More life for fruit

Kashmir apples are gaining a longer life, courtesy a Controlled Atmosphere Storage facility installed by Fungicides India Limited. Haroon Mirani reports on the prospects of fruit  industry after the new facility became operational.

A 6500 MT (metric tonne) Controlled Atmosphere Storage (CAS) facility, one of South Asia’s largest, has added fresh hopes to Kashmir’s fruit industry, particularly apples. The storage facility built at Rangreth by Srinagar based Fungicides India Limited (FIL) started operations in 2008, and has got takers from small time apple growers to multinational horticultural giants.

Unifruiti from Italy which procures high grade apples from Kashmir is now storing these at FIL’s facility. FIL officials say it is getting lots of queries about the storage and hopes to make it even in couple of years. The CAS facility incorporates latest available technology from Germany.

“Germany is currently the world leader in CA facilities and their technology is simply the best,” says Basharat Maqbool, manager operations at FIL Industries.

The CAS can increase the shelf life of fresh fruits up to seven months, giving the farmer more time to find good buyers. “In this CAS, apples are kept under controlled gas levels. Oxygen level is maintained at 2 per cent, CO2 at 0.5 per cent and temperature at minus 2 degrees. This environment increases their shelf-life,” says Maqbool.
Apples are stored at these conditions for about six to seven months, depending on farmers’ or buyers’ needs.

Experts say that the facility has the ability to revolutionise horticulture sector in Kashmir. Currently, farmers have to sell their crop before it rots in open stores, even if the market offers low rate and increases risk of loss. Availing CAS facility, farmers can store their crop during sluggish market and sell it at feasible conditions. Thus it gives farmers the capacity to empower themselves. They can control the flow of apples and other fruits in the market and thereby determine the prices.

“Earlier they had to depend on the market. But with CA stores it will be other way round,” says Maqbool.
In less than one year of its operations, the CAS has the utilization ratio of 70 to 80 per cent and the company hopes to make it cent per cent soon.

The level of gases in CAS, which are lined by airtight Polyurethane Foam Panels, is monitored by computers round the clock at a separate control room. Increasing the amount of a particular gas or decreasing the temperature, everything is done with the click of a mouse. FIL is installing a grading facility adjacent to the CAS, which will segregate different grades of apples at the rate of 15 tonnes per hour. The fully automatic grading facility will be equipped with 18 highly sensitive cameras that will categorise apples according to their size, colour and other properties. The state of art facility will be first of its kind in the state. So far apples were graded manually.

The CAS facility is part of a large complex which also houses a fruit concentrate factory. Kohinoor apple concentrate produced by FIL is procured in bulk by companies like Nestle and Parle, who use them in their products. Cerelac Apple and Appy juice are some of the products who use Kohinoor concentrate.

The state of the art juice plant, which is one of the biggest in Asia, also makes fruit concentrates of pears, cherry, apricot and plum. Though FIL is largest exporter of apple juice concentrate in India, but the company was not able to export much in 2008 due to global recession. Europe is a major market for apple concentrate.

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