Organic post-harvest solutions: the importance of innovation

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The use of biotechnology and other similar methods in the agri-food sector responds to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) set by the United Nations Organization (UN), which mention the importance of reducing food waste, the water footprint, and the emission of polluting gases.

In this way, companies who decide to deploy organic post-harvest solutions can also benefit from improving their reputation with end consumers and better performance in terms of environmental responsibility commitments, something highly valued by consumers today.

Technology and innovation applied to agriculture: progress and future projections

Sustainability and commitment to the environment have been included for a long time among business concerns, but in what state is their implementation in agriculture?

Today, many of the activities necessary for agricultural production contribute significantly to environmental pollution. Among the main ones, we find enteric fermentation, land and water use, energy consumption on farms, synthetic fertilizers, synthetic wax, and packaging made with petroleum-based elements.

All these practices and inputs create tons of polluting gases every year, methane being one of the most damaging due to its impact on global warming. Due to the above, in recent years, investment in biotechnology and other innovative methods has been promoted to modernize agriculture to turn it into a less polluting activity.

For example, the figures show that investment in Agri-food tech (agri-food technology) grew significantly in 2020. In part, this is related to the COVID-19 pandemic, as the importance of efficient supply chains and alternative methods of growing, processing, transporting, and distributing food became more relevant.

In the specific case of post-harvest solutions, seeking to extend the useful life of agricultural products and reduce the incidence of rot, in addition to replacing the use of synthetic components (such as plastic and highly polluting raw materials) to deliver products that are more compatible with global sustainability goals.

How much will agri-food technology grow?

Although there is still a long way to go for agribusiness to limit its contribution to the carbon footprint as much as possible, in general terms, significant progress is being made. For example, the increase in food tech investments is great news that shows corporate interest in adopting more sustainable production, post-harvest, and distribution methods.

In fact, during 2019, investment in food tech reached USD $ 19,800 million, a 250% growth over the previous five years, showing a trend that is gaining strength daily.

Its growth is such that it is estimated that the value of this market will be about USD $ 342.52 billion in 2027.

Post-harvest solutions: from the supply chain to the end consumer

According to FAO, techniques and methods used at each stage of the supply chain can be adapted to consume less energy. The efficiency gain often comes from the modification of agricultural and processing practices, where some alternatives are the use of more fuel-efficient engines, precision manure, fertilizers, irrigation monitoring, the adoption of no-tillage agricultural practices, the use of crop varieties and animal breeds less dependent on inputs.

Faced with all these alternatives, which are valid and contribute with efficiency, post-harvest handling is a step that producers sometimes forget but largely defines business success. Especially when it is taken into account that about 40% of fresh fruit production is lost because it does not withstand humidity and temperature conditions or simply due to poor logistics and storage management.

It is important to note that post-harvest solutions begin in the supply chain since it is where the harvests are received. In other words, the goal is to optimize the handling of agricultural products upon their harvest and before they are sold, so that they can stay for longer on the shelves.

It might appear that this will only affect the product distribution stage and in the halftime before purchase. However, the true impact of innovation is also seen in consumers’ perceptions of the brand.

Consumers recognize the effort of producers and distribution companies choosing to buy natural alternatives. Just as a reference, data from the Export Marketing Bureau of the Philippines (EMB) suggests that 56% of French consumers buy organic food and beverages. In Spain, the share is 54%; in Poland, 53%; in Italy, 49%; and in Germany, 45%.

Something similar occurs in the United States, where numerous studies on purchasing habits and demographics of organic food consumers have made it possible to define some generalizations. One of the most outstanding results is that consumers choose organically produced food due to their concerns regarding health, the environment, and the welfare of animals.

In addition, they are willing to pay higher prices if they are ensured organic origin and treatment.

In this sense, companies need to consider that product origin is not the only relevant item, but the market also assesses their presentation and takes the process to which the fruits are subjected in the post-harvest stage into account.

Addressing this aspect via the deployment of organic solutions is a great opportunity for business expansion and a good sign for end consumers since it means that brands are interested in doing their part to offer better quality products, at the same time promoting a lesser environmental impact.

Examples of organic post-harvest solutions

As the world’s population grows, so does the demand for agricultural production. For example, between 2000 and 2017, the surface area of land destined to agricultural activities increased by about 75 million hectares (twice the area of Japan).

This increase is directly related to the increase in the demand for agricultural products due to population growth, and it is a process that can hardly be contained. Due to the above, the best solution is to deploy “pack and play” type agri-food technologies, that is, technologies that allow addressing the problem of the climate crisis with a lower investment of time and resources, and without impacting the production pace of the agri-food industry.

But what exactly are pack and play post-harvest solutions? In short, it is developing formats that are easy to use for exporters, importers, and distributors, and which provide positive results in the short term without the need for large investments in infrastructure or long waiting times.

An example is Shel-Life, an organic coating made by PolyNatural, based on natural ingredients.

Shel-Life forms a coating on the product that helps reduce fruit waste. This coating format prevents the dehydration of fruits and the proliferation of microorganisms that speed up rotting, extending the useful life of the harvest and reducing the carbon footprint.

PolyNatural is a Chilean company founded in 2016 with the aim of applying smart and disruptive science to the fruit-growing industry. To this date, it has obtained important certifications for the use of organic coatings in various countries, being decisive for producers and exporters to increase their profitability and achieve a better position in various markets.