Refrigerated produce trucks are common in developed countries. Not so in India, where about 40 percent of fresh fruit and vegetables spoils before reaching consumers. A team of MIT and Harvard University students is developing a system designed to reduce that waste and lower distribution costs. Their idea won the first MIT Food and Agribusiness Innovation Prize awarded last week in Cambridge, Mass.
At the heart of the system are rentable boxes packed with phase change material. The insulated, collapsible boxes will be sized to fit on traditional dry trucks, which are far cheaper to own or rent than refrigerated trucks. The boxes are kept cold in refrigerated warehouses until they are filled with produce. Each box is equipped with a device to track location, temperature, humidity and payment information in real time.
“We’re thrilled that we won the inaugural MIT Food and Agribusiness Innovation Prize," said Naren Tallapragada, a member of the winning gomango team "It was an honor and a privilege to share the stage with other talented teams with a passion for food, agriculture and sustainability. We’d like to thank the contest team, judges, sponsors and mentors for all of their support — and, of course, for recognizing that phase change materials could help the developing world transport its perishable goods affordably.”
Tallapragada, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in systems biology at Harvard, said the team continues to refine its technology and strategy. Gomango plans to use the $12,000 award to develop commercial prototypes for a pilot project in India.
A team of MIT students, Safi Organics, won the $8,000 second-place prize for its work on a low-cost organic fertilizer. A team of MIT and Harvard University students, Ricult, won a $5,000 third-place prize for a cellphone-based system that connects small farmers in developing countries to "buyers, farm input sellers, banks, logistics and critical farming information."