Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Hiroyuki Konuma

FAO Regional Representative for Asia-Pacific

REMARKS ON BEHALF OF FAO
by
He Changchui
Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific
on the occasion of the

EXPERT CONSULTATION ON POSTHARVEST TECHNOLOGIES FOR ENSURING FOOD SECURITY AND VALUE ADDITION FOR ENHANCED INCOME

1 to 3 December 2004
Bangkok, Thailand




Dr Matsuo Iwamoto, Chairman, APAARI
Dr Paroda, Executive Secretary, APAARI
Distinguished delegates, experts,
Ladies and gentlemen,

On behalf of the Director-General of FAO, Jacques Diouf, and on my own behalf, I wish to welcome you all to this Expert consultation on postharvest technologies for ensuring food security and value addition for enhanced income.

Achieving a food secure world is an important goal of the United Nations development agenda for the following decades. The right to food is a basic human right, yet over 800 million people suffer from malnutrition and hunger, 505 million of them living in Asia and the Pacific. Guided by the expressed aims of the international community and the Organization’s members in the fight against hunger and malnutrition, FAO has formulated rolling medium term plans which provide for important and catalytic contributions in a well-timed and appropriately focused manner.

This consultation is an example of considerable efforts by FAO and its various partners during recent years for further agribusiness development targeted to small and medium post-production enterprises. These SMEs, largely based in rural areas, generate a significant share of income and employment in low- and middle-income developing countries. However, knowledge and skills for enterprise management and for the selection of and use of appropriate processing technologies are limited. As a result, their performance is often far from optimal.

While governments and civil society organizations can assist rural SMEs through enabling policies and institutional frameworks, the agricultural sector at large will benefit from improved competitiveness and employment generation capacity of post-production enterprises, and from a better interface between producers and these enterprises.

The consultation thus aims to provide small and medium scale enterprises with increased capacity and efficiency to offer consumers food and agricultural products through sustainable and profitable agribusiness ventures. These issues are of particular importance in a world where farmers, entrepreneurs and countries are experiencing increased globalization of their economies and markets. This increased globalization and international trade has created new challenges and problems. Food is now being produced far from its place of consumption, exposing it to potential food safety hazards and increasing the health risks for the consumer. Modern biotechnology provides new opportunities for achieving increased food and agricultural production. However, it also raises other concerns, in relation to consumer acceptability, human health and environmental security.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Agriculture plays an important role in the economies of FAO member countries in Asia and the Pacific. Even in those countries where the sector’s share in the economy has rapidly declined in the last few decades, it has remained a key target of development policies and programmes, particularly in view of the continuing concerns for food security and sustainable development, and the impact of past financial crises, on agriculture. The growth of the sector during the period has been mainly propelled by modern agricultural technology that was introduced into much of Asia during the Green Revolution. The technology was largely aimed at enhancing the productivity of cereals as rice and wheat are the main staple foods of many countries in the region.

The consequent rise in income levels and the change in lifestyles resulting from the rapid economic growth experienced by many countries in the region brought about a significant shift in dietary habits as people started to consume less cereals and more non-cereal products such as meat, vegetables and fruits. The increased demand for horticultural products in particular, spurred the expansion of the horticulture industry in the region. The expansion provided not only additional income to the growers, but also increased export revenues to the economy.

Global consumer demand for fresh tasting and for nutritious, high-quality foods has created considerable interest in the development of new or improved post-harvest storage and food-processing techniques. The competitive struggle for markets, which has resulted from more liberalized trade regimes, requires a much greater emphasis on highly efficient and effective post-harvest technologies including handling, processing and distribution in order to access markets further and further afield.

Consumers are now demanding access to more and fresher products, no matter where in the world they happen to be located. This demand, together with the limitations inherent in many traditional technologies, has generated the incentive to ensure a wider use of improved controlled- or modified-atmosphere storage and packaging methods, as well as new and emerging technologies for quarantine, postharvest and processing purposes.

Ladies and gentlemen,

What is postharvest management in food and agriculture?

