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Finding Solutions for Preventing Post Harvest Losses in Agriculture through Science and Technology Innovations

Issue at large

In recent years, the world’s food production has increased with the application of novel agricultural techniques and better fertilizers. However, according to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), about one third of the food produced for human consumption—or about 1.3 billion tons—is lost or spoilt. One of the main causes of food insecurity for millions of households worldwide is the post-harvest food loss. 

 We can enhance the availability of food globally without using more resources or burdening the environment by minimizing post-harvest losses in food systems. Food losses occur across the supply chain as products are harvested, handled, processed, stored, and transported and then become lost, damaged, or spoilt. The smallholder farmers in the developing world suffers the greatest post-harvest losses.

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Sri Lankan scenario

In the case of Sri Lanka, at present, agriculture sector contributes ~8% of the country’s Gross Domestic Production (GDP) and employees more than ~31% of the total population as per the Central Bank 2020 report. More than 70% of the population living in rural areas of the country is dependent on agriculture as the major source of livelihood. 

Sri Lanka is a tropical island, where temperature and humidity levels of the environment are relatively higher throughout the year. Perishable fresh produce such as fruits and vegetables and even dairy products start to deteriorate rapidly after harvesting.

 The annual loss of fruits during postharvest operation represent about 210,000 metric tons of fruits, which is about 30 %– 40 % of the harvest, representing approximately US$ 90 million losses in financial terms (Rajapaksha et al., 2021). Annual loss of vegetables during post-harvest operations is quantified about 370,000 metric tons, which is about 20% – 40 % of the total harvest. This represent approximately US$ 110 million (Rajapaksha et al., 2021).

 According to Rajapaksha et al., (2021), “Temperature is the single most decisive factor affecting the deterioration rate of freshly harvested commodities”. Relative humidity also plays a key role in spoilage (Rajapaksha et al., 2021). Hence, temperature and humidity-controlled storage systems, which control the rate of deterioration of fresh produce is key in order to reduce post-harvest losses (Rajapaksha et al., 2021).   

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 It also worthy to note that the storage life of fruits, vegetables and dairy can be extended greatly by removing the field heat and applying cooling right after harvesting (pre-cooling) (Rajapaksha et al., 2021). Also, currently, temperature and humidity-controlled storage facilities are not available in large scale and cold storage transport is mainly offered as a service mainly for the fisheries industry by refrigerated container trucks at a high cost. 

SLINTEC’s innovations

 Sri Lanka Institute of Nanotechnology Pvt. Ltd.,(SLINTEC) is a nano and advanced technology research and development (R & D) centre in Sri Lanka set up by the government of Sri Lanka along with private sector partners. SLINTEC is the first public-private research institute in the country. SLINTEC offers a number of science and technology-based innovative products and services to address the pressing needs of Sri Lanka.

 Ethylene absorption – Delaying ripening and spoilage

 As mentioned earlier, post-harvest loss of fresh produce and fruits is quite high but it is preventable. Vegetables & fruits post harvesting release ethylene gas and water vapor. The ethylene gas and water vapour work as a catalyst to the ripening process which in turn causes faster spoilage and microbial damage.

Thus the storage life of fruits and vegetables can be extended greatly by an innovation that absorbs ethylene and moisture. SLINTEC has come up with a post-harvest technology innovation that scavenges the ethylene hormone that causes fruit and vegetable ripening. This innovation enables prolonged shelf life thus longer storage preventing spoilage. SLINTEC has come up with a sachet containing a special composition mixture of zeolite powder and potassium permanganate with a breathable membrane that causes ethylene & moisture absorption. These sachets can be easily placed with fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers when packaged to delay ripening, hence prevent or delay spoilage.

SLINTEC recently entered in to a technology commercialization partnership agreement with a private entity to commercialize this post-harvest innovation that would benefit to growers and exporters alike in preventing post-harvest losses and due to spoilage.

 New ideas and strategies are needed to reduce food losses due to the evolution of the world’s agri-food systems. This is best achieved through application of science and technology innovations.

Author- Ravinda Soysa , Graphics – Lahiru Ranathunga


Rajapaksha, L., Gunathilake, D.M.C.C. and Pathirana, S.M., 2021. Reducing post-harvest losses in fruits and vegetables for ensuring food security–Case of Sri Lanka. MOJ Food Process Technols(1), pp.7-16.