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Business News/ News / Govt plans to harvest AI to stem onion rot in storage

Govt plans to harvest AI to stem onion rot in storage

About one-fourth of rabi onions rot in conventional storage facilities, adding to an estimated annual loss of ₹11,000 crore

The government had earlier planned to irradiate onions with gamma rays before sending the crops into storage hoping to cut post-harvest losses. (HT)Premium
The government had earlier planned to irradiate onions with gamma rays before sending the crops into storage hoping to cut post-harvest losses. (HT)

NEW DELHI : The government plans to establish AI-based warehouses to try and reduce the rotting of onions kept in storage.

Wastage of the highly perishable kitchen staple is estimated at 11,000 crore annually as about one-fourth of rabi onions, or onions sown during winters, rot in conventional storage facilities, two officials said.

With AI-based warehouses, the government aims to save about 5% of the total wastage, one of them said. The plan is to install AI-based sensors for real-time data on onions stored in warehouses. 

The pilot project is expected to begin in March.

“The data will be collected through IoT (internet of things). Farmers will get very specific data like dryness and percentage of rot with the help of AI-based sensors," the second official said. “Farmers will even come to know which onion in a batch of 100 is getting rotten."

This will also allow the government to maintain its buffer stock of onions, which it typically uses to stabilise retail prices when demand surges, this official said. Indians consume about 1.3 mt of onions every month, making the crop one of the most important household vegetables.

The consumer affairs department and NCCF didn’t immediately reply to queries on the government’s plan for AI-based onion storage facilities.

The first AI-based storage facility will be established in Nashik with the support of the National Cooperative Consumers Federation, and later in Bheed, Latur and other onion-growing regions, including Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka.

In the pilot run, about 100 AI-based storage facilities are likely to be established in onion-growing states. This will be expanded to add about 500 centres over the next three years, the officials said. 

While the officials didn’t disclose how much the government would have to spend on the project, they said it would be cost-effective.

The perishable nature of onions, combined with lower processing facilities and sub-optimal storage infrastructure, causes huge post-harvest losses. This despite the rabi variety, which accounts for about 65% of the onions harvested in India, having a longer shelf life of 5-7 months.

The kharif and late kharif onion, or red onion that’s sown in summers, is highly perishable and cannot be stored for longer than a month. 

Farmers in most states harvest rabi onion in April-May and sell these during June-July. Kharif harvesting takes place in October-November and the crop is available in the market till the rabi harvest.

This isn’t the government’s first attempt at reducing onion wastage in warehouses. In March, Mint reported that the government was planning to irradiate onions with gamma rays before sending those into storage on a pilot basis hoping to cut post-harvest losses to 10-12%, from 25%.

India is the second-largest producer of onions globally, with about 1.4 million hectares under cultivation, and production of about 24 million tonnes annually, on average.

But onion production in India is estimated to have dropped to 30.2 mt in 2022-23 from 31.7 mt in the year prior. 

Maharashtra contributes around 43% of India’s onion production. According to the ministry of agriculture and farmers welfare, Maharashtra in 2020-21 produced 5.32 mt of onions, Karnataka around 3.3 mt, and Madhya Pradesh about 3.87 mt.

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Published: 09 Jan 2024, 05:02 PM IST
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