28 Nov 2019 21:16 IST

Neither fridge nor freezer, Sabzikothi keeps farm produce fresh

Nikky and Rashmi Jha’s agri-tech invention incubated at IIT Kanpur will hit the market in early 2020

Several farmers in India still have no access to cold storage facilities where crop surpluses can be preserved. As a result, they have to either trek to the nearest town or city every day to market their produce or sell it at a cheaper rate so that it is sold before it spoils.

This is the reality that Nikky Jha, an alumni of Nalanda University, observed whenever he spent time at his home-town in Bhagalpur, and this made him think of coming up with a solution to this problem using affordable technology. His younger sister, Rashmi, has played an equally important role in fine-tuning this product.

Initially, Nikky came up with a product, based on a technique similar to that of a cold storage unit. But it was not successful. It was around that time that his sister, Rashmi, a student of bio-tech in TNB College, Bhagalpur, suggested that he should come up with a similar product, but with a non-cooling and non-chemical technique.

“I read lot of research papers and that is the reason that I was able to come up with the technique on which Sabzikothi is now working,” said Rashmi.

Sabzikothi is a storage facility for the farmers and traders and helps in increasing the shelf life of the agricultural produce. It is a product of SaptKrishi — an agri-tech start-up incubated at IIT Kanpur.

No chemicals, controlled atmosphere

Fruits and vegetables emit ethylene, a gas that is responsible for ripening and spoiling of agricultural products. In Sabzikothi, the plasma (ionised air) is produced electronically and oxidises ethylene into carbon dioxide, hydrogen and water vapour. This creates a controlled atmosphere, delaying the browning and ripening process, besides regulating the activity of antioxidant enzymes.

“As no chemical is used in the entire process, the nutritional value of the food is not affected. It is a one-of-a-kind solution that only requires a litre of water per day, and 20 watts of electricity, either on-grid or off-grid,” said Nikky.

Funding, storage capacity

Initially, the product got a Nidhi Prayas prototype grant from IIT Kanpur to the tune of ₹10 lakh. “Then, with the help of SIIC IIT Kanpur, we raised investments through the Invent programme run by the Technology Development Board and UK Aid,” said Nikky.

The product is priced at around ₹10,000.

Only fruits and vegetables can be stored in the Sabzikothi, for a period of 10 to 40 days. However, it is not suitable for dairy and meat products. The total storage capacity is around 500 kg.

Currently, it is being validated at Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology (SKUAST), which is a third party.

“We have been shortlisted for Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) Raaftar programme at SKUAST Jammu campus.Under this programme, we are doing a third-party validation of the storage so that scientists there can validate our claims,” said Jha.

Looking forward

Once the validation is over, pilot-tests will be conducted in some villages near IIT-Kanpur. “The product will likely be available to traders and farmers by the first week of January 2020,” he added.

Initially, the plan is to set up a production facility for 1,000 units a month and then, based on the demand, the production facility will be expanded.