In 2011 during a visit to his grandmother’s house in Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh, Akash Agarwal met a group of local milkmen who delivered their products to nearby processing units. “They delivered milk twice a day, and if they missed even a couple of deliveries a week they were compelled to sell the milk for half price in local markets.”
Realising their plight, which extends to farmers across India, Akash made up his mind to help the community preserve their produce for longer.
His efforts led him to co-found Green Leaf Dynamic whose GreenCHILL coolers offer sustainable storage for farmers across India.
In setting up the cooler, Akash, an alumnus of University of Utah, USA, took into consideration the many factors that make it difficult for farmers to store their produce.
“Villages in India don’t always have access to reliable power supply,” he says. “We took an off-grid approach and relied on unconventional sources of power — cow dung, rice husk, etc — to offer a more sustainable approach.”
Akash’s father Anurag Agarwal, an experienced mechanical engineer, stepped in as co-founder to contribute to product development. Their first product, the GreenCHILL Bulk Milk Cooler, was targeted primarily for dairy cooling, offering a storage capacity of 500 litres. But the product’s R&D revealed that it wasn’t just the dairy sector that needed support.
“Once we developed the first product, we realised that horticulture and floriculture produce needed it more,” says Akash. “Compared to the dairy sector, these were at a nascent stage and their supply chain was far more inconsistent. We shifted our focus and developed new products for that area.”
Today, GreenCHILL coolers are being successfully operated in Gujarat’s Rajkot district, Berhampur in Odisha, and in Assam’s Majuli district and Silchar.
Coming from a varied backgrounds, it took three years of dedicated R&D and learning before the team was able to dispatch the first cooler to Berhampur. In their present iteration, the sustainable coolers can hold up to 1,000 litres of dairy and 30,000 kg of fruits, vegetables and fish.
The GreenCHILL sustainable coolers rely on renewable energy sources like cow-dung cakes, biogas, rice husk, biomass pellets and other farm waste. The eco-friendly system also boasts the advantages of zero greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprint.
The sustainability ethos behind GreenCHILL makes it not only eco-friendly but more accessible too. Akash cites diesel-powered coolers as an example, saying, “A simple rise in the price of diesel can make a lot of difference for a farmer.” Sustainable cooling keep the operational costs lower, enabling more farmers to invest in their own storage units.
Promoting the use of clean energy, Akash and his team reach out to farmers directly or via government intervention.
For the New Leaf Dynamic team, offering sustainable cooling solution to farmers isn’t just a means of optimizing produce, but empowering the entire rural community. Akash notes that while most farmers they interact with are aware of cooling, they don’t invest in it. A number of factors, including the prices and cooling capacity, come into play and most farmers struggle to keep their produce intact over longer periods.
“Farmers don’t have the capacity to hoard,” says Akash. “We realised that the best solution would be to enable them to store their produce for a period and optimise their pricing. If farmers can store their produce safely, they receive better prices once the season has passed.”
In addition to cold storage and pre-cooling, the refrigeration unit also acts as a ripening chamber for fruits and vegetables. Akash hopes that one day every farmer will have GreenCHILL coolers in their farms and villages.
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With 10 more installation on the cards, New Leaf Dynamic is gradually moving towards its goal. The company is currently reaching out to farmers and also engaging with ventures that work with farmers and want to support the community.
For Akash, who has bagged a number of awards and grants for his initiative, sustainability is the path of the future. “We have options today, but they may not exist tomorrow. If we don’t use the renewable resources we have, we will soon run out of choices,” he says.