Helping Farmers Save Dairy – How Promethean Power Systems is Tackling the Milk Waste Crisis

India is one of the world’s largest milk producers, and, according to the NITI Aayog report, milk production in India is expected to increase to around 330 million tonnes in the next ten years. The dairy industry has made considerable improvements in overall milk production, but still has a need for greater improvements in efficiency. According to a joint study by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) and MRSS India, $440 billion worth of dairy and vegetable produce goes to waste. This is due to an unavailability of proper cold storage facilities in rural and other parts of India. Additionally, over 3%, or close to 5 million tonnes of milk, gets wasted due to unreliable electricity supply. 

For the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste, we spoke with Jiten Ghelani, CEO of Promethean Power Systems. He shared with us Promethean’s vision of empowering small dairy farmers, decentralized milk chilling and cold storage solutions to eliminate food loss, and their goal of becoming an end-to-end cold chain solution provider.

What makes Promethean’s milk chillers a unique model, and how does the dairy farmer community benefit from it?

Promethean Power Systems has developed a milk chiller that operates on a thermal energy battery and can function even in remote Indian villages [that] receive an intermittent electricity supply. Through [our]technology, Promethean enables access to village-level refrigeration and cold storage in weak-grid and off-grid settings for small-scale dairy farmers. Village-level refrigeration hubs are equipped with small-capacity micro milk chillers, digital milk testing equipment, and direct linkages to dairy processors/buyers to ensure transparency and data-driven decision-making. As a result, farmers gain confidence in dairy farming as an daily income-generating opportunity, the quantity and quality of milk improves, and dairies are better able to meet the increasing demand for quality milk and milk products.

Is Promethean doing anything for the welfare of women farmers or consumers?

Over time, our model can enable sustainable and stable livelihoods for small scale dairy farmers, majority of whom are women as women are often involved in the day-to-day dairy activities.  Further, decentralized cold storage in remote villages can enable rural employment for women in milk collection, testing, and chilling, and potentially local value addition and lead to a positive impact for livelihoods in villages that are currently not well serviced by the dairy industry.

Some specific benefits for women farmers include: 1) Stronger and greater access to markets with sustainable cold chain; 2) fair and transparent remuneration as well as direct payment into their bank accounts, leading to opportunities for greater savings and access to credit; 3) access to support services, inputs, and training to improve their dairy productivity and overall financial well-being; and  4) incentive and confidence for women farmers to improve and increase their production of dairy, in terms of utilizing more of their resources for dairy activities throughout the year to generate more income.

Has it been challenging convincing farmers to switch to your milk chillers?

Individual farmers cannot typically afford to invest in the full cost of a milk chiller that can support the community-level refrigeration needs. [So,] we designed innovative solutions that are easy to use, modular, and reliable, and also have a low operating cost. This makes adoption more likely; and we provide remote monitoring and full maintenance and service support for our systems.  We also offer our systems on a rental basis (cold chain as a service) with no upfront costs to the customer and we can provide flexible financing options. 

What is your future vision for revolutionizing the dairy industry, especially concerning environmental impact?

Promethean aims to develop a more sustainable and clean dairy supply chain with affordable, reliable and low-carbon solutions based on its thermal energy storage technology. 

Currently, we displace six liters of diesel fuel per day by eliminating diesel generators that would usually be required at the village level. Additionally, in the past year, Promethean has helped more than 8,000 end-users in India save more than 11,700 tons of CO2e and more than 194,000 kWh of energy. 

It creates healthy and safe environments for millions of rural households while reducing pollution and carbon emissions. Promethean’s vision is to help dairy farmers produce as sustainably as possible. How? By working to engage dairy farmers, co-operatives, and dairy companies in promoting the use of sustainable practices at the farm level and across the dairy value chain while adopting more environmentally friendly cooling solutions such as our thermal energy-based solutions.

Are there any other savings aside from the diesel fuel saved due to generators no longer being used?

Additional savings in carbon emissions would come from reduced transportation by enabling chilling at the village level,  reducing milk collection routes to run once a day versus twice a day, and eliminating spoilage, which further reduces the overall wastage in the supply chain.  Lastly, we have developed tools and services for farmers to be more productive and efficient, which reduces the environmental footprint from dairy production.

In terms of technology, where do you see the dairy industry in the next five years?

Many dairy and food products in India have struggled to meet food safety standards due to a lack of proper cold chain. But the overall dairy and food industry will benefit greatly if it can consistently meet international standards for quality, unlocking more growth opportunities for local and export markets.

Today the majority of milk produced in rural villages is not refrigerated at the source, which leads to higher bacterial count and lower overall quality as compared to acceptable standards.  Promethean has an ambitious plan of employing best practices that are good for the environment, good for communities, and good for business. We work together with the nation’s dairy producers and farmers to develop, share and adopt sustainability practices across the dairy supply chain.

What does WE4F mean to you, and what unexpected achievement came from this program?

The project has been instrumental to demonstrate new business models that can greatly benefit and impact smallholder dairy farmers, and we are excited that multiple customers are planning to expand via our Chilling as a Service business models.  Seeing the impact on livelihoods of milk chilling/cold storage and market linkage at the doorstep of farmers is what keeps us motivated to improve our offering and make our solution more accessible to the farmers that need it most.

Do you have any advice for other companies looking to work in rural areas?

The feedback we can share is to spend more time with the customer and end-users to understand the current challenges and operations, and identify which gaps can be overcome with new technology and services.  The biggest challenge in rural technology is consistent adoption and usage, and any company that is able to understand and offer innovative solutions that solve major challenges for customers and end-users are likely to gain traction and repeat business.

Promethean Power Systems designs and manufactures refrigeration systems for cold-storage and milk chilling applications in off-grid and partially electrified areas of developing countries. Their milk-chiller technology uses an innovative thermal battery that saves cold energy instead of electricity.

Yogeeta Sharma is a Communications and Knowledge Management Specialist for the WE4F South and Southeast Asia Regional Innovation Hub. Previously, she has worked with various USAID programs and gained essential experience in the development sector. She loves bringing innovators’ vision into a virtual reality here at WE4F.