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Sustainability of the global ecosystem: an Ultimate Purpose for Postharvesters and Postharvest Technology

December 20, 2013
Nigel Banks

In this post, I am going to open a process that will set the stage for a monster recasting of the framework in which postharvest technologies can be seen to hold their value for the future of the world and its peoples. My expectation is that, if you are a postharvester, you’ll either have beaten me to my gradually dawning realisation or the way in which you view the postharvest discipline is about to be changed for ever. Hopefully, this is an ambitious enough undertaking in either event for the thread to stir up some interesting reflections in due course …..

Let’s start out with a light-hearted recollection. Probably you used to do the same thing at high school – conversing with a friend or group of friends in such a way that each contribution to the flow exceeded the previous level of exaggeration. They could start out pretty quietly – in fact you didn’t know what was about to happen when you began, it was just a conversation – but the resulting flow of outrageous hyperbole became louder and louder, hand gestures wider and wilder and all always ended in hysterical laughter:

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A: “How was breakfast?”

B: “Yum – two eggs, poached – my favourite”

A: “Only two? You weren’t very hunrgy – I had two dozen!”

B: “Yes but I didn’t mention the whole leg of ham”

A: “There wasn’t room for ham on my plate – it was crowded to overflowing with lycopene – a whole pallet of tomatoes”

And so it would go on, usually terminated somewhere around when the scale object of the conversation approximated galactic proportion.

When we talked of personal histories, a similar process ensued: it would not be long before we were travelling pre-birth and one’s identity would have become the amorous intent captured by a “twinkle in the eye” of one or both parents. And, travelling further backwards in time, it might end up as the self-replicating urge of some component of the pre-bacterial primordial soup or as the resonating echoes of the Big Bang. That was who we truly were …..

Our genes, we have learnt, are selfish – we exist as we are so that they might be perpetuated. So if there has to be an ultimate purpose to motivate our actions of today as postharvesters, perhaps it is not to do with the mundane consequences of individual actions in postharvest systems – the next meal, the income from our recently harvested crop or the narcissistic hopes and dreams of a first generation of twinkles in our own eyes. Rather, it is in the beauty, poetry and sustainability of keeping alive as many of the amazing ways to live a life (perpetuated genes) that evolution has thrown up in the past 4.5 billion years. Our opportunity and awesome responsibility is to keep the twinkles in the eyes today of a million different complementary life forms – before it’s all too late. All sounds like a preposterously long way from the postharvest that we know and love?

It is so hard for us to really know the true sustainability of the current path of the global ecosystem. All of the evidence we have available has been gathered over such a short period, and is so noisy, that no-one can put hand on heart and really “know”. But the warning signs are plentiful and we are waking up to more and more of them as they become louder. What if our global ecosystem is in the early stages of a hyperbolic conversation? What will the twinkles in the eyes of the twinkles in our eyes wish we had done instead of nothing?

Pitch in over the next few posts to the discussion of how postharvest is going to be one of the critical fields of technology that can save the world as we know it from multiple risks of catastrophe – if only we can achieve the rate of development and innovation that enables it to fulfill its true potential.  Doing the right thing requires that we do more than shrug off the whole debate / challenge as “too hard”.

Next time: a few of those risks …..


6 Comments. Leave new

Denis Twinamatsiko
December 20, 2013 4:36 pm

This is an eye opener. For sure postharvest technology is crucial as far as sustainable development is concerned as there is increasing pressure for us to meet our needs without compromising the ability of future generation to meet their needs!Thank you Nigel for this initiative!


Hello Denis – I am hoping the conversation that develops around this thread will help all of us develop new insights into the ways that post harvesters can become substantive contributors to sustainable supply systems – thanks for your feedback, N :-)

Adesubokan Solomon
December 22, 2013 8:31 am

A shifting perspective for all postharvester to intimate and understand the knowledge of this career with Innovation and the exploration and its linkage in business…. for too long have we sank into theories… it high-time, we wake up and do business!!!

Solomon Niyi
Mygrics Foundation.


Yes – Adesubokan, the common currencies of business comprise the ways that value is created in and extracted from the world around us – let’s explore how this dimension overlays the various elements of this thread as it develops over this next while. Thankyou for your comment! Nigel :-)


It seems the world is finally waking up to the twin problems of high food losses and global environmental distress. The UN agencies, various development Banks, international foundations and government donors are all putting out their calls for proposals. Their key words seem to be “food security” and the focus is on staple foods (grains, root and tuber crops), rather than on deep sources of sustained nutrition and health (via fruits and vegetables). It is good time for us (the leaders of various organizations involved in improving postharvest technology and food preservation of all kinds of foods) to share resources, develop a common approach and begin to work together to solve these enormous problems. I think it is important for us to speak out loudly in order to make sure global development resources do not flow only toward growing more rice, wheat, corn and cassava. LK


Hi Lisa – many thanks for this thoughtful contribution. The way that all of these issues are being thrown into stark relief is quite sobering as the seemingly impossible aspirations of the previous paradigm (grow more calories, feed more people) are not only coming up very short in terms of delivering upon previous goals, they are even seeming distressingly mis-placed as goal-posts for our efforts to improve the short and longer term future of humankind in its amazing journey. I hope you’ll be able to continue to guide evolution of this and associated threads with your insights as they develop. Meantime, let’s invite dialogue from any / all who will add further perspectives on how we can best develop collaborative strategies for improving the global food system – best, N


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