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Cycle 8 (2019 Deadline)

Enhancing postharvest technologies and food safety innovations in fresh tomato value chain

PI: Yasinta Muzanila (, Sokoine University of Agriculture
U.S. Partner: Yaguang Luo, United States Department of Agriculture/ Agricultural Research Service
Project Dates:  November 2019 - December 2021

Project Overview:

8-81 Lab Work
The team analyzes samples in the lab (photo courtesy of Dr. Muzanila).
Although tomato is the dominant vegetable crop produced in Tanzania, it exhibits amongst the highest postharvest losses in the horticulture sector, ranging between 30% and 60%. Various initiatives have shown limited success and no marked effect on postharvest loss reduction in Tanzania. Most of these initiatives are based on a single component of postharvest loss solutions. While past studies suggest the use of a holistic model for postharvest loss reduction, the impact of this model has not been tested in the tomato value chain. By working with partners across the public and private sectors, this PEER project model integrates the building of local capacities through innovative training; the uptake of innovative, small-scale, appropriate postharvest technologies; and research into intersectoral collaboration. The goal of the study is to contribute to improving the productivity of smallholder farmers and reducing postharvest losses through capacity building and uptake of innovative postharvest technologies. The key activities of the project include (1) assessing farmers’ knowledge and behavior regarding postharvest technologies in the tomato value chain; (2) developing a postharvest technology plan in the tomato supply chain; (3) evaluating food safety improvements and quality changes of the postharvest technology plan; and (4) providing training on suitable postharvest handling practices.

The project will leverage the resources and technical support of the U.S. partner Dr. Luo in developing cost-effective postharvest technologies and sanitizers to ensure the quality and microbial safety of tomato. Dr. Luo will participate in the preparation of tailor-made food safety extension materials for capacity building to farmers, extension staffs, and postharvest handlers. The project will integrate its activities into the mainstream of the Tanzania Horticultural Association and local government authorities to operate most efficiently. The project beneficiaries are smallholder farmers, including women and youth, who will be specifically targeted for participation. It is expected that by the end of the project at least 150 smallholder farmers and traders will try out new or improved postharvest handling practices to ensure produce safety, quality, and quantity.

Final Summary of Project Activities

Various initiatives have shown limited success and no marked effect on postharvest loss reduction in Tanzania. The aim of Dr. Muzanila and her team’s project was to fill the gap by building local capacities through innovative training on appropriate postharvest technologies in the tomato value chain. The key activities of the project focused on three major tasks:

Task 1: Assess farmers’ knowledge and behavior on postharvest technologies in the fresh tomato value chain. The project team comprehensively evaluated the current postharvest loss of tomatoes, as well as farmers’ beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions of conventional and improved postharvest technologies. They found that perceived benefit and costs, absorptive capacity, complexity, and compatibility of postharvest technologies chiefly influence their adoption. The team also surveyed the social aspect of the postharvest technologies and focused on gender-related issues, such as dynamics of power in the tomato value chain, ownership of the technologies, and, the extent to which the reduction of postharvest losses excludes people from the value chain. The research team established the scientific evidence for fundamental gender and environmental issues underpinning the adoption of postharvest technologies by smallholder farmers. This information has formed the basis for a database on the status of postharvest losses in Kilolo Districts.

Task 2: Develop a post-harvest technology plan for improving fresh tomato safety and quality. The project applied a participatory research approach to select an appropriate postharvest technology plan for reducing post-harvest loss based on smallholder farmers' needs and priorities. Farmer participants worked together with the research team and a horticultural specialist from the horticultural unit of the Department of Agriculture of Kilolo District Council to select local and impactful postharvest handling practices. A thorough analysis of the existing situation was conducted in the three-agroecological zones of Kilolo. Under impact analysis, farmers proposed an intervention that constitutes a set of postharvest handling practices that would make a real difference to their farm performance. The impact analysis was quite useful in identifying areas for interventions with low-cost postharvest technologies and avenues for capacity building in these areas. Based on the farmers’ needs, the team proposed postharvest handling practices, which can have the greatest impact on reducing post-harvest loss such as proper harvesting, precooling after harvest (on-farm cooling (eg. ZECC), proper packaging (plastic crates), cleaning or disinfecting, sorting and grading, storage, appropriate mode of transportation, and sanitation. The research team therefore developed the comprehensive postharvest technology plan that covers two majors area for improvement: (i) postharvest handling practices for tomatoes at harvesting, pre-cooling after harvest, cleaning or disinfecting, sorting and grading, packaging, storage, and transportation; (ii) postharvest treatment techniques for maintaining the quality of fresh tomatoes.

