Post-harvest horticultural fruit and vegetable losses are more significant in municipal markets in Samoa compared to roadside vendors.
This was one of the findings of a scientific research led by Professor Steven Underhill from the University of Queensland, Australia.
The reason, Prof. Underhill said, is because people tend to find roadside vendors convenient, the produce are fresher and it’s easy to access.
Prof. Underhill and staff of the Scientific Research Organisation of Samoa undertook a two-year project funded by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (F.A.O.) that focused on improving the capacity of small farmers to market a consistent supply of safe, quality food.
The project also involved research, which would help reduce post-harvest horticulture fruit and vegetable loss in Samoa.
On Friday, a workshop was held at the F.A.O. sub-regional office in Apia to conclude the project and present results, key recommendations and development activities to improve smallholder post-harvest handling practice in Samoa.
Prof. Underhill told the Business team they adopted the participatory farmer collaboration engagement — a new concept in Samoa that allowed farmers to take part in field testing to identify post-harvesting equipment that could better support post-harvest handling practice.
“So what’s involved is a lot of workshops on both Upolu and Savaii, trying to share information with farmers about post-harvest practice, food safety awareness and also try to get the farmers into a conversation about what sort of equipment and things that they want to evaluate,” he said.
“We’ve been working heavily with small holder farmers, but then there’s been a large amount of work done with market vendors. My view is that the women market vendors do it really hard.”
Prof. Underhill said market vendors in the municipal market face problems with food safety because there’s no proper water supply, except for the tap water available in the lavatory.
“So there’s a fundamental design problem in the market place that needs to be addressed. The vendors cannot put some of the training that we are suggesting in place in terms of good food safety practices if they don’t have easy access to clean water to implement them,” Prof. Underhill said.
He highlighted road side market vendors are absolutely critical to food distribution because people are trending away from municipal markets to roadside markets.
“I don’t think the roadside vendors are doing something different; it’s just that it’s convenient. If we can get the roadside markets to operate in an efficient way, probably we can get multiple vendors selling in a roadside market.”
Prof. Underhill suggested that having a market vendors association will help vendors voice their opinions and concerns as one single association.
“If you’re throwing away 20-30 percent of your fresh horticultural product because the supply chain system is not working, can Samoa afford to throw away that amount of money and that amount of food, no you can’t it has to be fixed.
“Having value added ideas to address post-harvest losses is interesting. What we were finding is that fruit farmers tend to have the worst post-harvest problem.
“If you were to say who has got the biggest issue, it’s vendors because vendors are the ones who have to sell the products that are being stored, handled or picked in the wrong way, they are the ones who incur the losses, they are the ones who incur the consequences of consumers not getting the products that they want and they may not want to buy it again, so at the end of the day, no matter whose fault it is, the vendors are the one who pay the financial price.”
Prof. Underhill said such findings is critical to food security because when the produce is being stored for long, its nutritional benefit is lost.
“If you throw away most of the produce, it means the vendor has to increase the price of the product to try and compensate the losses and if the quality is not good enough, the hotels will have to import the fruits and vegetables.
“Best post-harvest practices are the missing link in being good farmers. Post-harvest losses are actually money because farmers spend money on fertilisers, seeds, tools and if that product does not translate into sale, then it’s a loss."