Boosting national food security | Sunday Observer

Boosting national food security

21 November, 2021
The NIPHM building complex in Anuradhapura
The NIPHM building complex in Anuradhapura

The National Institute of Post-Harvest Management (The Institute of Post-Harvest Technology) functioning under the purview of the Ministry of Agriculture, was established on June 19, 2000 by the Extraordinary Gazette of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka No. 1137/10 to carry out post-harvest research and development on agricultural crops.

The institute has taken over the functions of the Rice Processing Research and Development Centre (RPRDC) of the Paddy Marketing Board at Anuradhapura, which was set up with FAO/ UNDP assistance in 1976. The new Institute has been assigned the functions and responsibilities for carrying out post-harvest research and development on not only rice and grains, but also on other field crops, vegetables, fruits, spice crops and cut flowers.

Distribution of fruits and vegetables 

The National Institute of post-Harvest Management is supposed to serve as the coordinating body to bring together all agencies concerned to identify and prioritise the research needs and implementation of programs for the development of postharvest technology in Sri Lanka. Its vision is to be the centre of excellence in sustainable postharvest development for national food security.

The mission of the National Institute of Post-Harvest Management (NIPHM) is sustainable development of national food security through efficient and effective postharvest technological interventions to strengthen the supply and value chains of the agricultural produce and products with high quality and safe food to cater to the domestic and export markets at a competitive price.


The NIPHM is focused on achieving three goals: Reduction of postharvest losses in perishables to 25 percent and durables to five percent by 2025, development of agro-based industries and strengthening institutional governance.

Among the objectives are technology development and adoption for minimisation of postharvest losses in perishables and durables including 15 fruit crops, 10 vegetable crops, paddy and 10 other field crops, standardisation and improvement of quality and safety food, developing a knowledge hub for postharvest research and development in the SAARC region, development of post-harvest technologies for agro-based industries, development of educational and training programs for people to adopt postharvest loss reduction technologies.

The objectives are achieved by the institute via its major activities: research and development, training, extension, consultancy and other services which are linked to the development of supply and value chains of agricultural crops. The institute focuses its activities on harvesting, handling, storage and preservation, primary and secondary processing, product development, packaging, quality assurance and by-product utilisation of agricultural crops.

The research and development program of the institute is directed towards solving technological and socio-economic problems confronting the postharvest industry. Research program includes fundamental and applied demand driven research institutionally and collaborative with national and international universities and other institutions. Technologies developed via the research program are introduced to the stakeholders and implemented in the postharvest industry through development projects.

Extension network

The Technology Transfer Division of the NIPHM carries out its extension activities through islandwide district offices in liaison with the Department of Agriculture, Department of Agrarian Service, Provincial Councils, Mahaweli Authority, rural development projects and Non-Governmental Organisations. The islandwide extension network consists of eight district offices in major crop producing areas such as Anuradhapura, Ambanpola, Kandy, Nuwara-Eliya, Ampara, Hambantota, Kilinochchi and Colombo. The institute conducts production and extension oriented residential and non-residential training programs for farmers, collectors of fruits and vegetables, wholesalers, traders, processors, extension personnel, students from universities and other educational institutes and beneficiaries of government organisations and other Non-Governmental Organisations. The training of the NIPHM aims at updating knowledge and to ensure effective technology transfer to stakeholders involved in the supply chain and the value chain.

Laboratory testing at the NIPHM

The institute provides consultancy and other services including laboratory and engineering services to public, private and cooperative sector organisations involved in the post-harvest industry. Services are provided to establish new processing plants, modernise mills and plants and to solve technological problems encountered by rice millers and food processors.

The NIPHM helps prepare technical report, feasibility report and special reports for any agro-food processing industry. It supports the stakeholders by providing laboratory and engineering services, especially for quality control in industrial products and process lines. Laboratory services consist of chemical, physical and microbiological services, whereas engineering services consists of machinery and equipment testing and evaluation and operator training.


