A farmer’s job has many risks. He normally has to worry about such issues as the quality of seeds to plant, when to plant, and how much seed to plant as well as its spacing.
A false step during any of these stages could lead to the loss of the entire crop growing season. He worries about the weather and the possibility of farm thefts or the damage caused by stray animals and the wild birds. His other worry is of possible losses during harvesting, after harvesting, and also during the storage or transportation of the harvested crops.
Producers of fast perishable foodstuffs like fruits, vegetables, and animal protein food products like milk, meat or fish face even greater risks. In a situation like ours, when we have no electricity to support cold storage facilities or good roads to ease transport in most of the rural areas, the farmer seems to live in constant anxiety. Such hardships often render us vulnerable to merciless traders who take our hard-earned produce at meaningless prices lest we keep it for too long then rot and perish.
Having gone through all the rigours of planting and crop nourishment, some thought has to be given to every decision that you take at the time of harvesting a crop. For example, some farmers, eager to lengthen the shelf life of fruits like mangoes, may harvest them before they are really ripe. But it is also good to consider the disappointment of the consumer and the subsequent negative impact on the market quality when the mangoes’ taste falls short of what is expected because they were harvested prematurely.
Most agriculturists recommend that produce is harvested at the right maturity stage to keep them attractive to the consumers and to promote sales.
One good basis to depend on when determining maturity is the number of known weeks or days a crop takes to mature. For some fruits, their colour and size are enough to tell if they are mature. A farmer should know if the cabbage is mature by looking at its size and firmness. Some people will make a gentle tap on a fruit like a jackfruit or a pineapple and judge if it is ripe by the sound produced.
Avoiding the fruit bruises
Fruits from tall trees like paw paw, mangoes and avocados will usually get bruises when they fall on hard ground. A careful farmer will attach a net on a pole to harvest such fruits to minimise losses. Some people will consider climbing up the trees or using ladders to pick the fruits with their bare hands.
However, for farmers who climb trees to pick the fruits, care has to be taken because some tree branches may break under the extra weight of the farmer and also snakes often hide in fruit trees.
Careless use of farming tools during harvesting may cause bruises on the foodstuffs and lead to their degradation. For example, while harvesting such items as cassava or potatoes, the hoe could make accidental cuts on them and expose them to destructive micro-organisms and unfavourable appearance. To minimise moisture loss and disfigurement in such crops as fruits and vegetables, it is better to harvest in the morning hours and to keep the items under the shade. It is also good to transport such delicate foodstuffs as fresh vegetables and fruits packed in clean wooden boxes or crates.
Modern technology will save you worry
The best solution to all our post-harvest worries, however, lies in how fast we embrace modern food processing and preservation technologies. Some people call it value addition.
The new approach now is for leaders of farmers’ groups and development NGOs to periodically invite experts from District Agricultural Training and Information Centres (Datics) as well as dieticians and food science technology personnel from Naro and some of our public universities and colleges to teach farmers about food preservation and processing.
The campaign now is not merely about food production; we also emphasise food processing and preservation. When, for example, a farmer has learnt how to make wine out of pineapples, that farmer will not rush to harvest and sell his pineapples to fruit traders at give-away prices because he is afraid that they will rot and perish.
When he has learnt how to make banana chips or potato chips, he will not worry too much about some of his potatoes and bananas that get bruises during harvesting and acquire a poor appearance. He will soon discover that he even earns more money selling bottled fruit juice than selling actual fruits in a hurry. The farming household will still have some preserved food to eat during times of prolonged drought and food scarcity.