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We’ve always done it this way…

  • marimac 

By Jan Lievens

Do you know this is possibly the most dangerous phrase in any language?

The quality of our South African produce just before harvest is among the best in the world. Image credit: All images: Creative Commons

The quality of our South African produce just before harvest is among the best in the world. Image credit: Creative Commons

Sure, sometimes certain ways are rather ‘left alone’ and traditions do of course also count. This rings very true. However, a donkey never steps twice on the same stone.

When it comes to preserving quality after harvest, this is also true – as an African proverb states: far too often the small jackals usually destroy the vineyard.

There are a couple of things you can be sure of in life. One of those things in particular is that change will happen, whether you like it or not. One thing however that never ever changes, no matter how hard man tries, is that nature never ever breaks her own laws. And that is a given that you can rely on. Even bank on that – better than you can bank with whomever you bank with!

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Resistance to change is one of the reasons that one could call on, but unfortunately, that does not wash in our industry. As stated, many times before, quality is the name of the game. And that is not just about growing top quality in your orchards, on tree, bush, or vine. The trick is to transfer that quality at the farm to the overseas markets.

Your Production Unit Code (PUC) is the most valuable number you have on your farm.

The success is to get buyers overseas to start asking for your specific and unique PUC when they buy. If you can get it right that they order your products before the next season starts, you are indeed a quality star. And that, people, must be the goal.

It really does not help to know all the technical implications around what can happen when, if you simply do not change the way you are doing things. Harvesting in 35 degrees +, leaving product out in the heat, taking too long to get into a proper pre-cooling facility, not checking temperatures and avoiding condensation possibilities, too low humidity – I could go on for a good couple of minutes here – all adds up.

Remember, mistakes and problems in postharvest are cumulative and irreversible. And, as Mother Nature is extremely smart, they will show up at any given time, hitting you with quality problems when your produce is off
the farm.

To preserve the quality after harvest to your overseas and local clients alike, may I remind you, you need to pay due diligence. For those of you who do not farm, do you not ever notice in the supermarkets that the quality you ‘have’ to buy is more often than not bad? Really bad?

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Certain people still currently take big fat chances in this to the detriment of the industry. The ostrich does originate in Africa, yes, but by putting your head in the sand you simply aggravate the situation.

Please do not ever think professional people outside the country’s borders do not know. The quality of our South African produce just before harvest is among the best in the world. However, at international seminars it has already been put in the open that there are technical challenges to address. And we all already know that don’t we?

Let us stop paying lip service and beating around the bush. Start doing the right thing. Mother Nature does, no matter how hard man tries to trick her… and stepping on a stone, does hurt, even a donkey knows that.

But hey, if you want to do things like 40 years ago and keep making the same mistakes, go ahead! Just do not expect you will be doing this for much longer as you will be swallowed up and caught by the reality of the world around you. Go for it, but remember, you will fall short and hurt yourself, the farm, your family, and the industry. Sooner rather than later.

The blind leading the blind

When I wrote one of my previous articles, somebody asked me if I was not preaching in the desert. I do not think so! Besides I have been to Egypt, and I have not only seen many desert landscapes, but also met a vast number of very clever Egyptian farmers who took advice and knowledge to heart and actually started doing something – taking serious action going forward.

Further, when participating in a recent virtual meeting with a leading international brand’s team, interest was sparked from Chile, Peru, Mexico, Spain, Italy, and the Philippines with our postharvest philosophy.

So that is as far as preaching in the desert goes. Remember, the most famous forester in the world started initially in the desert and you know what happened there: all the trees are gone.

I do have to urge one thing: I simply cannot let the farmers be on their own because if I left them alone, perhaps some industry leaders and presumed postharvest specialists would continue to be, on face value, the blind leaders of the blind. And for those who do not know, if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.

As I have mentioned, Mother Nature never ever breaks her own laws, not yesterday, not today or tomorrow, and preserving quality after harvest does not come by chance.

A while back I met a lady in a local coffee shop. She gives yoga lessons for a living, and she shared a story about some farming clients of hers. The wives joined the classes and so did the husbands. When asked how that works, she said, “The farmers listen to their wives. End of story.”

Too many retailers still take chances selling sub-standard produce to consumers who ‘have no choice’. Image credit: Creative Commons

Too many retailers still take chances selling sub-standard produce to consumers who ‘have no choice’. Image credit: Creative Commons

So, I must start addressing my postharvest technology logic towards the farmers’ wives in the future. If they understand and see the benefits of the philosophy, they will tell their husbands to change their way of thinking about postharvest. And hopefully the wives will also tell them to talk to the professionals!

Delivering better quality to the end users will bring prosperity to the farm. And the first ones to see the benefits of a better yield in earnings will be the wives, for sure. I am certain they will convince their partners very quickly that they had better start implementing this philosophy sooner rather than later.

Another advantage I could gain via the farmers’ wives is that they can get their husbands to help them more in the kitchen… They could start by giving them a course on how to put stuff in the fridge. They will then start understanding why one always puts ‘clingwrap’ over open products. Otherwise, products dry out, don’t they?

And finally, it will hopefully also give me the chance to ask the ladies to find out where their husbands followed the ‘dis te duur’ or ‘it’s too expensive’ course at varsity. That course must be at least two to three years and if I am lucky, they can indicate which professor gives these lectures, as I would love to have a nice chat with him or her.

Recently the ‘te duur’ story meant that in our Parliament, the fire system together with the sprinklers didn’t work and, as the security guards were not paid overtime, this building of national importance was left unsecured… It was ‘te duur’ to do the right thing…

Just remember, when you are a solution partner, you are part of a team, and together with a team, you can strive to do everything right. Well, that is restricted to the applied postharvest technology field of course, I would not like to get in trouble with my farmers after talking to their wives.

Do you still think we are not effective? Not possible? Yes, we can, together!

And you will need it, sooner than later. Talk to us if you want to progress. We are by far the most experienced specialists when it comes to applied, engineered, tried, evaluated, and proven postharvest technologies in Africa.

About Jan Lievens

Jan Lievens, born in Belgium, is a graduate civil engineering(B) and international senior consultant for engineered applied postharvest technology at UTE South Africa. With over 20 years of experience in this field, he is widely regarded as a specialist in the fruit-, vegetable- and flower industry with regards to humidity, airborne bacteria and ethylene removal, both locally and internationally. Furthermore, he also designed airflow-friendly packaging systems for the industry with proven results.

Jan Lievens, born in Belgium, is a graduate civil engineering(B) and international senior consultant for engineered applied postharvest technology at UTE South Africa. With over 20 years of experience in this field, he is widely regarded as a specialist in the fruit-, vegetable- and flower industry with regards to humidity, airborne bacteria and ethylene removal, both locally and internationally. Furthermore, he also designed airflow-friendly packaging systems for the industry with proven results.

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