Extensive post-harvest losses prompt a new network to share solutions

Ear of maize destroyed by pests after harvest

"Increasing agricultural productivity and efficiency in the developing world is fine," said Francois Mazaud, Senior Officer of FAO's Post-Harvest Management Group, "but it is of equal importance to address the loss of product that can result in the absence of adequate post-harvest management."

To assist in preventing the loss of millions of tonnes of cereals, roots, tubers, fruits and vegetables in developing countries caused by inadequate handling and storage, pest damage, and transport and marketing problems, FAO has just launched a new Internet-based Information Network on Post-Harvest Operations (INPhO).

The idea behind INPhO, said Mazaud, who designed the network along with a team of five specialists from FAO's Agro-Industries and Post-Harvest Management Service (AGSI), is to provide institutions, government and non-governmental organizations and the private sector - all groups that could have a part to play in post-harvest management - with a place to store, share and access information.

Such information sharing will have a positive impact in developing countries, where post-harvest losses of cereals and grain legumes can measure from 10 to 15 percent and occasionally up to 50 percent in some regions of Africa and Latin America. According to FAO, if post-harvest losses in Asian rice - now more than 15 percent in some countries - were reduced by just one-tenth, the food saved annually would amount to more than 5 million tonnes.

FAO will act as the manager of the network, collecting and disseminating information with the help of the French International Cooperation Centre on Agrarian Research for Development (CIRAD), the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) among others. But "those accessing it will be the owners of the information," said Mazaud. During the information network's 2-year pilot phase, all users are encouraged to send comments and feedback to the network's data input centre.

The network is broken into three main information areas:

  • Post Production Data and Resources allows users to learn more about the handling and storage of specific cereals, grains, fruits or vegetables or research information on post-production technologies, including fumigation for insect control and marketing and distribution programs;
  • Communication Services is the network's interactive centre where questions on a particular element of post-harvest management can be posed, while a forum is always open to discuss and exchange ideas;
  • Link with Libraries and Databases provides additional access to information resources outside of FAO.

In the near future, network users will also be able to access commodity, country and topic-specific data by submitting their request to the Post Harvest Info Shop. Available immediately are the full texts of some 150 documents provided by FAO and other groups working in post-harvest management as well as recipes, photographs and seven practical videos on topics that include "Storage hygiene" and "Food loss due to rats."

While information on post-harvest management has always existed, it has been dispersed widely throughout the world, with no central access point. The launching of the INPhO marks the first effort to improve global access to the broadest range of information on post-harvest management.

"If you want to improve production, you have to improve the whole system, including post-harvest management," said Mazaud. "The sharing of information is one of the best ways to achieve this."

7 August 1998

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