This startup can help you find out if your milk, fruits and vegetables contain chemicals
As a predominantly agricultural economy, India produces 275 million tonnes of food every year, according to a report published by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
Though the country grows enough food to meet the needs of the entire population, why do 190.7 million people go to sleep with an empty stomach?
This is because, a whopping 67 million tonnes of food valued at 92,000 crores goes to waste every year during harvesting, processing, packaging, transporting and consumption according to a publication by Clean India Journal.
RAAV Techlabs, a Delhi-based social enterprise, aims to reduce wastage across all stages of the supply chain using quality analysis devices that can detect nutrition and adulteration in several agricultural commodities like fruits, vegetables and milk.
“We have developed two devices capable of generating real time-data with regard to spoilage as well as nutritional value of food items so that processes like storage, logistics, and harvesting can be planned and executed efficiently without wastage. These devices are capable of reducing food wastage in India by 50 percent, provided they are utilised consistently for two to three years by farmers, middlemen, as well as consumers,” Rahul Kumar, Co-founder, RAAV Techlabs, tells YourStory.
How do these devices work?
Rahul Kumar, Varshnee Raj, Abhinandan Bhargava, and Alphonse Dhas Antony, alumni of NIIT University, Rajasthan, came together to form RAAV Techlabs in 2018 and went on to design and develop two devices – a fruit analyser, and a milk analyser to detect several parameters which indicate quality of agricultural commodities.
The fruit analyser is a portable, hand-held device that can measure the chemical composition and identify spoilage within five seconds of coming in contact with the fruit or vegetable.
This is assessed and calculated in terms of shelf life, ripeness, sweetness and sourness. In order to measure these five elements, the device takes into account the quantity of chlorophyll, brix, acidity, and moisture.
“The device finds out when the fruit or vegetable is ready to be shipped to the end customer on the basis of these parameters and detects the substances that are commonly used to alter the texture, colour, and make the produce look appealing,” Varshnee Raj, Co-founder, RAAV Techlabs, explains.
Around 68 percent of milk and dairy products sold in India is adulterated according to the results of a survey conducted by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).
The milk analyser designed by RAAV Techlabs provides information about the quality of milk after considering the presence of impurities such as water, milk powder, urea, melamine, detergents and paints. It also performs an analysis of the fat, protein and SNF content in milk.
The results of the tests can be viewed on the user’s smartphone. “We have developed an Android mobile application called SpectrApp which displays the nutritional value and extent of contamination in the items,” says Rahul. Each test performed using the analyser is likely to cost anywhere between 20 paise to Re 1 depending on the type of commodity. The RAAV Techlabs team is still in the process of working on the pricing model.
The analytical instruments use the principles of ultraviolet, visible and near infrared spectroscopy, a concept, that involves the study of various forms of electromagnetic radiation and their interaction with molecules. Besides this, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) tools are employed to generate algorithms that measure this interaction. The enterprise has already been granted a provisional patent for this technology.
Presently, the team is running pilot projects with a few business conglomerates in the agricultural sector who are using the analytical instruments to test fruits and vegetables before selling it to consumers to ensure optimum sweetness and ripeness when it reaches them.
One of the senior managers of a company that is using RAAV Techlabs’ devices on a pilot basis says,
“The devices will enable us to provide the best produce to our consumers. It will help eliminate wastage and establish credibility. If this technology is incorporated in the supply chain, it might turn out to be a game-changer for the industry.”
Towards the goal of minimum wastage
The analytical instruments developed by RAAV Techlabs, if used consistently, have the potential to add value to the supply chain of the food and beverage industry and reduce wastage.
“Since the devices indicate shelf life, sweetness and maturity or ripeness of fruit and vegetables, farmers can plan their harvest, sale accordingly and ensure minimum wastage and maximum value. Middlemen like retailers and wholesalers are also bound to benefit as they can test the produce before buying it from farmers and give assurance to consumers about the quality and nutritional value of the items,” explains Varshnee.
Besides this, the usage of the devices can help create a geo-tagged database of procurement points for sourcing the produce. These analytics can be tapped into for decision making as well as future transactions, if any.
The birth of RAAV Techlabs
Rahul, Varshnee, Abhinandan, and Alphonse were batchmates while pursuing their engineering at NIIT University in Rajasthan.
On multiple occasions, they came across large amounts of food being wasted due to inefficiencies and substandard quality at warehouses, retail outlets, restaurants, and canteens.
This prompted them to think about ways in which they could solve the problem. They came up with the idea of developing devices to detect nutritional value and adulteration of perishable items like fruit, vegetables, and milk.
“Since then, we have been tirelessly working towards designing these devices. We received three grants – the Nidhi Prayas grant from the Department of Science and Technology, a Product Development grant from the Government of Gujarat and Yes Scale grant from Yes Bank. We are also supported by Villgro, a social incubation enterprise and icreate, an International Centre for Entrepreneurship and Technology,” Rahul shares.
RAAV Techlabs invested the money from these grants as well as some of their personal savings to fund the development of the devices. The enterprise is planning to open an assembly unit for its instruments very soon. The enterprise is planning to launch their devices for commercial use specifically for mangoes, grapes, and sapota by the end of July 2019. However, once they test the waters, they are expected to expand their usage to other fruit and vegetables.