Wednesday, 2 March 2016

John Allwright Fellow - postharvest technologies for Cambodian vegetable farmers

Dr Peter Horne
General Manager – ACIAR Country Programs

On a visit to Cambodia in December last year, one of our team recognised a young woman in the café where we had stopped for an essential coffee recharge. We struck up a conversation with Thida (Sambath Sonnthida) and she started talking passionately about her experiences as a John Allwright Fellow with ACIAR, which was a great surprise to us. Here is her story:

Vegetable production in Cambodia is insufficient to meet consumer demand. To overcome this shortage, Cambodia imports 40-60% of its vegetables from neighbouring countries such as Vietnam and Thailand. During the peak season (February-March) however there is often an oversupply of locally produced vegetables. Farmers often have a difficult choice to make of either not harvesting their vegetables or selling them at a very low price. Product losses are also high, with farmers and other actors in the chain having limited knowledge on how to best manage the crop postharvest. Some postharvest technologies (such as cool storage) are also quiet costly.

Thida at work in the lab
Simple postharvest technologies offer an alternative for countries such as Cambodia. Modified atmosphere package (MAP), is one technology that has been identified as having potential to maintain product quality and shelf life. In Australia, results conducted under Cambodian simulated conditions have provided some benefit.  The work I am currently undertaking in Cambodia, will test this technology in the field to ensure that the lab-based results do indeed translate to the field. I will look at whether or not MAP enables farmers to hold mature green tomatoes on their farms for a period to enable them to sell at a later date. The objective of this research is to evaluate the effectiveness of MAP under Cambodian ambient environment on delaying the ripening process and maintaining the quality of mature green tomatoes. 1-Methylcyclopropene fumigation, the ethylene inhibitor (inhibiting the ripening and/or senescence), is also being tested in combination with MAP on retaining quality and prolonging shelf life of pak choy and choy sum at the high-end levels in Phnom Penh City and Siem Reap province.

It’s fascinating work, Thida. We look forward to hearing about the outcomes, hopefully over a coffee in Phnom Penh.

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