Monday, 23 September 2013

Quest for the perfect avocado

This week is 'JAF Week' at ACIAR, where many of our international PhD and Masters students supported by John Allwright Fellowships (JAF) come to Canberra to receive training in communicating research, and to network with ACIAR staff and fellow JAF students.

Muhammad Sohail Mazhar of Pakistan was awarded a fellowship to do a PhD on avocado supply chains, at the University of Queensland. His specific area of research is investigating bruising of Hass avocados.
Everybody loves a perfect avocado!

About 80% of Hass avocados are bruised by the time they reach supermarket shelves, which puts many consumers off buying them. This is a significant problem in Australia, where the avocado market is rapidly expanding, with production projected to reach 65,000 tonnes in 2014, from just 46,148 tonnes in 2009-2010.
researcher measuring avocado
Sohail measuring fruit firmness in avocados (Photo: G. Rogers)
To address this problem, Sohail, in collaboration with Horticulture Australia Limited (HAL), has been examining how and when bruising occurs in the avocado supply chain and how to minimise it. This has included a range of experiments to determine the time it takes for a bruise to form on an avocado after the fruit’s received an impact. This has been coupled with studies on different drop heights, fruit firmness and post-impact holding temperatures.

“Results so far indicate that the severity of bruising in ripening fruit increases with greater impact energy, particularly in softer fruits under ambient temperatures (other fruits, such as oranges, actually bruise more when they are hard). Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to scan fruit and confirm damage by dissecting it reveals that bruises progressively increase in size for up to 96 hours following impact,” Sohail says.
Avocados were surveyed along the supply chain in Queensland
(Photo: G. Rogers)
In addition to these experiments, Sohail has also been qualitatively and quantitatively surveying a series of avocado supply chains in southeast Queensland. By surveying the fruit as it passes along the supply chain, he was able to determine when and how much bruising occurs at each stage in the chain. It turns out the worst bruising happens at the final stage—when avocados are on retail shelves.

So Sohail’s studies will next focus on the role of retail staff, shoppers and consumers on the bruising of ripening avocados.
Sohail inspects avocados in a supermarket (Photo: G. Rogers)
Sohail’s research could provide best-practice recommendations for the Australian avocado industry, on how to monitor and reduce the incidence and severity of avocado bruising. It should also help determine priorities for future postharvest research in this rising industry. Avocados serve as a good model for mangoes, so this research will also be useful to the mango industry.

The JAF fellowships are part of the Australian Government's Australia Awards program, which offers upcoming leaders from Australia and overseas high-quality education and professional development experiences that enable them to contribute to the development of their countries. Sohail has found the fellowship to be a rewarding experience, and is certain it has equipped him with the skills he would need to be a leader of international agricultural research back home in Pakistan.

Sohail says “Working together with public and private sector stakeholders has given me the ability to conceptualise, plan and execute multidisciplinary postharvest research focused on whole-of-chain challenges, including the important role of consumers. The experience I have gained through the JAF will benefit both Australia's and Pakistan’s horticultural industry.”

By Rory Thomas
Program Support Officer, Governance and Education & Training Programs

More information:
Sohail's research is using avocado as a proxy for mango, in ACIAR projects HORT/2005/157 Optimising mango supply chains for more profitable horticultural agri-enterprises in Pakistan and Australia and HORT/2010/001 Mango value chain improvement. These projects are part of the larger Australia Pakistan Agriculture Sector Linkages Program.

YouTube video 'The case of the bruised avocados'

Australian Government Australia Awards
John Allwright Fellowships (part of the Australia Awards administered by ACIAR)  

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