The marketing chain involves all the best practices recommended in handling produce, right from the point of harvest on the farm to the market.
These include: harvesting of produce from the field, transport of product from field to pack houses, packaging of produce and transit, that is, from the farm to the airport.
Proper harvesting and correct stage for harvesting have a great bearing on the final quality of a fruit or vegetable. In a number of vegetables, harvesting is restricted to a narrow interval of time.
Beyond this time, changes take place, which make the vegetables less valuable on the market. For instance, French beans and okra become fibrous.
Harvesting time can be spread out by planting different types of same vegetables that mature at different times.
A time interval could also be allowed between seed sowing dates to bring about staggered planting.
Harvesting should always be guided by the consumer. Export produce should neither be too mature nor be harvested prematurely.
When vegetables are harvested, they should be cleaned, cooled, packed and then transported. Careful handling should be taken not to drop, crush or bruise the vegetables or fruits at any stage.
This encourages micro-organisms that cause rotting. Pre-cooling of produce as soon as it is removed from the field is encouraged. This minimises shrinkage (excess loss of weight).
A shade should be provided at the farms to protect crops harvested from adverse weather conditions. Vegetables are initially packed to be transported to pack house without getting damaged.
Packaging should be done properly to protect produce with minimum damage to packet contents. Avoid packing produce in sacks, because sacks are stacked on top of each other, produce in the lower layers get damaged.
Pack in a cold store, if available, and avoid overfilling boxes. Packaging in a cold store is not practised in this country because most exporters lack refrigerators.
The high air temperatures contribute to fast deterioration of freshly harvested vegetables and these results in poor quality produce.
Do not pack produce infested with pests or diseases. This is done by proper sorting of the produce.
Transit of produce to airport
Perishable products require a quick and reliable transport. There is need to maintain a cold chain by using refrigerated trucks that carry produce from farm to airport.
Careful handling from farm to airport is important. Do not handle produce roughly, throwing, kicking and walking on cartons.
Principles of fresh fruits and vegetable handling include; harvesting at the right stage, not too mature or prematurely, removing field heat quickly by cooling produce under shade.
And then, sort, grade and pack in a cold store.
The above mentioned post-harvest handling procedures must be observed by farmers and exporters of fruits and vegetables in order to obtain high-quality produce that meets international market requirements.
You should not risk your consignment being rejected in the market because of failure to meet market requirements for quality.