Farm produce needs better post-harvest handling
-Consultant tells exporters

Stabroek News
November 26, 2002

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Improvements need to be made to the post-harvest handling of agricultural produce, especially in the areas of packaging and refrigeration, if exporters are to find sustainable markets.

Visiting post-harvest specialist Dr David Picha told farmers and exporters at a seminar yesterday that packaging and refrigeration, which he described as presently being substandard, often do a lot of damage to the produce.

Picha said he was impressed with the quality of local fruits and vegetables at the “farm-gate” level, however he observed that what happens afterwards, during the post-harvest period, went a great way towards diminishing the quality and “softening” the export value of the produce.

Because these products were perishable, he urged the need for implementing a cool temperature chain to lengthen shelf life. “It doesn’t need to be the most ideal temperature... we’re not talking state-of-the-art equipment here, even air-conditioning would work.” He added that ventilated packaging could also help.

Meanwhile, he believed there were a lot of market opportunities for Guyana’s horticultural products in the Caribbean, North America and in Europe, but the exports needed to be attractive, of high quality and part of a consistent supply.

“It is important that growers and exporters are aware of the consumer, who is attracted to the outward appeal of the product. That’s how you get the sale.”

He suggested the use of the natural, ripening chemical, ethylene; the waxing of fruits, vegetables and provisions; and the curing (heat-treatment) of root crops. All these techniques he assured would enhance attractiveness and lengthen shelf-life, while not compromising the quality of the produce.

A natural ripener used internationally entails dipping oranges, bananas, tomatoes and other produce into liquid ethylene and within three to four days, “green oranges become orange oranges,” Picha said. He added that fruits could be treated immediately following harvesting and by the time they reach their markets abroad, the colour would already be changed, at no risk to the consumer’s health.

Picha also explained that fruits and vegetable lose moisture after harvesting, causing them to shrivel and wilt, which on the market is an indication of poor quality. He suggested the application of all-natural waxes to serve as a second skin. “Waxing will produce the fruit with less abrasions and minimum mechanical injury to the products.”

He also advocated the curing of root crops and one example he cited was the sweet potato which if properly cured could last for a whole year.

And while he noted that these methods were all inexpensive, he urged that exporters not ask, “how much does it cost?” but rather “how much more am I getting?”

Also speaking at yesterday’s seminar, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Fisheries, Crops and Livestock, Bowhan Balkaran noted that the market was becoming more discerning since people were more health conscious and paying close attention to what they ate.

“We have to promote and add more value to the product. And while it might cost, you will not compromise the product, you add to its quality and you can demand a price. You spend a little more but you can demand a price.” (Andre Haynes)

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