Task 3: Training on pre-harvest and gender-based postharvest technology and practices. The research team set up an innovation demonstration farm (IDF) after designing the facility in collaboration with Kilolo District horticultural management team after a brief visit to Mahenge ward for site identification in November 2020. The site set-up was implemented by a private company, TONE Irrigation Co. Ltd. of Arusha, Tanzania. The IDF was installed with low-cost and gender-based postharvest technologies such as thatch shade, improved packages such as plastic crates, field packing, grading/packing stations, and simple postharvest equipment such as a washing station, sand, and brick-based evaporative cooling (zero-energy cool chamber). The IDF was managed by a team composed of the Mahenge ward agricultural officer, Irindi agricultural extension officer, and farmers’ group steering committee. The IDF management team was trained by the project team and Kilolo district horticultural management team on basic skills such as inventory control, supervision, and recordkeeping. The team’s preliminary studies under Task 1 revealed that postharvest losses in Kilolo District are intensified by smallholder farmers’ lack of knowledge of good agricultural practices, especially during seed selection, seedling production, land preparation, pest management, and fertilizer application. The project team provided several demonstrations and training programs on pre-harvest and good agricultural practices. Twenty-five young farmers (17 men, 8 women), the Kilolo District horticultural management team, two agricultural extension officers, and an irrigation engineer from TONE Irrigation were involved in the demonstrations. In addition, the PEER teams also conducted several training workshops on postharvest technologies to support farmers and build their capacity. The training covered a wide range of topics such as harvest practices, maturity and quality, packing and packaging materials, post-harvest pest management, temperature and relative humidity control, storage practices (on-farm and small scale), transport practices, and food safety issues and practices. The project team implemented training at two levels: (i) training of agricultural extension specialists serving as trainers of farmers and (ii) training of farmers, traders, packers, and transporters. The research team convened a ten-day workshop for trainers of farmers. The project recruited and trained 16 agricultural extension officers from Kilolo District as post-harvest horticulture trainers. The project team organized 5 training workshops and onsite training of farmer group, with a total of 147 beneficiaries, including smallholder farmers, traders, packers, and transporters.

Research Outputs

Innovation Demonstration Farm (IDF). The project established the IDF as a tool to offer on-farm demonstrations to the horticultural industry. The on-farm demonstration is considered an effective way to foster innovation and disseminate research results and postharvest technologies to a wider audience. Effective demonstrations at the IDF serve as a platform to foster knowledge exchange among smallholder farmers, researchers, traders, innovators, and businesses joining the horticultural industry.

Trainer’s manual and other training materials. The first part of this manual was prepared as an overview of the postharvest handling practices and treatment methods. The second part is centered on the gender, social and environmental considerations in the tomato value chain. This document has been produced for use by concerned government agricultural extension systems and private sector persons interested to understand the principles of post-harvest handling in the tomato value chain. Along with the manual, the team also produced a series booklet for extension personnel and leaflets for farmers, traders, and transporters on postharvest technologies and safe vegetable production. The leaflets are in Swahili, the language of the majority of the smallholder farmers.

All in all, the PI Dr. Muzanila reports that her project resulted in improved knowledge on farmers’ behavior regarding postharvest technologies in the tomato value chain. Postharvest technology delivery systems were strengthened through innovative training and demonstration, and smallholder farmers gained improved knowledge and skills on postharvest handling practices. The project showed how implementing simple, gender-based postharvest technologies can help women and smallholder farmers in Tanzania successfully improve the quality and extended availability of fresh tomatoes with an impact on productivity. Building from the PEER project, the PI plans to take the initiative to harness cloud data benefits and customize its use by combining farmers' data (crop, market, socioeconomic) with daily weather data series. After that, she and her colleagues will characterize the tomato crop response to the target agronomic practices and weather patterns in different agro-ecological zones. The rationale is to assemble a novel digital extension platform that utilizes new intelligent data collection methods and customization based on machine learning and satellite monitoring. The digital platform aims to improve delivery mechanisms of real-time information to smallholder farmers and advice on optimal utilization of water, fertilizers, pest management, market linkage, agroclimate, and other agronomic practices. The researchers are considering collaboration with farmer-centric organization in particular, the Tanzania national networks of farmers’ groups in Tanzania (MVIWATA) and the Enterprise Technology Platforms (e.g. Esoko) that already have established mobile agri-advisory services to farmers. They will be applying for additional grants and exploring the use of a social franchise model for support.

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