The institute is equipped with physical, chemical, food processing and microbiological laboratories with modern technologies. It has a workshop with experienced staff for machinery design and fabrication and a grain processing plant for process engineering research and development work. A pilot processing plant for secondary processing and product development research is also available.

The NIPHM has completed nearly 100 research projects from 2017 to 2020 on different aspects of postharvest industry. The findings are being adopted by the stakeholders of the supply and value chains. These include collaborative research with universities and other institutes, both local and foreign as well as the research funded by the private sector in the fields of postharvest technology of durables and perishables, food processing and product development, postharvest pathology and entomology.

Some important research findings of the NIPHM which are being adopted by the post-harvest industry are: rice flour milling machinery; novel rice or rice flake based food products including rice cake, biscuits and other confectionaries; rice ice cream and vegetarian sausages; maturity indices for harvesting of cabbage, beans, moringa, capsicum, luffa and lime to ensure optimum field yield, processed yield and product quality; dehydration and preservation technologies for fruits, vegetables, herbal and medicinal crops to minimise losses and enhance product quality; nonhazardous technologies for fruit ripening; storage technologies for durables and perishables; rice flaking machine, pulse dehuller and other machines for medium scale process lines; spice processing technologies and ornamental flower preservation technologies.

Main development projects by the institute from 2017 to 2021 are: improvement of supply and value chain management practices of mango, guava, papaya, banana, management of supply and value chain of agricultural produces, determination of heavy metal contaminants of economically important food commodities and training of trainers on post-harvest loss reduction of agricultural food crops in major agricultural institutions. Most projects and programs have been conducted to improve supply chains of economically important agricultural commodities.

Post-harvest losses

Serious post-harvest losses and quality deterioration occur during all stages of the horticulture supply chain. Surveys have revealed that the post-harvest loss in fruit and vegetables ranges from 30 - 40 percent which amounts to 0.39 million metric tons per annum. The value of the loss is estimated at Rs 17,500 million. The value of the fruits and vegetables which could be saved annually by reducing post-harvest losses during transportation by 10 percent is Rs 5,800 million. Next to paddy, the horticulture sub-sector is the most prominent in the agriculture sector as fruits and vegetables. Many farmers earn their livelihood through fruit and vegetable growing.

Agriculture plays a major role in the Sri Lankan economy. Many research and development activities on agriculture are being conducted. But a high degree of post-harvest losses tends to retard this development creating many problems. The situation affects the income generated through agriculture employment, quality of fresh and processed agricultural produce at the farm gate and consumer prices.

Cut flowers last only for a few days, therefore, are unable to keep natural beauty and attractiveness in decorations. Flowers end up with a short post-harvest life because of early senescence, wilting, petal falling, ethylene production and vascular blockage by air and micro-organisms. Appropriate preservation techniques could help extend the vase life and reduce post-harvest losses. There is a lack of readily use techniques for shelf-life improvement of cut flowers in the country. Ready-to-use and easily available compounds are crucial in decorations. A study is to develop a ready-to-use formula to improve quality and vase life of cut flowers which have short life.


Mango is a major fruit crop in the country, but due to its rapid ripening process, it has a short shelf life. It represents a serious constraint for efficient handling and transportation. Techniques for storage of mangoes have to be standardised and employed to enhance the storage life.

Edible coatings act as a barrier, decrease gas exchange between fruit and the surrounding atmosphere, resulting in modified internal atmosphere as well as decreased water loss. Edible coatings are used as a postharvest management tool to maintain fruit quality and minimise the size of non-biodegradable packaging materials. A research has been designed to extend the shelf life of mangoes by application of edible wax coating, IPHT bio-wax, chitosan coating and Gum Arabic as postharvest treatments on storage life and quality of mango fruit.

The NIPHM aims to deliver better laboratory services to a wide range of clients to eliminate food safety issues encountered along the supply and value chain management activities such as heavy metal contaminations, pesticide residues, microbiological contaminations, nutritional quality losses and some other physical quality changes including moisture content and firmness changes.

A project for laboratory upgrading was initiated. A Microbiology laboratory and a food processing laboratory were upgraded with modern facilities and a laboratory accreditation process was initiated.