Interview

Harvest Savior

Issue 88 - Fall 2020

US agricultural expert Lisa Kitinoja, founder of the Postharvest Education Foundation, trains smallholders in Africa and Asia.

Lisa Kitinoja (center), Postharvest Education Foundation
You have been working with farmers in developing countries for three decades. What is your experience? 

Kitinoja: People are generally aware of the problem of food loss. Many organizations have raised awareness of the issue over the past decade. In developing countries, post-harvest losses often occur due to the rough handling of the crop, the lack of suitable containers and storage facilities, and poor temperature management. The amount of losses can only be estimated, however, since the resources required for field measurements are rarely available. 

Do smallholders have the same problems everywhere?

Kitinoja: There are regional differences that are primarily due to the crops grown. African farmers often plant bananas, root and tuber crops as staple foods, which are more perishable. In India, on the other hand, people eat a lot of legumes such as lentils and chickpeas, which can be stored dry for a long time. Here the losses tend to be lower. 

Which low-tech methods have proven particularly effective in practice?

Kitinoja: There are many helpful tools out there. The use of picking poles to harvest tree fruits, the storage of fruits and vegetables in air-permeable plastic boxes and the use of evaporative cooling are very effective because the damage is less. For grain, solar drying on special grid trays and storage in specially sealed containers is recommended in order to significantly extend the shelf life and saleability.

In which region has progress been made?

Kitinoja: In the Indian states of Maharashtra and Punjab in particular, farmers have invested in better post-harvest methods and have received government support in doing so. More modern food supply chains have emerged, including perishable food cold chains, resulting in lower post-harvest losses. 

Vielen Dank für das Gespräch!
Photo: Postharvest Education Foundation

To the main story

Uneaten: Food loss is a global problem

A third of all food produced is never eaten for two reasons: through waste and through loss. While one is more of a rich country problem that is receiving increasing attention, the other often affects poorer countries - and may be underestimated.