frog with purpose mind map - 2 - 1140 x 700

Postharvesters’ purpose: a first cut for your review

January 08, 2014
Nigel Banks

frog walking with pencilWell, how wrong can I get? I was expecting just to sit down this week and use some of the pile of newly published data to work out a little more carefully the contribution of failures in current postharvest systems to global greenhouse gas emissions and their role in future climate change. I was expecting that the resulting shocking numbers would be enough to generate intense discussion of the role of postharvesters for weeks to come. And I am still expecting to do that at some point – there are heaps of fascinating materials to explore there and I will bite off a little chunk by reconsidering Lester Brown’s 29th Day in my next post. But something interesting happened when I sat down to plan the post – I did what I always do and dived into the deliciously warm and open possibility waters of preparing a mind map. (The idea of mind maps was introduced to me by my high school biology teacher, Trevor Forward, in 1972. With that simple and amazingly powerful tool, he spawned a life-long fascination in me for conceptual models – how things relate to each other in a conceptual sense – and I have always remained immensely grateful to him for the time he invested in coaching me on how these things worked. I know that I owed him the place that I subsequently gained to study at Trinity College, Cambridge through the ability to structure reality as conceptual models for those examiners we wrote for in the Oxbridge entrance exams – THANKYOU TREVOR!). My mind map for the post took an idea that I was excited about – the reframing of purpose for postharvesters when considered through the lens of the difference we could make over the coming decades to global climate change – and split it into nine parts. Suddenly, I was seeing roles of strong influence for postharvesters in every direction I looked – purpose gone geometric! I am looking forward to your comments on further essential line items that I have still missed – just let me know!

These discoveries completely reshaped this post – and expanded beyond all initial anticipation the potential scope of the series of posts that will follow.

Developed directly from the mind-map is the high-level thought-flow below on purpose for postharvesters.

frog writing with purpose - 1500

Now let me take each of these in turn and briefly summarise some thoughts on why it contributes to an overall sense of purpose for postharvesters. There will be plenty of opportunity in future posts to explore some of them at greater length.

So that her children can eat safe food

It is a dream of all postharvesters that all harvested products can be delivered to their consumers with no postharvest treatments that pose even the tiniest threat to human health. Having worked for five years with Zespri, where living up to this promise was little short of an obsession, it remains my starting point in considering any postharvest system that we develop it without any chemical treatment being applied to the crop. Can you put hand on heart and make this promise to consumers of your crops today? And would you like to be able to be able to make it tomorrow?

So that a billion hungry can eat fresh food

This one makes me flinch every time I re-read it – one in every seven people in this world is chronically hungry. When 30% of all food the world produces is lost or wasted, surely there is a goal in here that we can all aspire to? And not just to provide calories – the most base of nutritional baselines – but to be able to look forward to food with mouth feel, aroma, colour and taste ….. Don’t you want to stop right now what you are doing and ponder ways to make this happen for a group of 100 people? (around the world, there are 10 million groups like this momentarily lifting their eyes as you ponder this idea).

So that six billion more can eat healthy food

Now here’s the joke: most of the other six billion of us on the planet are consuming a diet that is making us chronically sick. Diets high in carbohydrates (wheat, corn, potatoes, rice and, worst of all, raw sugar) produce spikes in blood sugar that promote all of the chronic diseases that ride on the back of inflammation. And diets high in irritating components like those in wheat and dairy products further compound this recipe for chronic illness built upon a platform of inflammation. Imagine how many more years of high quality life each of us would gain through following a diet that replaces sugar-spike carbs and irritating allergens with high-colour, high-antioxidant fresh produce – we just need to be able to move from a dependence upon easy-store grains and factory processed products to raw, high-colour, natural fresh produce. And there’s plenty of challenge in there for a whole generation of postharvesters!

So that foodies can eat bliss without precedent
So that growers can eat like kings

Here’s an obvious one. It is surprisingly complex to develop and implement but the rewards for both consumers and growers can be enormous. By developing metrics for what consumers really want to eat (say high taste), developing genuinely higher (say) taste product, communicating that to consumers, and coupling all of this with a system that rewards growers for better (say) tasting product, it becomes almost a forgone conclusion that the system goes into a virtuous cycle:

  • Consumers, aware of a better taste offering, select that offering, confirm for themselves that it tastes great and come back for more at higher prices next time around
  • Growers, rewarded for a better taste offering, opt to produce more of that offering in future production cycles.

The result? Consumers get product that tastes better than anything they’ve ever tasted before and continually come back for more. Growers make better returns for high taste product than anything they’ve ever grown before and continually strive to enhance their performance.

Sounds too good to be true? This approach, developed for Zespri kiwifruit starting in 2001, has seen volumes of product delivered into the highest returning market double over a decade and grower returns greatly enhanced.

So that food animals can live happy lives

With more fresh produce available, at higher quality and affordable prices, meat portions could become smaller in exchange for health-giving fresh produce that has a much smaller environmental footprint than most meat production. By taking the heat out of demand for meat, the rewards for factory farming would be reduced and food animals might be able to look forward to a more humane future than the recent nightmarish existence we have conjured up for them out of need.

So that climate warming peaks under two degrees
So that global ecosystems dance – vibrant, verdant

The global food supply system, responsible for about a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions (when land use changes are taken into account) also loses or wastes 30% of all it produces. When failure to address carbon emissions threatens our near-term futures with such dire consequences as runaway warming and catastrophic changes to the water cycle upon which all life depends, the opportunity for postharvesters to make an impact before it is too late is large and urgent. If there is any single element in this list that underpins its leverage, this is it ……

So that and the world’s peoples can live in peace

As reliability of food production falls as a result of climate change and as the populations of individual nation states outgrow the availability of food within their boundaries, the pressure to look across borders for alternative supplies (see Lester Brown’s video below) will inevitably increase. By working NOW on ensuring that food produced is actually eaten, the vicious cycle of changing land use, greenhouse gas emissions, climate change and variability in food supply might be curbed – if we work hard and with focus on things that will actually make a difference.

The first thing that occurs to be me upon developing this simple outline of purpose is that the world’s supply of postharvest skills is woefully short. It is encumbent upon each of us as post harvesters that we reflect earnestly on the possibility that there is more we can do to address the opportunities that we have begun to open in this discussion.

Let me know what you think!

No comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *