awareness surrounding the economic potential of processing among smallholders will highlight the untapped potential of investing in technologies to optimise food processing in India.

Access the final report here