2.3 Marketing and distribution

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The approach of the market specialist to the problem of food losses in perishables is to identify the place in the market chain where losses of unusual magnitude occur. The physical place where such losses are registered is less important than the position in the chain whore losses occur and the relation of the specific loss situation to the total market chain. In relating losses incurred at a specific situation to the total chain, the objective is to find out whether the lose can be explained by defects further up or down the chain or by the system as a whole.

Losses in perishable produce occur everywhere from the field to the ultimate consumer and depend on the degree of perishability of the produce; they are inherent in the very nature of the product. Since the market chain or system refers to specific operations, handling, transportation and trade practices, there is a close correlation between the type and magnitude of loss incurred by a specific product and the chain or system wherein it moves. This implies that for a given commodity moving in a particular chain, there is something like a standard loyal of loss inherent in the chain, the reduction of which could not be obtained by improving isolated operations taking place within the chain. It would require a change in the total market system itself. To avoid losses or even significantly reduce them et isolated stations in the chain may not be a realistic proposition. However, any obvious isolated practice that leads to heavy losses, such as faulty packaging, must be corrected.

Marketing methods and conditions vary widely from country to country and any attempt to attribute losses to a particular point in marketing chains or to any specific system or marketing runs into difficulty because it is not possible to generalize on a wide basis. For this reason, a systems approach should be adopted for dealing with food losses whereby all the factors applicable to a given situation and in an individual country have to be considered before any meaningful diagnoses can be made. Any success achieved in reducing losses at the "grass roots" level particularly where applied to traditional marketing systems should receive wide publicity as such successes are not often known beyond their immediate area of application.

Management of losses is essentially action-oriented. It is effected within a given market system for which "norms" of foes lovers can be established. Managing the losses with reference to acceptable levels would be quite similar to management by objectives. Each marketing system has its own rationale and is affected by policy decisions with regard to production, marketing and consumption. The latter will have a direct incidence on the effect of any measures that might be implemented for the reduction of losses. An examination of the type of production and marketing system would be helpful in revealing how susceptible a given market system or sub-system may be for the introduction and application of measures aimed at bringing losses down to a desirable level.

Traditional subsistence systems are widespread throughout the developing world sad are characterized by local exchange or barter trade, sharply limited geographical movements of produce and typical small units of sale or barter. Losses do occur but they tend to be overestimated and may be difficult to reduce. The subsistence economy sets its own limits: the chain from field to consumer is usually short, both in time and distance. Practically everything is consumed because every quality finds a ready consumer. Improvement of the system in terms of reduction of losses may be limited to the provision of shade. Recommendations might not go beyond encouraging the producer to collect his fruits and vegetables under a tree or build a make-shift shed or tent.

The situation is quite different when one looks at the emerging marketing systems where a surplus production economy is rapidly replacing the previous subsistence or semi-subsistence economy and the marketing system is not well adapted for the teak of collecting, moving and distributing massive surplus production. Losses of unusual magnitude do regularly occur in the system and here there is good scope for the introduction and application of specific measures to reduce losses depending on the readiness of the systems to transfer the improvement down or up the chain. Most measures that focus on gentler handling, better conditioning, faster transportation and proper storage would seem to be effectively applicable only within an improved market infrastructure including suitable roads. Quality consciousness and the introduction and acceptance of some forms of quality separation by the trade and the consumer must precede the demand by the farmer for bottle, and therefore higher cost, boxes or containers. This again can hardly be expected if the higher prices paid for better quality cannot be transferred down the chain to the producer. Much closer communication relating producer capacity to retailer/consumer demand is a prerequisite to such developments, sad the more efficient management of marketing enterprises.

In some regions particularly high levels of lose have been observed when governmental and quasi governmental agencies participate directly in horticultural crop marketing. This to a great extent is due to faulty management inexperience in the commissioning and operation of cold stores, lack of technical knowledge in despatch and transportation techniques, the absence of a sales operation to set oh the buying programme and generally unrealistic pricing policy. The scope for remedial action in these incompletely integrated sub-marketing systems is great. This may deserve priority in any action programme for the reduction of losses. The crops which have typically been the object of intervention programmes by Governments are potatoes and onions, but other crops such as oranges have in vein. areas been included.

2.4 Socio-economic aspects

A complete analysis of the post-harvest system would include not only the "physical" but the "human" aspects; that is, a study of those social, psychological and economic factors which influence the behaviour of the people involved in post-harvest activities. It is these people, the subsistance farming families or those individuals who produce, process or market on a commercial basis, who are required to change their behaviour when schemes are launched to reduce post-harvest losses. Any technological change required of a producer is likely to produce social and/or economic changes. Additionally, the nutritional status, e.g., of children or mothers, may suffer, Introduction of even simple machinery can displace women's paid labour; production of a marketable surplus may provide the family's first cash income. Preliminary diagnostic studies make it possible to ascertain the possible effects of such technological changes and to identify the socio-economic constraints influencing the producers and their acceptance of proposed changes. The prime task of such studies would be to locate where losses occur, who is responsible and who bears the loss. A range of social and economic relationships also needs to be explored with respect to any proposed remedies. For examples, who will be the primary beneficiaries of the proposed interventions (landlord, middleman, owners of capital, urban consumer or the producer?); what changes in responsibilities or functions are required; what additional obligations or risks may be incurred and by whom? In brief, who losses, who grains (as perceived by -the people concerned) in monetary, time' social end psychological terms?

