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According to FAO estimates, the population of Latin America and the Caribbean was around 518 million in 2000. This represented around 8 percent of the world's population. Of these, around 80% lived in urban areas. Around 108 million farmers were responsible for meeting the food needs of the region. Estimates of fruit and vegetable production for the same year were around 32 and 93 million metric tons, respectively, representing 5% and 20% of total world production. The fruit and vegetable sector is fragmented and comprises a large number of small farmers. This group, including home gardeners, grow food for subsistence and do not figure in official statistics. The statistics highlighted above show the socio-economic importance of the agricultural sector.

Modernization in food production and supply systems has led to increased concentration in the food supply chain in many countries, with the rapid rise of supermarkets. The main beneficiaries have adapted by acquiring managerial skills, adopting new technology and making the necessary investments. This process has been gradual and has had an impact on many small farmers. It has led to the current situation whereby both high and low-cost technology (or traditional) farming systems co-exist. Suppliers in many current food distribution systems use high technology. On the other hand, there has been increased poverty and marginalization of many small farmers.

Because larger farmers are able to gain easier access to technology, this manual focuses on small-medium sized farmers. By so doing, it is hoped that it will help them to achieve: increased productivity, efficient use of limited resources available, lower production costs, reduced postharvest losses, increased competitiveness by adding value to production and more control over the final price.

In order to increase competitiveness, one of the main contributions and recurrent themes in this manual is the need for Quality Control. This is examined within the overall context of Total Quality Management. In other words, a system of continuous improvement to satisfy the needs of consumers, well beyond their expectations. The underlying concept of this approach is that a quality product is achieved well before the seed is sown. However, for the purposes of this manual, harvesting is used as a starting point. It is based on the assumption that growing conditions are ideal for the crop.

In Chapter 1, harvest indexes are presented together with the handling conditions required to maintain quality.

Chapter 2 is mainly concerned with preparations for the fresh market within a packinghouse environment. This is a key step to adding value while at the same time protecting the product. Since all harvested produce is not sold immediately, storage is an integral part of the handling process. Some of its benefits include extending the growing season and minimizing losses in quality.

An examination of the different types of storage systems including their advantages and disadvantages is undertaken in Chapter 3.

Chapter 4 examines the health and safety issues related to handling produce from the field to consumer.

Quality issues concerning the consumer are discussed in Chapter 5.

Chapter 6 focuses on alternative systems of retailing fruits and vegetables which are most appropriate for the smaller commercial farmer. A glossary is provided because of the differences in terminology for fruits and vegetables in Latin America and Caribbean countries. The Spanish as well as English version is given together with the scientific name. Key topics are illustrated with photographs from different growing areas in the world. Latin America and the Caribbean are given particular attention. The tables and graphics presented help to describe and highlight the issues further.

Andrés F. López Camelo, Ph.D.
INTA E.E.A. Balcarce
Balcarce, Argentina
August, 2002

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