Prolonging shelf life of fruits
PAKISTAN produces over 14 million tonnes of fruits and vegetables of which almost one-third is wasted and never reaches the consumer.
High post-harvest losses not only lower incomes of producers and traders, but also reduce the quantity available in local market as well as for export.
Despite large production, our fresh produce exports are negligible (three per cent) and also fetch lower prices in international markets. So far Pakistani exporters have not been able to penetrate into high end supermarket chains, which account for about 80 per cent of the fruits and vegetables sales in the EU and other developed countries.
Mango export earns about $24 million annually and around 60-70 per cent of good quality varieties is exported to the Middle East and 15-16 per cent to Europe.
The export of fresh produce, particularly mango is limited by enormous cost of air freight as compared to sea freight. The interest in sea freighting of mangoes is growing and probably it is the only commercially viable option for export to distant places in the future. However, it needs extended time and specific protocols to be developed for maintaining fruit quality, which is only possible using Controlled Atmosphere (CA) Technology. Mangoes from South America are being successfully shipped to the EU using CA Technology.
Looking at the need and demand of the sector, Punjab Agricultural Research Board (PARB) initiated a project on “Exploiting Control Atmosphere Technology potential for extended storage and shipping of fresh produce to international markets”. The project was managed by Dr Aman Ullah Malik, Professor of Horticulture, University of Agriculture Faisalabad (UAF) to increase shelf life of fresh vegetables and fruits for the export to distant markets.
The project was executed with collaboration of National Institute of Food Science and Technology (NIFS&T), Plant Pathology department of UAF and METRO Cash & Carry Pakistan.The specific problems addressed were: optimum CA-conditions for different fruits and vegetables; extension of shelf life and maintenance of quality of mangoes and facilitating sea-freighting for reducing cost of shipment to high end markets.
Chief Executive PARB Dr Mubarik Ali says the successful establishment of the SOP for CA technology for fresh produce would greatly benefit exporters in future”. It will generate a good return of money invested on research, enhance our exports and create sound recognition for Pakistani fresh products in international markets.
The overall results on mango varieties suggest that storability and marketability of mango can be improved through appropriate use of CA technology. This has created potential for long distance shipments (up to four weeks) followed by 5-6 days of shelf life.
Chilies performed better under CA conditions with storability up to two weeks followed by two days shelf life.
The technology did not achieve much success in case of kinnow due to sensitivity of the fruit; however, alternatives such as initial pre-cooling, wax and proper ventilation can increase its shelf life. Effect of CA conditions on apple varieties can also enhance the storability of Kala Kulu and Shin Kulu up to nine months followed by two weeks of shelf life at ambient conditions.
A recent success story linked with the project is that a commercial CA shipment of ‘Sindhri’ mango using the SOPs developed under this project was sent to Netherlands. General remarks about shipment were very good; fruit was firm green, attractive in appearance and developed good taste. There was complete control on disease and importer was interested to buy large volumes of mangoes the following year. The successful arrival of the shipment after 36 days (29 days in transit and seven days on shelf) was a great breakthrough in the mango export industry.
Just one 40-feet container of mangoes saved Rs2 million in freight charges, compared to the same quantity delivered by air, said Dr.Amanullah Malik, the project manager. He emphasised that investing Rs20 million in the project to develop SOPs will induce many more containers to be exported to distant destinations.
Dr Amanullah said the usefulness of this project has been demonstrated by arranging seminars, trainings, workshops, meetings and visits for the local growers/ store keepers/ cold store operators/ traders and exporters.
Another remarkable achievement is publication of two research papers in the 7th International Post-harvest Symposium in Malaysia. A modern Controlled Atmosphere R & D infrastructure has been developed at Institute of Horticultural Sciences to meet the long-term national needs.