Researchers explored the contribution different engineering fields, such as mechanical, systems, electric, electronic and chemical, can make in the post-harvest sphere.
Money talks, hence the necessity to quantify the return on investment delivered by post-harvest research and development and innovation projects and programmes.
Container and cold storage technology
Projects explored a variety of topics, including the validation of time and temperature tolerances (TTTs); alternative cold storage technologies for minor crops; effective low-technology cooling systems; integrity and efficiency of reefer trucks and reefer containers; validation of vent settings in containers; defrost management; and airflow management.
Human capital development
Human capital development is one of the top priorities of the South African fresh produce industry. Specific initiatives are directed at students at schools and universities. They are receiving practical guidance on viable career choices in the agricultural sector to encourage skilled and qualified people to enter the industry. The focus is also on emerging farmers, in a pioneering mentorship intervention to help them develop into fully-fledged and sustainable fruit exporters.
Information and communication technology
An international ethical trade standard and a comprehensive and consolidated online web-accessible agrochemical database have been developed for South Africa. These two initiatives intend not only to benefit the entire South African agricultural sector, but also to be of international use. Another initiative to let the export chain run smoothly, focuses on electronic signature and document management
Integrated packaging solutions
Research teams worked on alternative packaging materials; package design to optimise payload, cooling efficiency and the maintenance of product quality; bulk packaging effects on quality; tailor-made packaging for new/minor crops; and modified atmosphere packaging.
Post–harvest disease and insect control, including phytosanitary compliance
Phytosanitary matters commanded much time and attention, covering aspects such as monitoring systems; mitigation treatments (inorganic chemicals, GRAS treatments, alternative treatments like irradiation and insecticidal CA, green chemistry, optimising cold sterilisation treatments, alternatives to cold-steri and combined treatments); pest preconditioning treatments; and protocols for effective post-harvest control. It is closely linked to food safety and other issues of global importance.
Pre-harvest disposition to post-harvest disorders
The strict phytosanitary requirements of certain fruit export markets create numerous challenges for the South African fresh fruit export industry. In a new, internationally collaborated project, the Spanish citrus industry is helping to reduce chilling injury in our ‘Star Ruby’ grapefruit.
Efforts in this area were related to the physiology of the product, including determination of harvest maturity through destructive and non-destructive methods; prediction and control of physiological disorders and product quality; conditioning treatments; handling, storage and shipping protocols; sensory research (including aroma and off-taste); product maturation, ripening and senescence; and respiratory and ethylene metabolism.
Resource efficiency and sustainability
Underlying most of the projects was the evergreen quest to optimise the use of resources like energy and water; increased use of clean energy to reduce the carbon footprint; and the use of waste products.
Supply chain logistics
Studies in this field covered integrated multi-modal transport; management of short shipments; cargo management in ports; air freight cold chain management; traceability systems; and the effect of logistics on product quality.
The value of innovation is only fully realised when knowledge is effectively and efficiently transferred to participants in the value chain.
Temperature and humidity control
Areas of interest in this area were protocols for cold chain management, including optimal temperatures and humidities; alternative storage and shipping temperatures; monitoring equipment; moisture loss control; and technology transfer on equipment and systems.