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Professionals aim to lower Haiti’s high level of crop losses

Lemane Delva (middle) demonstrates how to use a smartphone and glow germ technology to verify hands are washed properly. Good hygiene is vital for fruit and vegetable handlers to protect consumer health.

Lemâne Delva (middle) demonstrates how to use “glow germ technology” to verify hands are washed properly. Good hygiene is vital for fruit and vegetable handlers to protect consumer health.

PETIONVILLE, Haiti — Agricultural experts from across Haiti gathered recently to learn ways to solve one of the country’s most-challenging food supply issues: Crop losses after harvest.

The problem plagues Haiti’s mostly small-scale farmers, who lose on average nearly 50 percent of their harvested fruits, vegetables and other crops because of an array of hard-to-solve factors, said Lemâne Delva, director of research for the Appui à la Recherche et au Développement Agricole (AREA) project. These include inefficient transportation systems, inappropriate packaging, poor storage conditions and improper postharvesting practices, which can promote food-borne illnesses.

AREA, also known as Support to Agricultural Research and Development (SARD), is a U.S. Agency for International Development-sponsored Feed the Future project to improve Haiti’s agricultural sector and the living conditions of farmers. The project is managed by the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Scarcity of food

There is a lot riding on finding solutions to the high postharvest crop losses in Haiti, where a vast number of people suffer from chronic food insecurity and undernutrition.

To learn ways to combat postharvest losses, nearly 20 professionals from an array of Haitian agricultural institutions and companies attended the training session held Dec. 14 and 15 at Hotel Villa Therese.

Trainers Delva, a native of Haiti who possesses a doctorate in food science and human nutrition from the University of Florida, and Antonio Antoine, a postharvest and food safety expert on the AREA project, covered everything from the causes of postharvest losses, best practices for harvesting, and the critical role played by storage, packaging and transportation.

In addition to theoretical sessions, the attendees worked on exercises such developing an action plan for the commercializing of fresh fruits and vegetables, including proper hygiene and processing.

“Reducing postharvest losses and improving food safety will increase food security in Haiti,” Delva said. He pronounced the two-day training a success for bringing together many agricultural experts to discuss a problem that has plagued Haiti for generations.

Attendees from a variety of public, private organizations
Attendees included faculty members from higher education institutions, a woman-owned management company; and Delicious Fruits S.A., a producer of dried fruits such as mangoes, pineapples and coconuts.

AREA food safety expert Antonio Antoine (left) stands with attendees, which included representatives of higher education institutions, a woman-owned management company and Delicious Fruits S.A., a producer of dried fruits.

Among the attendees were faculty members from agricultural colleges that have partnered with the AREA project; Les Produits Yo La, a food production, processing and distribution company; and Delicious Fruits S.A., a producer of dried fruits such as mangoes, pineapples and coconuts.

The training is part of a series of programs Delva and Antoine are leading as part of the AREA project’s postharvest technology and food safety effort. Their work also includes researching ways to reduce aflatoxinin in key crops grown in Haiti: rice, corn, sorghum and peanuts. Aflatoxin is produced by fungi and contaminates crops during and after harvest when storage conditions are inappropriate. It poses serious health hazards to consumers, and is particularly a danger to those in Haiti, where studies show aflatoxin levels exceed the 20 particles per billion level deemed as safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“The risk to human health and the negative economic impact of food-borne illnesses is very high,” Antoine said.

Sabrina Aliné, a representative of the National Association of Fruit Processors, or ANATRAF, said the training was valuable enough that she wished it lasted longer.

“We needed more time for the practical exercises we had,” she said. “I hope we could have some field visits next time to put into practice what the facilitators have covered.”

Delva and Antoine plan to conduct other trainings in basic food safety systems in the coming year.

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