More research on fresh produce wastage

I have always considered the apple industry to be at the forefront of innovation.

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This was confirmed for me by Denene Erasmus’s article ‘SA Apples: all set for healthy growth’, which highlighted research in the apple sector showing how growers can apply new techniques to improve yield and so address the growing challenge of food security. One aspect focused on methods to lessen wastage. Turning to markets and market agents, what research is being done in this regard? How are storage and handling being improved, for example?

In her article, Denene quotes Dr Mias Pretorius, technical manager of the Two-A-Day Group, who says that the company incurs annual losses of about R60 million “due to bruising and injury to fruit during the picking process”, and highlights better training of pickers as a possible solution. Looking at other industries, such as bananas, it’s horrifying to discover what is being wasted annually through bad handling, storage and transport.

Just the other week, I saw bananas damaged because of bad packaging overfilled by the producer.

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What is the banana industry doing about this recurring problem? A buyer seeing what I saw that day would have argued strongly for a reduced price – assuming that he even considered buying those bananas. As the apple sector has found, it all starts on the farm, with harvesting. Simply ensuring that the essential activities are being carried out correctly can be a major challenge, but it’s one that the apple sector is addressing. Why can’t other role-players in the fresh produce industry – transporters, markets, market agents and retailers – do the same?

Better handling and storage
In Act 12 of 1992, there is provision for research in the interests of markets and market agents. But I have never heard of anybody applying to the Agricultural Produce Agents Council for funding for research of any description, particularly research as crucial as finding better ways to handle and store fresh produce. It’s time that changed.