All Postharvest Roads ….. Learning # 1

December 08, 2015
Nigel Banks


At the beginning of October, I went to Rome – the place where you and I both know that all roads converge. The postharvest team at University of Illinois Urbana Champaign had organised a three day meeting there that brought together postharvesters from all over the globe to discuss the topic of preventing postharvest losses. The professionally run event, full of great content, led to a number of interesting ideas that I’d love to get your thoughts on.

In this, the first of a short series of posts, I will quickly sketch one of my valued learnings from the meeting.

Billed as the first international meeting to address this critical issue for the future of world food security, I was sure that it was an issue that any concerned postharvester would surely not want to miss. That led to:

Surprise # 1: Of all the postharvesters that I have met over the decades, there were just TWO among the 262 people in attendance at this conference – Beth Mitcham from UC Davis (and it was great to see her after all this time!) and Prasanta Kalita (conference organiser, who I met just last year when he visited New Zealand).

And this discovery led me to wondering if there was going to be such a different paradigm operating in this community that I wouldn’t have much to contribute or even to participate in. I needn’t have worried – the governing paradigm was highly complementary to that I have operated in for most of my career and I can see real value in bringing these mindsets together: in bringing together the neat community of this conference with that of the wider global postharvest science and technology community. The synergy that would likely arise from this interaction could add real energy to the rate of discovering solutions to the postharvest challenges that loom large in the global food supply system. Pairing the capability of those involved in this largely grain-focused conference with those who attend other conferences in fresh produce systems, such as those run under the auspices of the International Society for Horticultural Science (e.g. the Postharvest Unlimited series, or those with a focus on particular crop types), could ignite interactions that could lead to major innovation. This would seem likely to:

Deliver a global / development frame of reference that could add real meaning for many postharvest researchers, technologists and trainers who currently operate largely in isolation from this perspective

Integrate the process / technology focus of the wider postharvest community into the development arena – something that could accelerate development and delivery of solutions: there is a wealth of knowledge in this large community that could make a big difference.

Learning #1: Marketing the issue of food security / postharvest food loss to the wider postharvest community is a significant opportunity for leaders distributed throughout the world food supply system to make lasting impact.

Do you agree? As you experience it, has my imagination exaggerated this level of isolation? And if it is real to some level, is it an accident of history or is there some rational basis for these communities not being more integrated? What benefits might be delivered by better integrating these communities?

1 Comment. Leave new

Hello Nigel and,

Your synopsis of the Rome meeting confirms for me that the key to cohesion between the “capability of those involved in this largely grain-focused conference with those… in fresh produce systems” needs discussion and probably compromise or postharvest losses will divide and conquer…

My grain-centric view is that net calories accomplish the physical labor needed to grow and harvest increased production. Fruits and vegetables are very perishable and do not deliver net calories – we eat them for different reasons.

Implementing already proven solutions to postharvest losses for dry, high calorie staple grain crops could mean:
– More quality calories reach growers
– Stable grain exports improve GDP and global food security.

My view is that densely nutritious fruits and vegetables have meaning later.

For now: “Tackling [dry staple grain] post-harvest loss is not rocket science. It does not require technological breakthroughs or years of high level scientific research as do some of the other challenges we face” (Etharen Cousins, 2013 Executive Director of the UN WFP). However, Dr Cardwell (2015) recently presented a radical concept for growers in Sub-Saharan Africa: “Farmers whose scale of operation is too small to be able to produce SAFE FOOD, are too small to farm maize (or any aflatoxin sensitive staple).”

Even though the aflatoxin factor is hard to measure, aflatoxin is likely causing more PHL than 1 out of every 4 calories and thus limiting SSA growers productivity, community health and grain exports, needlessly.

Perhaps, as Lisa Kitinoja has recently pointed out, the principal constraint is in availability of knowledgeable postharvest extension workers ( and a framework for them to operate in.

Whichever way you look at it, we still have a long way to go.

Thank you for the chance to comment,


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