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    Proper handling of produce to save Africa Sh4bn every year

    A report published in 2011 by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) showed that Africa loses more than 40 percent of food in post-harvest handling.

    A World Bank report, also published in 2011, stated that a 1 percent reduction in post-harvest losses could lead to annual economic gains of $40 million, most of which would go to farmers.

    The World Bank report estimated that the value of annual losses, $4 billion, exceeds the total value of food aid sent to sub-Saharan Africa, currently valued at $3billion per annum. In addition, the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) notes that Africa imports $33billion worth of food annually.

    Damages to the structure of fruits, vegetables, legumes and tubers during shipping and packaging accounts for almost a third of all damage reported in sub-Sahara Africa.

    Scraping of tomato skins and crushing during transportation in wooden crates and woven cane baskets, with rough and sharp edges, accounts of almost 25 percent of losses…

    Researcher Hurst also notes that “overloading during harvesting can cause a buildup of excessive compressive forces resulting in crushing of fruits that are found at the base of the containers.”

    Unbeknownst to farmers is the fact that they can avoid such damages by using shallow plastic crates to transport their harvests.  

    This is because plastic crates have smooth sides and stack well. But the costs of acquiring the plastic crates and the need to have to send them back to the farmer after each delivery have deterred most farmers from embracing them.

    A plastic crate at a Nairobi supermarket costs Sh1500. A similar capacity crate, made of wood, would only costs Sh400. But traders don’t often reuse the wooden crates and most end up being broken down for firewood.

    But it is not just tomato farmers who suffer from losses on transit.

    FAO believes that a good effort has been made in building the capacity of small holder farmers to improve post-harvest handling. The organization recommends that similar effort be made to enlighten traders.

    “Due to these efforts, very good produce leaves the farm but unfortunately these same practices are not followed by traders who handle the produce in large volumes, for longer periods. There should be shift of focus from capacity building of farmers on post-harvest techniques to the traders who take the highest risk of bulking, transporting, ripening and selling the produce in urban areas,” said the report.

    Banana traders from Kisii, a town to the West of Kenya’s capital Nairobi, suffer surmountable loses to poor handling of produce during loading into trucks for transportation and unloading at markets. “Due to the weight of the wrapped bananas, the rush to load many trucks and the fatigue experienced by loaders, the bananas are dumped and dragged without care. In addition, stepping and sitting on bunches while arranging them inside the truck is common,” said the FAO report.

    Although caution is taken to transport the bananas in the evening when the temperatures are cooler, proper packaging could help reduce the losses.

    Bagging of bunches and lining of hands with fibreboards at the farm, to minimise drying and injury before the point of ripening is another way of minimizing the damage.

     

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