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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Gluts of produce - a problem fast receding

Daily News: 16/06/2005" by Afreeha Jawad

Looks like supermarket owners are currently into fulfilling a national task. The days of glut commodities and farmer suicides are receding. Facilitated with mobile State of the Art cooling systems, they now traverse far and wide into very remote areas and purchase farmer output - something where even the state apparatus failed.

This surely is not to glorify these food chains, some of whom are only too noted for undated food items - almost always the production date gone missing - not to speak of substandard food, like the recent stale chicken haul and even fabricated expiry dates on food cans.

The problems of over production and produce was so bad that farmers used to wait for long hours by the wayside eagerly waiting for the arrival of the middle man, sitting and staring at their rotting output only to be dumped in the backyard.

According to the Industrial Technology Institute's Dr. Malinee Abeysekera, though the problem of produce disposal remains, at least its mitigation is a great solace.

"What we need now is more and more purchasing bodies from the private sector to come in like what supermarkets are doing," she added.

She also suggests organised production instead of small plots like, for instance, growing a commodity in five acres instead of one.

She was right, concentrated growing even makes purchasing easier than the adhoc type where buyers would have to stick to a sort of pecking exercise.

Educating the producer into produce preservation is also one of her strong points in maintaining quality till buyers come which is one of ITI's (CISIR's) many concern areas. Currently, this institution's endeavour into such exercise is a raging success with workshops conducted islandwide at grassroots level not to forget another such in the offing at Embilipitiya.

For instance, the minimal processing of underutilised tropical fruits, such as, bread fruit and jak by the ITI has lured many into it as self-employment.

Minimal processing teaches farmers to retain the original colour and quality of fresh produce for consumer acceptance as today's consumers are more into going natural. This then is not some foregone conclusion. One look at those shelves in any grocery will reveal the static sales of the numerous canned and bottled items which at one time were the 'consumers' darling.

Minimally processed produce, she informed, are living plant tissues that usually receive washing, sanitation/preservation treatment or both before being packaged for refrigeration, distribution and marketing. Many factors in pre and post processing impact minimally processed products' retention of high quality or marketable shelf life.

Research on minimal processing of under-utilised commodities such as jak and breadfruit funded by CARP with technical know-how from ITI reveal the need for pre-treatment of these products to control enzymatic browning in breadfruit and ripening in jakfruit along with storage temperature and microbiological analysis to test consumption suitability.

ITI insists on absolute cleanliness during processing. In its workshops farmers are introduced into clean tables, utensils, knives, chlorinated water and calcium chloride - the last of which helps strengthen tissues in breadfruit. Jak is dipped in hot water to deactivate enzymes. Thus extreme care is taken to keep tissues intact which if damaged leads to spoiling.

Cold storage is essential to prevent colour change and control ripening. Damaged tissues, according to Abeysekera, quickens respiration while cold storage prevents browning.

For self-employment purposes she believes even a small refrigerator would do. All what one needs is around Rs. 15,000 to initiate this business.

Jak and breadfruit notably are in excess when in season. So much of it is well-known to rot under trees which in some other country would have been fully handled to its advantage - bottled, canned, chipped, packeted and what not.

The technology for successful storage of minimally processed jak fruit and breadfruit is now complete and is available from the ITI's Post Harvest Technology group led by Dr. Shanthi Wilson.


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