PAKISTAN CURRENTLY produces over 14 million tons of fruits and vegetables, out of which almost 1/3rd never reach consumer and are wasted between farms to end-users. High post-harvest losses not only lower the net income of producers and traders, but also reduce the quantity of produced available in local markets as well as for exports. Among various reasons attributed to this scenario, includes the lack of proper infrastructure, technology and human skills to handle and deliver produced safely from farm to destination. So far Pakistani exporters have not been able to penetrate into high end supermarket chains, which share about 80% of the fruits and vegetables sales in EU and many other developed countries. These countries require advanced post-harvest technology, especially in relation to storage and shipping.
Another limitation in export of fresh produce, particularly that of mango is the enormous cost of air freighting (to Europe: Avg. Rs. 120/kg compared to Rs. 20/kg by sea during 2009). Mango, one of the most popular tropical fruits in the world, earns about $24 million foreign exchange annually. Around 60-70 per cent good quality of mangoes is exported to Middle East and 15-16 per cent to Europe. The interest in sea freighting of mangoes is growing industry and probably the only commercially viable option for future. Although mango sea freighting offers a cheap alternate but takes at least 10 times more shipping period as compared to air freight. However, it needs extended time and specific protocols to be developed for maintaining fruit quality, which is only possible using Controlled Atmosphere (CA) Technology. Mangoes from South America are being successfully shipped to EU using CA Technology.
A demand driven Punjab Agricultural Research Board (PARB) project “Exploiting Control Atmosphere Technology potential for extended storage and shipping of fresh produce to international markets”, 36 months project with a cost of 21.159 million was submitted by Dr. Aman Ullah Malik, Professor of Horticulture, University of Agriculture Faisalabad (UAF), to increase shelf life of fresh vegetables and fruits for the export to distant markets. The project has collaboration with National Institute of Food Science and Technology (NIFSandT), Plant Pathology Department of UAF and METRO Cash and Carry Pakistan. The project has to determine CA conditions for extending the storage life of locally produced apples, mangoes, kinnow mandarins and chilies. The specific problems to be addressed through this project were:
• Determine optimum CA-conditions for different fruits and vegetables
• Extend shelf life and maintain quality of mangoes, enabling its sea-freighting for reducing cost of shipment to high end markets
• Establish local infrastructure/facilities to continue RandD in the area of CA technology
The review of literature shows good success for different fruits and vegetables but needs a proper research to determine CA conditions along with handling of post-harvest lose. Maintaining the quality, colour, weight, firmness, disease incidence and other parameters of fresh produced have to be taken carefully besides extending the shelf life of fresh produced.
The project has successfully completed this year and overall results are very good. The team of scientist, extensive and planned monitoring of PARB and timely financial support has made the achievement of the project.
Significant progress on this project has been made both from R and D perspective and its impact on industry. It has been demonstrated that mangoes have potential for long distance shipments.
A recent success story is that a commercial CA shipment of Sindhri mango using the SOPs developed under this project was sent to Netherlands, on June 13 last. Such long distance shipment was not possible before as no specific SOP was available. General remarks about shipment were very good, fruit was firm green, attractive in appearance and developed good taste. There was complete control on disease and it was overall a successful shipment. The successful arrival of the shipment after 36 days using project SOP is a great breakthrough in the mango export industry. Just one 40-feet container of mangoes saved Rs. 2.00 million in freight charges, compared to the same quantity delivered by air. Investing Rs. 20 million in the project to develop SOPs will induce many more containers for export to distant destinations.
Information regarding this project has been demonstrated by arranging seminars, trainings, workshops, meetings and visits for the local growers/ store keepers/ cold store operators/ traders and exporters. Besides this publicity material on this project like CA Technology Guide, Urdu and English brochures and posters were made for the information of stakeholders.
The research process on different varieties, fresh produced is a continuous process, but success of this project has provided a baseline for future work. The government must join hands with PARB to fund more projects that can generate constructive output and profitability for our dwindling economy. PARBs other projects are also showing good results and would be a breakthrough in the field of agriculture and livestock. PARBs also planned to fund projects for forestry and fisheries sectors that would address the key issues in a well-planned manner.
The government always has a supportive attitude towards international collaboration for research work in Pakistan. PARB has connected national and international collaboration in its research projects, which is a good way of learning from the experiences. The success of this project goes to all team scientists, PARBs monitoring team and Chief Executive Dr. Mubarik Ali. It is worth mentioning that success of the project is also attributed to Minister for Agriculture Punjab Malik Ahmed Ali Aulakh, who is determined to reform and sustain RandD sector and working efficiently to enhance economic growth. No doubt the Punjab government has a good support, but need is to speed up the process of funding projects as world crop scientists are taking agricultural research on top priority in order to combat future challenges. Research is a long-term process with long lasting impact on economy. Many projects related to agriculture, forestry, fisheries and livestock are in timeline of PARB, with achievable outcomes to increase yield, earn foreign exchange and bring prosperity for our stakeholders.
The writer is the Research Publication Officer in PARB, Lahore.