After drip irrigation-cum-fertigation, tissue culture and protected cultivation of vegetables, fruits and flowers, dissemination of Israeli post-harvest know-how is the latest focus of the Indo-Israel Agricultural Project (IIAP).
“Value-addition in horticultural crops is not just about processing and selling juices. It is also about technologies to maintain the quality of fresh produce for delivering in that form to consumers in distant locations or to harvest, say, pomegranates in September for selling in the US or Europe during the Christmas and New Year season,” points out Susan Lurie, professor emeritus at the Department of Postharvest Science of Fresh Produce in the Agricultural Research Organization of Israel’s Ministry of Agriculture.
Israel, according to her, has lot to offer to India when it comes to preservation of quality — texture, appearance, colour, taste, aroma, and nutritional and health attributes — of fresh farm produce, especially for exports to foreign markets.
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“Most of what we produce — from cherry tomatoes and capsicum to mangoes, bananas, pomegranates, lychees, guavas and papayas — is for selling outside Israel. Unlike us, India is big and more like the US, where they grow in California to sell in New York or Boston. There’s no reason you cannot do the same here, which is where we can help,” adds Lurie.
Edna Pesis, an expert from the same department that is said to be the world’s largest research centre for post-harvest management, illustrates this through the example of mangoes. Mangoes are susceptible to diseases after harvest and prolonged storage, as a result of psychological changes occurring in the fruits that enable fungal pathogen development.
An effective means to address the problem is through “hot water brushing” treatment — spraying a jet of water at about 52 degrees Celsius for 15-20 seconds on the harvested fruits in packing lines. This is followed by drying and “waxing” or wrapping the fruits with a layer of organic/synthetic waxing material. Hot water brushing significantly reduces decay from fungal development, while waxing prevents water loss that leads to shrinkage and premature ripening of the fruits. Both together help improve the keeping quality and general appearance of the mangoes in supermarket shelves.
These apart, there are also other technologies like modified atmosphere packaging that involves covering the fresh produce with special permeable plastic films to reduce humidity. Fruits and vegetables are naturally “respiring products”, resulting in the condensation of their vapours into water and lowering shelf life. “The mistake many people do is to take the harvested fruits directly to the cold storage. Doing that can cause not only shrinkage, but also makes the fruits prone to scalding and chilling injury,” explains Pesis.
The two Israeli women scientist-experts are part of a visiting team under the IIAP, a programme currently operational in nine states: Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. “We are now extending this to six other states: Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Mizoram and Goa,” says Dan Alluf, Counsellor (Science & Agriculture) with Mashav, Israel’s Agency for International Development Corporation.
The IIAP, which is a joint collaboration between Mashav and the Indian government’s Mission for Integrated Development of Horticulture plus the participating states, is being implemented via “centres of excellence”.
Currently, there are 14 such fully active centres: four in Maharashtra (for citrus, pomegranate, and Alphonso and Kesar mangoes), three in Haryana (vegetables, citrus, pomegranate and mango), two in Gujarat (Kesar mango and vegetables), two in Rajasthan (pomegranate and citrus), two in Punjab (vegetables and citrus) and one in Tamil Nadu (vegetables).
“The programme began in 2009. Our aim is to have 26 centres of excellence in all the participating states, which would act as the catalyst for showcasing Israeli agricultural technology/know-how and taking these to farmers’ fields. The new areas we are looking at are post-harvest management, water recycling for agricultural use, agricultural machinery and organic farming,” informs Alluf.