Aukai — Solving post-harvest fish loss in India

India loses Rs 61,000 crores (1 billion CAD) annually in post-harvest fish losses in marine and inland fisheries due to delays in packing and transportation and a lack of proper cold chain infrastructure.

Because of the ensuing decrease in fish quality and the inability to store the fish for longer, fishermen are forced to sell their stock at half the price, resulting in a staggering loss of income that threatens their livelihood.

Here’s an article explaining fisherman poverty and the root causes.

The problem with fish is that it starts spoiling as soon as it is caught. Especially in India, where humidity levels and heat are constantly very high. In these tropical temperatures, the fish gets inedible in 7–8 hrs if gone unchilled. Specifically for small-scale fishermen, there aren’t efficient and simple ways to keep the fish cold.

If we’re able to provide a small-scale fisherman with cooling infrastructure they can sell it for double because it won't go bad as quickly. This also increases food security as 1/3 of the population consumes fish as their main source of protein, especially in rural, poor coastal areas. Our vision is for fishermen’s hard work to bring them the financial stability and livelihood it always should have earned them if not for post-harvest fish loss.

Current solutions

In 2015, India gave out coolers for a year to local sellers which was well-received but they discontinued it afterwards. This effort increased their income by 20% during the period. There are some other solutions like welfare schemes from the government but a lot of these acts don’t provide near enough money for a standard cost of living.

A good solution would consist of:

  • keeping the 0–5°C for 8 hrs while fishing
  • Needs to be under ₹210(2.70 USD) — math showed later
  • locally produced for easy access

Rice straw liners

Our product

Our insulating liners are made out of rice husks, a cheap and abundant byproduct material in India, being the 2nd largest exporter of rice. Moreover, the disposal of rice husks currently constitutes an environmental problem, typically being burned and releasing harmful greenhouse gases. In fact, the Indian government currently pays rice farmers to prevent them from burning these rice husks due to their contribution to air pollution. The repurposing of rice husks as an insulation material thus forges collaboration between agriculture and fishing and generates a new income stream for farmers as well.

ASTM testing has revealed that they are excellent insulators, with high thermal resistance and low thermal conductivity, and has been deemed a Class A insulation material in their raw and unprocessed state. They are also highly resistant to moisture and fungal decomposition, making them suitable for the aquatic nature of storing fish and ice.

The rice husks are contained in burlap sacks, which fully encase the layers of fish and ice held inside the crate. As the ice gradually begins to melt, the meltwater can safely drain out of the crate, leaving the rice husks unaltered due to their moisture-resistant quality. This drainage property is necessary for hygienic purposes so that the fish lay on the ice for the entire duration of its chilled storage rather than in a pool of water that collects at the bottom. The use of burlap allows for the slight retention of any excess or evaporated water, such that it forms a “doubling cooling effect” through the principle of evaporative cooling, retaining the nature of the cooled air inside the liner.

Cost Breakdown Of Product

Experiment

Since no one used these two things together, we had to create our own experiment for validation. We put some rice hulls in a burlap sack and wrapped a water bottle and an equal amount of ice with it. We also put a cork and thermometer and took data every 15mins. We laid it outside in a milk crate because it was similar to a lot of the tubs that they used.

Control: Ice and water bottle in a milk crate.

The control started by getting hotter and in 3hrs going to a consistent temperature of 7 degrees. Although it’s good, it is not in the 0–5 degrees requirement. Our rice insulation however got to 5 degrees in 2 hours and stayed there. Something we did not account for is that fish come out of the water at 7 degrees and although it does change the experiment, it would only show our product doing better.

Next steps

We need to redo our experiment with some of the things we mentioned and get some feedback from different scientists that we’re already in contact with. We plan to partner with the central institute of fisheries technology who works with the Indian council of agricultural research to iterate on our prototype and start a pilot in Karnataka.

This article was written by Varsha Prasad, Samantha Ouyang and Klara Zietlow, the people who made Aukai.

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Varsha Prasad

Varsha Prasad

A student interested in emerging tech