Knowledge for Development

Reducing Postharvest Losses – A Challenge for the Scientific Community

ACP countries continue to register high postharvest losses (15-85%) in the trade of fresh and processed fruits and vegetables, cereals, grains, livestock and fisheries in both domestic and export markets. While new and improved techniques for extending the shelf life of fresh produce exist, reducing postharvest losses remains a challenge. Research and policy issues that require urgent attention include

(i) quantifying and characterizing the extent of postharvest losses across the value chain for the wide range of commodities produced and traded by millions of small-scale producers to determine priority interventions;

(ii) providing the necessary investments for improving research, technology options and infrastructure for extending the shelf life to satisfy quality and food safety standards; and

(iii) building the necessary capacity for improving postharvest handling knowledge across the value chain to respond to changing consumer demands.

Postharvest treatments including the use of chemical and biological compounds (e.g. fungicides, bactericides and insecticides) and the control of temperature, relative humidity and air as well as packaging, storage and transport infrastructure have improved. However quality problems, for example retaining texture and flavour profiles and quantitative postharvest losses remain high as a result of pathological, physiological, mechanical and other damage during harvest, storage, processing, transport, and at the point of sale. Residual traces of chemical residue, micro-organisms and other extraneous material found in treated fresh produce and processed products are problematic and contribute to high levels of rejections.This dossier features two lead articles: the first, by Drs Ducamp and Sagoua, CIRAD, discusses two natural antifungal agents, the lactoperoxidase system based on a natural enzyme and neem oil, as alternative postharvest treatments to respond to changing consumer demands for less/no chemicals in their foods especially fresh fruits and vegetables. The second lead article by Dr Audia Barnett is based on the work by the Scientific Research Council, Jamaica, in adding value to herbs and spices, to enhance the shelf life, preserve the flavours and expand market opportunities for Jamaican herbs and spices. Links to online resources on postharvest research, technologies and policy related issues are also provided in the dossier. Prepared by a CABI/CIRAD team. Edited By Judith Francis, CTA.

New postharvest treatments: Expanding markets for tropical fruits

by M.N. Ducamp and W. Sagoua, CIRAD UMR QUALISUD TA B 95/16 73 Bd J.F Breton, 34398 Montpellier Cedex 5, France
For the last twenty years or more, it has been possible to consume fresh fruit from other continents on a daily basis. The tropical fruits and vegetable sector was late to develop, only reaching maturity when the preservation of freshness, an essential requirement of the market, was no longer an issue. Reduction in transportation times and the use of refrigeration led to the preservation of quality of imported produce.In Europe, the tropical fruits that are most consumed are: banana, mango, pineapple, avocado and papaya (www.frenchfoods.com). The value of annual imports of tropical fruits reached a total of €355 million (www.panoramaiaa.agriculture.gouv.fr), which represents 22% of the total fruit import market. Even though these figures suggest a smoothly functioning system, the importation of tropical fruits into European countries is still subject to problems that adversely impact fruit quality. Transport-related losses are significant and lead to wastage of top-quality produce. In addition, the cost of these losses is distributed across both ends of the food-supply chain: in the producer countries of the South and during sale to European consumers. 10/01/2011
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Jamaica has a rich history of utilizing herbs and spices in the preservation of food, a tradition of both its native Tainos and its African slaves. In addition to improving the shelf-life of meat, fruits and vegetables, the unique flavours and aromas that resulted endeared the island to the people from cooler climates. Spices were also very valuable items that for millennia formed an integral part of the trade regime. Early Europeans were enamoured with the pungent and fragrant flavours. Christopher Columbus, for example, is credited with having taken back allspice (pimento) to Europe from the Caribbean. The spice trade was lucrative, resulting in aromatics such as nutmeg, ginger and black pepper being plied between the West Indies and Europe by early traders and settlers. While most important spices originated in Asia and Africa, the Caribbean islands have been said to have more potent flavours than their counterparts. 11/01/2011
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A new research study from New Mexico State University (USA) presents a process for efficient extraction of the red pigments in Capsicum (chile pepper) using ‘green chemistry’. In addition to their known nutritional value, the red pigments are important as sources of non-toxic red dyes; the red pigments are added to many processed foods and cosmetics to enhance their appearance. Certain varieties of Capsicum annuum can be "extracted' to isolate red-colored xanthophylls, an important economical source of red pigments that can replace carcinogenic synthetic red dyes. Current extraction processes are limiting; red pigment can only be recovered from American paprika varieties or other mild cultivars. According to a team of researchers from the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences at New Mexico State University, if extraction of the red pigments could be achieved separate from the capsaicinoids, then a wider range of red-fruited cultivars could be used, including those with important values as fresh green crops. The "green" extraction method includes a process that separates the pigments from the capsaicinoids, an important step which the researchers say increases the flexibility of the process to allow a variety of red Capsicum fruit to be used easily for pigment production. The authors noted that this step in the process is critical, as it allows the pigment industry and Capsicum farmers to use virtually any variety of chile regardless of heat level for pigment production.(Source: ScienceDaily, 26 January 2011) 14/02/2011
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Malum Nalu’s blog features among other exclusive posts on agriculture in PNG, a piece by Joel Waramboi, Senior Scientist with PNG’s NARI. Waramboi explains in detail what progress the agricultural sector has made in terms of harvested volume and crop diversification. He also makes the case for a greater commitment to post-harvest technologies within the country, taking the sweet potato as an example. This post is rich in data and has insights into PNG’S NARI work and efforts. Otherrecent blog posts on PNG’s agricultural sector can be found on Malum’s blog. (Malum Nalu, 16/11/2011) 12/01/2012
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The project ‘Improving Productivity and Market Success’ (IPMS) in apiculture value chain development in Ethiopia has produced a video titled ‘No bees no honey’. IPMS and stakeholders worked at the district level to produce high quality honey by using an integrated commodity development approach. The video shows various value addition activities and processes employed by the project (ILRI Clippings, 08/02/2012). 09/03/2012
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