small green planet

Purpose – why postharvest?

December 21, 2013
Nigel Banks

On a recent trip to Thailand, I ended up with a couple of days of waiting for a flight for which the waitlist had not cleared. I was comfortably esconced at the Mekong Institute (Kon Khaen University Campus) with a desk and an internet connection and Time. As an aside to today’s discussion, the Mekong Institute is engaged in critical work for developing the Greater Mekong Sub-region – servicing, as it does, six countries that are home to stretches of the Mekong River. I will come back to some interesting issues on this on another day. For now, this happy confluence generated one of those magic periods in which the fragementary thoughts that had been accumulating over a few months had a chance to dance, flirt, dance some more and to emerge as a few written words. I surmise that this has been a happy happening for Wojciech Florkowski (University of Georgia, USA). Wojciech is editing the upcoming revised edition of “Postharvest Handling: A Systems Perspective” – a task that I suspect,  with the host of busy authors involved,  is one of those things that becomes immensely more rewarding when it has been completed. I suspect  he was beginning to wonder if my promised chapter for the book would ever stop chasing around the airport lounge of my mind and actually get off the ground. But get off the ground it did, thanks to the hospitality of the Mekong Institute and probably a rather lengthy list of prior engagements on the books of Thai Airways. And although the writing process was necessarily short, it has begun an ongoing process of reflection and realisation within me that has become all-engrossing. Perhaps, as I indicated yesterday, you have been thinking in this space for a while and you will read what follows and say: “of course ….”. If so, write and tell me what happens next! But my own pre-conditioning has had my sense of meaning and purpose for my now most-of-a-lifetime career in postharvest tied up in satisfying consumers and improving the livelihoods of growers. These remain laudible goals in and of themselves – they have kept me committed for a long time. But there is always one more “Why?” we can ask. With each successive “Why?” that we do ask, the ambit and reach of our sense of purpose always takes another quantum jump – and I hadn’t taken it! Until now …..



Seeing Lester Brown on his global speaking tour in his running shoes has changed my perspective on presentation footware for ever.

The river of thought that began a few months ago as trickle of interest in the role of food loss in likely future severity of climate change has swelled rapidly following the first breaking of thoughts onto the page. How can I have been so soundly asleep for so long? I guess it is a fairly common occurrence, though, for us to seek to predict and prepare for our futures based upon linear extrapolations of our past. And there’s the rub: can we make a linear extrapolation and relax in the belief that our futures are going to be reasonably similar to our pasts? It’s worked for generations of our predecessors ….. Or is the fact that a buffered, buffered, buffered system (our world) is starting to show solid signs of shift from near steady state a sign that all is about to go non-linear and launch us into hyperbolic progression, as light-heartedly explored with tongue in cheek in my last post? The fact that life is always a new experiment with zero degrees of freedom (an observation quoted from an old friend who has since accelerated non-linearly along his own career path to become a Vice Chancellor) means only one thing: we cannot know. But we can still behave with prudence – something that, in its very nature, involves weighing up risks, costs and foregone benefits.

What are these risks? Here are two links to quite lengthy and fascinating resources that will give you two very different perspectives to consider on the size of the risks before we start to shape up the role of the postharvest community in tackling them.

Link 1: Plan B: Mobilizing to Save Civilization – video. This video portrays a passionate advocate for his cause on a mission to save the world – and his alternative approach to footwear might change your view on presentation attire – it’s changed mine! A summary of the key theme of this full video is available here:

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Link 2:  The other presents a motley collection of individuals, each seemingly with with axes to grind and no clear focus except to do in the opposition (what they strangely summarise as informed and independent scientific consensus and the associated system of peer review).

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Personally, I’m with the running shoes.

If you think both perspectives can be better assessed if there are data in hand then I am also with you – check out these pdf downloads of relevant reports for both points of view:

IPCC Working Group 1 – Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis – Summary

Climate Change Reconsidered II

and startlingly different interpretations of the same world.

And why postharvest? – thank goodness for next time!

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