RSP Ammad amin
Village Hill, Beer Valley, District Haripur
Although Maqsood Ahmed is a prolific farmer, who plants Japanese medlar/Maltese plum, mango, guava and peach yet all he ever worried over was from the tree to the crate. Only when confronted with fruit from Afghanistan or Iran, did he ever wonder how come that so many days after picking, transportation, unpacking and then further sales and handling, did it all remain fresh? Whereas, in his own words, “when I took the produce to the market in Haripur it lost its freshness and also started rotting quickly”.
Maybe it was this concern which he conveyed to Amad, (RSP) NMA, who gladly brought forth his knowledge on the subject and offered help. Both could easily recall there was a time when the mango of Beer valley, District Haripur was famous all across Pakistan for its taste and now is not enough to meet the needs of even the valley. Many mangos fall before ripening due to various diseases, the remaining are lost either in harvesting or post harvesting and very few get to reach the market.
Along with some men, Maqsood signed up for the trainings. There were also 10 women farmers eager to learn a world of information about post-harvest losses. The farmer in him realized that the fresh dung added to the crops only adds to the losses instead, due to sun exposure and water but mostly due to the hence caused plant diseases.
The eye opener for Maqsood was the damage the farmer himself causes to his produce, “we used to harvest with conventional methods like shaking the branches. This resulted in bruised fruit and the quality was affected”. Majority of the fruit is damaged on the way to the market as it is not properly transported, the bags used do not have proper ventilation therefore in the hot summer the fruit rots quickly.
The training brought forward the need for proper packaging. Imported baskets were provided to the farmers to prove the point further, through the test run transportation. Says Maqsood, “I noticed that due to proper air circulation the fruit remained fresh. The wooden crates as well as the bags we use increase the chances of contamination and of course bruises are bad due to the rough planks and the nails in the crates”. Sadly the locally prepared baskets also result in bruises for the fruit.
The demo baskets provided are used in Iran, Afghanistan and other neighboring countries. They are made such that the air circulates within so as to increase fruit shelf life. The challenge in such baskets is that they are not locally made and new ones are costly hence raising the expenses on one hand but on the other saving money as less fruit is damaged. However “thankfully these baskets are reusable and are available in the market at a reasonable price so instead of purchasing new those can be bought” explains Maqsood. One basket has the capacity of 8-10 Kg tomatoes (with bigger capacity are also available) and is priced around 50 PKR.
Maqsood has also gotten to learn the poison he has been spreading along with his fellow farmers in the form of calcium carbide. It has become a (bad) practice that in order to ripen the mangoes early, the farmers usually use calcium carbide which is carcinogenic and detrimental for health. It made Maqsood realize that “the mango that ripens on the tree is the sweetest and they do not need this dangerous chemical to ripen”. Then there is also this practice of using old newspapers as a sheet under the fruit in wooden crates. The newspaper has an ink that is also carcinogenic. It is better to use brown sheets and green leaves under the fruit to protect it from damages.
The trainings have helped Maqsood with some introspection, “On top of all the detrimental practices we were carrying out, we were technically lagging as well. We had no concept of grading and sorting. We used to pack good and bad quality together but now we practice what we learn. On the bottom we make a soft bed of leaves, on top of which we arrange the fruit. Even in the choice of leaves, we have to use local plants whose leaves do not go bad too soon or wither away without water”.
Boasting the bearings of a farmer who has woken up to success, Maqsood further elaborates on his plans. “During the monsoonal damages, the mangoes which fall too early brought us only loss. This was an annual loss, one we could not safeguard against. But during this project our women have learnt to prepare jams and pickles from the early fruit. This year we are all prepared to make jam from Japanese medlar which is totally new to the market and no one has tried it before”. Life is full of possibilities, all one needs to do is to be open to knowledge.
From tree to crate Maqsood, a prolific farmer is no longer apprehensive as he started practicing techniques to minimize post-harvest losses. Along with the concept of grading, sorting and packaging this time Maqsood refrained himself from applying any fruit ripening chemicals. Instead of selling early detached mangoes in market at loss he has plans to transform these into jams and pickles. Same with Japanese medlar as he is aspiring to launch the Jam in the market which will be first of its kind!