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Using Tech in Fresh Produce Quality. It Works!

A case for using AI-based sorting and tracking machines to curb price hikes in fresh fruits and vegetables.

Come Diwali, parts of the most populated state in India – Uttar Pradesh – see a visible increase in vegetable sales. Why? Because on the fourth day of the festivities, households make annakut ki sabzi as part of Govardhan Pooja. 

The dish is a medley of 56 vegetables cooked together in basic spices. But more germane to the case here is the quality and price of those vegetables: the former plunges and the latter skyrockets.

And it’s not just Diwali or Uttar Pradesh, the price of fruits and vegetables soars during most festivals across the country, year after year. This year, COVID-19 and the subsequent complications, made things worse. So much so that the rate of price rise in vegetables reached 107.70% in October. 

Why the price jump?

For a whole host of reasons. 

Consumption patterns change during festivals. The demand surges, but the supply is still limited, which triggers price hikes. Since October and November also bring in season change, supply is affected. Marry the two, and it doesn’t make for a happy union. 

Jitendra Amoli, our resident F&V trade expert, says underpinning all these reasons is labour unavailability. Festivities means sojourns to hometowns. But in the fresh produce world, there are no off days. 

So, how do you lure workers into staying? By offering overtime. The additional pay can go as high as 40% of the per day wage during Diwali week. And that impacts the prices of fruits and vegetables as much as supply and demand issues. 

What’s the solution?

The same as in every field – tech and automation.

When labour is missing in action, you rely on smart sorting machines. You don’t bank on unpredictable labour to subjectively sort and grade fruits and vegetables. You use an AI-based machine to sort through fresh produce. 

The benefit? The quality evaluation is objective (read: free from human bias). It is much, much faster. And, of course, absolutely reliable (tools don’t ask for leaves).

At the end of the day, sorting machines reduce your dependence on labour. And that helps improve productivity, quality and ultimately, profitability.

Is it really possible? In India?

Yes, it is.

‘Automating agribusiness in India,’ when people hear these words, they are sceptical. 

We know. We’ve heard them being said in disbelieving tones tons of time. 

But all it takes is one demo of our mobile app, and people see the light. Data from a McKinsey report backs our experience. Agriculture has a 57% potential for automation across the world. And 62% of highly automatable labour resides in India and China.

That isn’t to say there aren’t hurdles. People, especially at the ground level, find it hard to believe that one can assess fruit and vegetable quality just by clicking a photo. 

But that’s where we hope to make a breakthrough and make our current products, Intello Track & Intello Sort, the de-facto standard for agri-commodities quality assurance.

If you can use tech to check if cooked sweet treats are fresh enough to consume, then fresh produce is a walk in the park.

Ramakrishnan M is VP – Sales & Marketing at Intello Labs. He is passionate about Agriculture, AI and start-ups. You can connect with him on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter.