Food for thought: How these 3 IITians are saving food for us
In 2009, three engineering students at IIT Kharagpur were fascinated with the opportunities in and the unlimited potential of the solar industry in India. The brain storming, discussions and learnings from college competitions, in which their ideas focused on the solar industry too, combined with their zeal and excitement led the three young lads to start up.
Devendra Gupta, Prateek Singhal and Vivek Pandey incorporated EcoZen Solutions in 2010 with the objective to provide energy access in an efficient manner to the masses. Devendra graduated in the same year, while Prateek graduated in 2011 and Vivek in 2012.
Ecozen started as a solar solutions company which provided B2B plug-n-play solutions on energy management, helped client organizations reduce their energy consumption and switch to solar energy sources for their energy needs. Bootstrapping their way and growing organically, Ecozen started providing solar solutions, ranging from solar lanterns, home lighting, LED street lighting, solar roof tops to power plant scale solar solutions.
It also developed innovative agricultural products powered by solar energy — water pumping solutions for drinking and irrigation. Ecofrost Technologies, an affiliate of Ecozen Solutions is working on a solar micro cold storage system to meet the demands for storage needs of farmers.
The trio tells us that in India alone, 10 million tons of cold storage capacity is required to prevent the over 30% wastage of perishable produce. Total annual food wastage in India is approximately Rs. 44,000 crore. Lack of high quality cold storage facilities and lack of refrigerated transport for food manufacturers and food sellers are said to be two of the biggest contributors to food losses.
Presently, available facilities are accessible only to rich farmers or middlemen. They hoard produce when supplies peak leading to huge price fluctuations. The small farmers without any storage facilities for their crops lose their fair share of earnings as they have to sell their produce at very low prices right after harvest. The product primarily designed for the rural segment claims to serve farmers’ needs efficiently as it does not depend on grid electricity and after a two-year breakeven, promises to lead to over 40% increase in farmers’ profits.
Ecozen was selected by Villgro for their SEED program and is presently incubated and invested in by Villgro Innovation Foundation. Devendra says, “We thought that we have the idea, we will formalize it, develop the technology and then go out in field. In the SEED program, we realized how important the field and market study were for us. We needed to validate the requirements of the field we were entering. We spent close to nine months for engineering and market research associated with micro-cold storage.”
At present, Ecozen caters to Chattisgarh, Maharashtra, Bihar and Orissa. It is planning to extend its reach with micro-cold storage to West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh too. The 15-member team at Ecozen is also working on a solar reverse osmosis system which will be deployed soon. They will be incorporating more technology features in micro-cold storage as well to monitor various factors of cold storage units so that these can be monitored and serviced better if a problem arises.
Prateek and Vivek share from their experiences of working with the farmers – “Understanding the customer mindset is extremely important and challenging. Farmers are in a habit to sell the produce as soon as it is harvested. You need to make them think like a businessman. It needs patience to explain the product, convincing ability to make customers understand the advantages, teaching them how to install and operate the unit and many other softer aspects of understanding and communication. Sometimes farmers are apprehensive. It takes a lot of conviction and belief in what we are doing to get them on board.”