Gluts of produce - a problem fast receding
Looks like supermarket owners are currently into fulfilling a
national task. The days of glut commodities and farmer suicides are
receding. Facilitated with mobile State of the Art cooling systems, they
now traverse far and wide into very remote areas and purchase farmer
output - something where even the state apparatus failed.
This surely is not to glorify these food chains, some of whom are
only too noted for undated food items - almost always the production
date gone missing - not to speak of substandard food, like the recent
stale chicken haul and even fabricated expiry dates on food cans.
The problems of over production and produce was so bad that farmers
used to wait for long hours by the wayside eagerly waiting for the
arrival of the middle man, sitting and staring at their rotting output
only to be dumped in the backyard.
According to the Industrial Technology Institute's Dr. Malinee
Abeysekera, though the problem of produce disposal remains, at least its
mitigation is a great solace.
"What we need now is more and more purchasing bodies from the private
sector to come in like what supermarkets are doing," she added.
She also suggests organised production instead of small plots like,
for instance, growing a commodity in five acres instead of one.
She was right, concentrated growing even makes purchasing easier than
the adhoc type where buyers would have to stick to a sort of pecking
Educating the producer into produce preservation is also one of her
strong points in maintaining quality till buyers come which is one of
ITI's (CISIR's) many concern areas. Currently, this institution's
endeavour into such exercise is a raging success with workshops
conducted islandwide at grassroots level not to forget another such in
the offing at Embilipitiya.
For instance, the minimal processing of underutilised tropical
fruits, such as, bread fruit and jak by the ITI has lured many into it
Minimal processing teaches farmers to retain the original colour and
quality of fresh produce for consumer acceptance as today's consumers
are more into going natural. This then is not some foregone conclusion.
One look at those shelves in any grocery will reveal the static sales of
the numerous canned and bottled items which at one time were the
Minimally processed produce, she informed, are living plant tissues
that usually receive washing, sanitation/preservation treatment or both
before being packaged for refrigeration, distribution and marketing.
Many factors in pre and post processing impact minimally processed
products' retention of high quality or marketable shelf life.
Research on minimal processing of under-utilised commodities such as
jak and breadfruit funded by CARP with technical know-how from ITI
reveal the need for pre-treatment of these products to control enzymatic
browning in breadfruit and ripening in jakfruit along with storage
temperature and microbiological analysis to test consumption
ITI insists on absolute cleanliness during processing. In its
workshops farmers are introduced into clean tables, utensils, knives,
chlorinated water and calcium chloride - the last of which helps
strengthen tissues in breadfruit. Jak is dipped in hot water to
deactivate enzymes. Thus extreme care is taken to keep tissues intact
which if damaged leads to spoiling.
Cold storage is essential to prevent colour change and control
ripening. Damaged tissues, according to Abeysekera, quickens respiration
while cold storage prevents browning.
For self-employment purposes she believes even a small refrigerator
would do. All what one needs is around Rs. 15,000 to initiate this
Jak and breadfruit notably are in excess when in season. So much of
it is well-known to rot under trees which in some other country would
have been fully handled to its advantage - bottled, canned, chipped,
packeted and what not.
The technology for successful storage of minimally processed jak
fruit and breadfruit is now complete and is available from the ITI's
Post Harvest Technology group led by Dr. Shanthi Wilson.