Post harvest handling must be improved - IPHT Director
Post harvest handling of Sri Lanka's fruits and vegetable sector is
still at a primitive stage and improvement is needed to make agriculture
a commercially profitable venture, said the director of the Post Harvest
Technology Institute (IPHT) Dr. Swarnashika Thilakaratne.
Plastic crates introduced recently to transport fruits and vegetables
are only a basic method of post harvest handling. The pilot project of
IPHT to promote plastic crates was successful but it is not being used
by farmers or traders in the wholesale business of fruit and vegetables.
At the Dambulla Economic Centre, not a single supplier uses them
though the Ministry of Internal Trade and Consumer Affairs has mandated
it. Plastic crates were provided at a 50 percent subsidised price and
farmers and traders were educated about its advantages under this
According to research over 20 percent of the post harvest loss of
fruits and vegetables takes place during transportation. It can be
reduced to eight percent by using crates instead of polysacks. The total
post harvest loss of fruit and vegetables is estimated at around 30 to
40 percent and this is a huge loss to the national economy", Dr.
Traders resist using plastic crates because it reduces the quantity
they can transport in a lorry load from 4,000 kg to 2500 kg. However,
they ignore the savings, quality improvements and the resulting higher
price they can earn. Small scale farmers too don't like to use plastic
Their grouse is that they face difficulties while transporting
products by bus or public transport and carrying empty crates back was
another burden. Another issue is the high cost of crates. The Ministry
of Internal Trade is ready to strictly enforce the rule and has informed
all traders to use plastic crates to transport fruits and vegetables.
Dr. Thilakaratne said that modern post harvest handling practices of
perishable items such as fruits and vegetables are very advanced. If we
are to improve the system more collection centres should be established
in the farming areas. Farmers need to be educated on correct harvesting
practices. Harvesting at the right maturity stage of fruits and
vegetables is essential to maintain quality and reduce post harvest
losses. Most farmers collect the harvest, looking at the market price
and not maturity of the fruits.
For instance mango farmers lease the tree and traders pluck all the
fruits in a whole tree without considering the maturity of the fruits.
As a result mangoes in the market are of low quality while artificial
methods are used to ripen them. If we further improve the supply chain,
we can set up pack house with cold stores in collection centres,
introduce sorting and grading of the harvest, use refrigerated trucks
for transportation and establish cold stores at transit points of the
supply chain. These methods can significantly reduce post harvest
losses. However, these methods are not realistic at present because even
the introduction of primary methods such as plastic crates is difficult.
IPHT carries out continuous education and awareness programs for farmers
If refrigerated trucks are not used to transport perishable
commodities, they should be transported in the night. Loss due to heat
and sunlight are higher when they are transported during the day. Our
fruits and vegetables have a export demand but the quality issue is the
main barrier in capturing the market, she said. IPHT has made a great
contribution to the agricultural sector since its establishment in 2000.
The Rice Processing Development Centre (RPDC) established in 1976 under
the Paddy Marketing Board (PMB) is the predecessor of IPHT. It was set
up to improve the quality of rice and other grains produced in the
country, by introducing modern technology and post harvest handling
practices. In 2000, the PMB was abolished and the IPHT was established
as a separate statutory board under the Ministry of agriculture with a
broader scope to carry out research and provide solutions for post
harvest handling of grain, perishable commodities and spices. The
institute does research to invent new technology, products and machinery
to address issues in the supply chain of agro products and improve the
quality. The knowledge is disseminated to stakeholders while programs
are held to continuously educate them. Dr. Thilakaratne said that
technology introduced by IPHT has considerably improved the quality of
rice produced in the country. Our innovations are cost effective, simple
technologies that can be used at household level by small and large
We educate farmers on correct harvesting practices, threshing and
storage practices of paddy that are essential to produce quality rice.
The new technology introduced to produce parboiled rice is another
success story. In the method we introduced, paddy should be washed and
soaked before boiling. We introduced a small parboiling vessel that can
boil 35 kg at a time using steam.
It reduced boiling time from 1.5-2 hours in the traditional method to
20 minutes. Later we did research to address practical issues
encountered by producers and improved it. Our efforts were successful
and can proudly say that we have contributed to improve the quality of
There are over 6,000 small scale rice producers in the country using
this technology. We do research on real problems faced by our
stakeholders and work closely with the farmer community, she said.
Senior Research Officer D.P.C. Swarnasiri said that IPHT has studied
the quality of rice in the market on three occasions. In our first study
in 1984 it was found that fungi called aflatoxin, caused due to high
moisture content, in 35 percent of the rice sold in the market while
none of the rice in the market were in the premium or grade 1-3.
This does not mean they are not suitable for consumption, but all
parameters that measure the quality were not met.
In 2000 we did research and found that the fungi was not available in
rice and 15 percent of raw rice and 24 percent of parboiled rice were in
grade 2 and 3.
Research in 2008, found that 41 percent of raw rice and 35 percent of
parboiled rice were in grade 1, 2 and 3 and fungi was also not found.
Rice available in supermarkets was of better quality and 64 percent of
raw rice and 83 percent of parboiled rice were in grade 1, 2 and 3.