The present state of the food and agriculture industry is far from ideal. The production of vegetables and fruits, in particular, continues to be characterized by substantial post-harvest losses. The estimation of these losses has not been done on a regular and systematic basis, largely due to the difficulty of pinpointing exactly where the losses occur and measuring them accordingly. Also, there seems to be no common or clear definition of losses. Whatever estimates are available are either outdated or derived from commodity- or location-specific studies. In any case, post-harvest losses of 10 to 30 percent for grains and even higher for horticultural crops have been mentioned, depending on the type of produce and what post-production stages were covered in the estimation.

Several factors lead to the cumulative causes of post-harvest food losses in developing countries. These include inefficient crop production, harvesting and handling methods, poor crop processing techniques, inadequate methods of storage and distribution and even poor preparation of foods in the home. Traditional marketing systems often contribute to reduced returns to farmers, by involving several changes of hands before the produce finally reaches the consumer.

Inadequate storage and poor road and transport systems make distribution to key points extremely difficult, particularly with perishable horticultural crops during critical seasons. Vegetables and fruits are particularly susceptible to losses because of their perishable nature. The losses could result from mechanical damage/physical injury, physiological deterioration, biological and microbiological contamination and chemical or biochemical reactions. These causes arise due to many factors such as:

  • Lack of awareness of or availability of reliable maturity indices;
  • Poor/careless handling of produce during loading and unloading and during transit;
  • Inappropriate packaging;
  • Lack of appropriate post-harvest treatment; and
  • Lack of cold storage and inadequate transport facilities.

The challenge is to distribute responsibilities among the various institutions dealing with postharvest management to ensure that their functions are performed effectively and efficiently. Such cooperation and rationalization will particularly benefit developing countries and countries with small economies and limited capacity that cannot afford traditional sector-oriented approaches often ill-adapted to their means and circumstances.

What has been achieved so far?

A range of programmes have been pursued to reduce post-harvest losses at various stages, as well as to enhance the quality of the produce. Modern post-harvest technologies have been key components of these programmes and among those currently being applied are conventional post-harvest cooling and storage; post-harvest treatments such as modified and controlled atmosphere systems; and even newer or emerging technologies such as food irradiation, high pressure processing and ohmic heating.

Many of these technologies have proven to be effective, although some may still need to prove they are not hazardous to health and the environment. These technologies, such as controlled atmosphere storage, can also be quite costly. Thus, adoption by the growers is understandably slow, particularly if the benefits from the technology are not clearly visible to them. In many instances, no premium is placed on quality by commercial operators so that there is little or no incentive to invest in the technologies.

It is, therefore, the responsibility of governments in the region to undertake the research and development (R&D) activities and provide the necessary focal point departments to promote the adoption of a range of post-harvest technologies. Other government measures also need to be taken to reduce losses, such as training of farmers on improved handling and grading methods and promotion of group farming schemes to enable farmers to take better advantage of particular technologies.

Global markets for fruits and vegetables are expected to continue to expand significantly in the future. This expansion will be stimulated by the continuing reduction in trade restrictions, which will promote further trade in horticultural products; also by increasing trends towards healthier lifestyles, which will create more demand, especially for vegetables and fruits.

Ladies and gentlemen,

What is expected from this meeting?

As many of you are already aware, the aim of this meeting is to discuss the concept and the relevance of postharvest technologies in the context of sustainable food security and safety, and to formulate recommendations and conclusions resulting from the consultation. We ask you to consider national regulatory systems and their capacity to meet the requirements of trade partners and national postharvest management systems, and to ensure the protection of human and environmental health.

We also request that you consider the need for information exchange among partner agencies and the conceptualization of a system which will facilitate a regular flow of information between the parties concerned. Finally, we ask you to consider the requirements for capacity building to create a sustainable national infrastructure for postharvest management.

We hope that by Friday you will recommend what needs to be done by governments, FAO and other organizations to move forward on this important matter. In this context, I should like to stress that your work this week is an important dimension of food security, which will contribute to the achieving aims of the World Food Summit the UN Millennium Development Goals. We look forward to your active participation, intellectual inputs and valuable support to the subject in question.

In closing, I wish to thank APAARI for its cooperation in organizing the meeting.

I wish you fruitful deliberations and an enjoyable stay in Bangkok, and look forward to the report of the meeting in due course.

Thank you.