ISLAMABAD   -   Pakistan can save hundreds of millions of rupees by minimiz­ing post-harvest crop losses through the use of modern equipment.

Horticultural produce loss is a pressing issue in the post-harvest process. It can be caused by a variety of things, from growing conditions to re­tail handling. Agricultural pro­duction is seasonal and subject to environmental factors, but post-production processes are crucial in ensuring the stability of the food supply chain.

Talking to WealthPK, Prof Dr. Muhammad Azam Khan, Chair­man Department of Horticul­ture, PMAS-Arid Agriculture University Rawalpindi, said that about 35 to 40% of total production is lost as a result of post-harvest losses in fruits and vegetables due to improper handling of the perishable prod­ucts, inefficient transportation, and inadequate storage facili­ties and market infrastructure.

“If we see wheat post-harvest losses, it starts from seeds,” he said.

“As wheat seeds arrive in March and April, we need to do proper grading and make that seed dry, and use suitable pack­ing material, but before pack­ing there should be proper fu­migation so that it doesn’t catch fungus, and there should be a proper storage facility where we can store them for a longer period of time because they will be used in November. If we don’t, the viable seed won’t ger­minate properly, which lowers the percentage of wheat pro­duction,” he explained.

Dr. Azam said proper seed col­lection and storage are the key to ensuring viable seeds in the future. “Farmers and companies that are engaged in the produc­tion of wheat should follow pro­tocols, including knowing how to handle seed grain after har­vest and prepare it for the fol­lowing year,” he added.

Dr. Azam mentioned that po­tato also has post-harvest losses. “We must harvest potatoes us­ing machinery to prevent post-harvest crop losses because manual harvesting causes pota­toes to get cut, and cut potatoes become infested with fungus. Therefore, a field-to-fork facility — where one can harvest or use potatoes — should be available to reduce this damage,” he said.

Dr. Azam mentioned that simi­lar post-harvest crop losses oc­cur with other crops such as ba­nana, tomato, melon, mango, and orange. There is a dire need to tighten the supply chain if farm­ers are to reduce their losses.

“Training programs for farm­ers must be arranged at basic levels where they should be taught about techniques and management of these fruit crops,” he suggested.

He said farmers must re­ceive training in supply chain management, which includes instructions on how to harvest fruit, the use of gloves, and hand hygiene. He said the farmers need to be aware of the best times to harvest.

“Treatment follows farmers’ training; some crops need to be treated with cold water, while others need to be treated with hot water,” he said.

“After harvesting, the farmer must be aware of the best place to store the fruits, such as in boxes with holes or a certain type of box. Then for transpor­tation, a suitable chilled trans­portation system, such as reefer trucks, should be in place to transport these fruits to the market because farmers are los­ing money when specialized ve­hicles are not available for par­ticular items,” he said.

Then comes the stage of pack­aging materials, which need to be of good quality and reason­ably priced, as well as viable that needs to have adequate air or proper good insolation mate­rial used so that farmers could store their fruits for a longer duration of time. “The primary harm caused by the absence of these facilities is loss of weight and nutritional value of a prod­uct,” Dr. Azam said.