Reducing post-harvest vegetable losses
By Ahmad Fraz Khan
though, only second to staple when placed on national food
security list, are facing enormous problems that are causing
fall in production, and their post-harvest losses, already
alarmingly high, are increasing.
Value addition industry, which helps control these losses
and earns additional money for the sector, is almost
non-existent. Hybrid technology is yet to be introduced in
the vegetables seed sector.
There has been no breakthrough even in traditional seed
technology or managments pactices, which could help the
sector grow. These are some of the major problems, otherwise
the list can still go on further.
All this is happening despite increasing population and
multiplying national demand for vegetables every year. The
growing gap between demand and supply keeps rising.
The rising price trend is further fueled by receding writ of
the government, where every seller is allowed to fix his/her
own prices and fleece the poor.
National statistics of vegetables production tells the story
how the secor is being allowed to sink in the mire. During
the Kharif 2005-06, vegetable production stood at 1.2 milion
tons. It dropped to under one million tons in next four
Similarly, Rabi (2005-06) production of vegetable crops,
which was 2.2 million tons, came down to two million tons
last year (2009-10). (These figures exclude potato and onion
production). During these four years, population grew and
the demand for vegetable increased.
How the officialdom deals with the sector is evident from
the initiative Punjab took last December, when vegetable
prices shot through the roof in the province — proud
producer of 65 per cent vegetables in the country.
The Punjab chief minister announced a provincial plan to
double vegetable production and bring prices down to half in
the next three-four months by sowing them on all available
land under the provincial government and improve supply side
A media campaign followed, and an initial allocation of
Rs2.7 million was made. The time for the project is already
up, but not a single penny has been relased so far. No one
in official circles even mentions the plan, which received
so much attention four months ago.
The country needs to increase production by developing new
seeds and technologies. The most essential step is to
improve seeds pool of roughly 30 vegetables that are
produced in Rabi and Kharif seasons. Most countries in the
world including India, did it long ago, and were reaping the
benefit. They not only improved their traditional seed
stock, but also went into hybrid, which simply multiplied
Pakistan, however, is still to encourage any such initiative
— both on traditional seeds and hybrid. That is why no local
company has dared into vegetable hybrid seed yet. All the
so-called vegetables hybrid seeds, which are still scant in
use, are coming from the Far East and no one knows about the
parentage and gene strenght of these seeds. The country is
risking so-called hybrid seeds despite suffering badly on
cotton, because untested hybrid seed import for years. It
now seems to be repeating the mistake on other fronts.
In addition to multiplying yield through hybrid seeds, they
also developed, what is known as, ‘stay green’ factor in
seeds. This factor delays over-maturing process, and
vegetable stays green and usable on the plant for longer
period. It gives farmer time to stagger harvesting and sale
of the crop. In our country, with the usage of traditional
seed, the crop, once matured, very quickly over-matures and
rots, generating pressure on farmers to harvest and sell it
It robs the farmer of any manoeuvrebility in time for
harvesting and sale. The stay green seeds are common in the
world now, and there is no reason why we should not benefit
from this breakthrough.
In the country, essential research has stalled on almost all
vegetable seeds, leave alone trying to bring in new factors
like stay green. That is where the government needs to work.
The government can help the sector and farmers greatly by
controlling post-harvest losses, which are ranging between
35 -40 per cent. If the government can build cool chain
infrastructure, it can bring losses down to five to 10 per
cent, improving national supplies by a substantial 30 to 35
per cent. That bring the prices down for urban dwellers,
alleviate poverty in rural areas and boost vegetable
Luckily, most crops are produced here in geographical
clusters. Over 80 per cent potato is produced in one
district in Punjab; entire citrus crop is concentrated in
Sargodha division, and entire mango is produced in southern
Punjab. It makes it easier to develop infrastructure to
control post-harvest losses and save the common man from
rising prices, which are now spinning beyond their financial
Courtesy: The DAWN