To make studies of this type it is clearly necessary to involve applied social scientists, economists and nutritionists at an early stage of planning an' activities related to reduction of post-harvest losses. Despite the fact that the producers' attitudes to lose and understanding of its implications may be limiting factors in motivating the adoption of change, their skills and knowledge ought not to be ignored or underrated. All concerned with post-harvest operations should be involved in the planning of improvements.

It is of particular importance to identify which members of the producer's, handler's or processor's family are responsible for the various post-harvest activities. Efforts can then be made to ensure that the right people are included in training programmes, credit schemes and other services which may be planned.

Is order to make a systematic approach to the reduction of post-harvest losses it may be seen that co-ordination is necessary with activities developed to alleviate related problems . A post-harvest system cannot be vi owed in isolation from ether aspects of rural development. In this connection the Programme of Action adopted at the 1979 World Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development provides guidance regarding priorities for action.

2.5 Future developments for horticultural products

Brand new concepts that eventually lead to extensive new technologies usually burst upon us without warning. It is impossible to forecast when, or in what form such major breakthroughs will appear. Hence, such dramatic advances in post-harvest handling of horticultural products cannot be discussed in this report. But we can discuss probable future trends by extrapolating presently known trends into the future.


Rising standards of living can be expected to increase demand for canned and frozen horticultural crops as well as the demand for convenience foods that contain one or more horticultural crops as a major component. Losses after processing are usually very low. On the other hand, they are energy-intensive and the disposal of the discarded packaging materials as solid waste creates some environmental problems.

Large scale factory processing of horticultural crops concentrates large quantities of waste materials much as skins, cores, and seeds in one place in contrast to the highly dispersed distribution of waste from commodities that are consumed fresh at home. Traditionally, little attention has been given to dispose. of this waste material and it has caused environmental problems. In recent years, attention has been drawn to this problem, e.g., the joint UNEP/FAO sponsored seminar on agricultural residues held in Rome in January 1977. Many governments now require food processing plants to upgrade the handling of their waste materials.

New Chemicals

The large chemical corporations continue to search for new chemicals to control the pests and diseases that attach crops and products. The cost of testing mud. registering a new agricultural chemical is now SO high that only the larger corporations can afford to take the risk, and even they are mainly interested in pesticides for major crops such as maize, wheat, soybeans and cotton because they cannot expect to recover the costs of developing a new chemical unless potential sales are high. After a chemical has been registered for use with a major crop, it can also be registered for a minor crop at much leas cost if it is shown to be effective.

New chemicals for post-harvest treatment of horticultural crops will continue to appear but mainly as spin-offs from use on major crops. It is unlikely that many new chemicals will be developed especially for post-harvest application because of the relatively low volume of sales anticipated for such application, which is insufficient to justify the high cost of obtaining the initial registration.


Irradiation of horticultural products kills infesting insects thus permitting products to be shipped into areas that have a quarantine against certain insects. It also delays sprouting of bulbs and tubers, permitting long-term storage of commodities such as onions, potatoes and yams without sprouting.

Although several decades of research have been devoted to this peaceful use of atomic energy there is almost no commercial use of irradiation technology even though it continues a to be energetically advocated by the International Atomic Energy Commission and a total Or 26 commodities have received restricted or unrestricted clearance in on or more of 19 countries having legislation on irradiated food (Vas, 1977). Maxie et al (1971) concluded after a lengthy study that irradiation was, in general, not as effective as good commercial refrigerated storage for fruits and vegetables. A 1976 report point d out that after a quarter of a century Of world-wide work on this promising technology there is today only one truly commercial application, namely, the inhibition of potato sprouting in Japan.

Radiation technology has not been wider, adapted in commercial practice for the following reasons:

  1. It costs more than chemical treatments. Chemical treatments usually cost about 10 cents to $1.00 par ton of product. Irradiation probably, costs several times as much although contact figures are difficult to obtain. The twelfth session of the Joint FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission in 1978 noted that the economic feasibility of the irradiation process still required practical demonstration.
  2. The rood must be passed through the irradiator thus creating an additional handling stage which adds to the cost, and may increase bruising and wounding of the commodity.
  3. Irradiated vegetables may be more susceptible to storage rots and fungi because the natural would bearing processes are impaired. Irradiated potatoes sometimes darken when cooked. Irradiated onions contain a small piece of unsightly black tissue in the centre of the onion a bare the growing tip is killed by the radiation.
  4. Much more elaborate safety precautions are required for an irradiator than for chemical treatments.
  5. The softening of vegetable tissue caused by irradiation makes the commodity more liable to bruising during subsequent handling and transportation.

To sum up, it appears that irradiation technology for horticultural products is unlikely to be widely used under present circumstances. Although the International Atomic Energy Commission continues to maintain a vigorous programme to introduce irradiation as a food preservation technique it seems unlikely that irradiation will be widely used unless all chemical treatments are banned or some now major breakthrough in irradiation technology is developed.

Drying Technology

Since drying is the lowest cost preservation technology it should develop as a major method of preservation of horticultural products especially in LDCs. Much drying can be accomplished by means of solar energy. Simple drying systems can be established as small-scale localized unite for single families or villages. The fact that the quality of dried products is not necessarily as high as the canned or frozen product need not be a liability in developing countries where low price is so important and the expectation of quality and convenience is not as high as in the developed countries.

Wider Use of Chemicals

The advantages of chemical treatments (effective, low coat, easy to apply) will surely lead to their greater use in LDCs. This could result in danger to human health and the environment if the chemicals are misused or abused.

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