Post-harvest losses not only refer to the quantity of lost crops, but also any reduction in their quality and access to international markets, experts have said.
Former head of the Institute of Agricultural Science of Southern Vietnam, Bui Chi Buu, said that post-harvest losses in Vietnam were significant, but the country had little in the way of post-harvest technology or machinery.
Buu was quoted by the Thanh Nien (Young People) newspaper as saying that harvesting and post-harvesting technologies in Vietnam were on the edge of industrial revolution 2.0, implying they showed modest development, except some industrial husbandry models which had recently received good investment.
Buu said that 70% of Vietnam’s export fruits and vegetables went to China, most of them fresh and unprocessed.
Few of Vietnam’s fruit and vegetable exports went to the Republic of Korea, Japan, the United States or the European Union because of Vietnam’s limitations in storing and post-harvest processing, he said.
Vietnam’s seafood faces similar issues, particularly with ocean tuna. Japan is a big market for this fish and is willing to pay high prices for it. A number of Japanese experts have attempted to assist Vietnamese fishermen in post-harvest processing, but so far, little difference has been made.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), Vietnam’s post harvesting losses accounted for 10% of rice production, 10-20% of root and tuber crops, and 10-30% of fruits and vegetables.
In the Mekong Delta region – a major rice bowl for Vietnam, post-harvest rice losses were more than VND3 trillion (US$132 million) a year, or 10-12% of total rice production.
Buu said that to reduce post-harvesting losses, it was necessary to call on investors to make further investments in agricultural production.
This means the Government needs to offer incentives to encourage farmers. Additionally, research and study centres should be assisted with post-harvesting related work, he said.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, between 2011 and the middle of last year, loans worth about VND8.1 trillion (US$356.6 million) were offered to mechanise farming activities. The Government spent VND600 billion to subsidise the interest rate for borrowers.
But the financial incentives failed to encourage investors because the interest rates of the preferential loans – 8.55% per year – were still high, Thanh Nien reported.
Nguyen Quoc Vong from New South Wales’ Agriculture Department in Australia said that to develop an agricultural product, it was necessary to study all stages of seeding, producing, processing and marketing. Specialised sciences and technologies should be used at each stage, he said.
Dr Arjo Rothuis from Wageningen University and Research Centre in the Netherlands, said that when it came to post harvesting, it was not only about technologies that kept food fresh and delicious, but also extended their expiry dates.
Another new requirement by customers and importers was about energy saving in packaging, storage and transportation, he said, adding that investments in post harvesting and logistics were needed to make farming products reach markets earlier.