3/28/2012 12:00:00 AM
(IRIN) - Inefficient transportation and storage methods
are resulting in as much as one-third of Sri Lanka's produce going to waste,
Vegetables are still transported in plastic, burlap, locally produced
coconut-husk fibre bags or homemade wooden boxes, stacked tightly in trucks,
causing severe wastage en route. This lack of proper storage reduces the length
of time produce can last, said Brian Roberts, a professor at the Australia-based
University of Canberra, who has researched Sri Lanka's food supply chain.
"The transport systems to local markets and national markets are not
resulting in a high level of damage to fruit and vegetables. There is also a
loss in the handling of food and vegetables along the various stages of the
Most drivers visit regional supply centres (government buildings rented by
private suppliers), such as the main one in Dambulla in Central Province, to
"The more we transport the more money we make," Ajith Wijesinghe, a
By the time the vegetables are delivered to clients in the suburbs of the
capital, Colombo, some 150km away, Wijesinghe said the produce had gone through
at least four transactions. "The farmer will sell to a village supplier. He
then sell to a regional supplier. We buy from the regional supplier and sell to
Multiple handling means more costs on top of the wastage, noted Roberts.
each one of the stages, agents would take commissions and [there] will be
additional costs associated with handling food."
Wijesinghe, 50, said he had never received any kind of training or
on transporting or stacking vegetables in more than two decades of work. "I
don't think anyone in this business has."
Transporters care little about food loss and worry more about getting
to the buyer on time, said Haridas Fernando, deputy general manager of
Cargills Ceylon, one of Sri Lanka's largest private wholesale vegetable
"Our market orientation is still such that transporters feel their job
transport and nothing else."
Cargills has tried to cut down on losses over the past decade by setting up
regional buying centres that purchase directly from farmers, buying more trucks
and hiring handlers. It also advises some 10,000 farmers on stacking, transport
and quality control.
"We transport in crates. Overall we probably record a wastage level of
percent," said Fernando.
Working more closely with farmers helps to cut losses, noted Roberts.
"Shortening the supply chain means reducing the number of steps in the
from when food leaves the farm until it is consumed. The way of doing this is
that supermarkets buy directly from farmers under contract."
Over the past decade Cargills has brought costs down by about 10 percent,
But increasing efficiency had initial costs for the company - trucks,
and plastic crating.
Recently the government tried to legislate crates as compulsory for vegetable
transport, but backed down when drivers and wholesalers protested, as local
media reported. The
law now only applies to a limited number of fruit and vegetables.
Werrakoddi Arachchige Premadasa, a farmer from the rural town of
about 300km southeast of Colombo, said most farmers were still reluctant to
invest in crates, which cost on average US$8 each. Bags measuring 120cm by 60cm
take up less space and are cheaper, added the farmer, who supplies to Cargills
in crates he purchased in 2008.
"Taking 500kg [of fruits and vegetables], in a three-wheel vehicle is
it is in bags. If we are using crates, you need a small lorry," he said.
Crates have cut his waste to almost zero, boosting his average monthly income
close to $80 in a country where the
average monthly income is close to $200.
Produce lost in Sri Lanka is greater than in other countries in the region,
Roberts. Until public transport conditions - including railways, roads and
government-owned trucks - and delivery systems improve, private companies will
be the only ones able to afford cutting post-harvest food losses, he added.
"There are significant inefficiencies in the way that the government
chains work in Sri Lanka. Much of the infrastructure, such as goods handling and
railway systems owned by government facilities, are old and result in
significant damage to perishable food."
According to L.P. Rupasena, deputy director of research at the government-run
Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian
Research and Training Institute: "We need a fully integrated market,
packing [and] distribution are streamlined to ensure the delivery of quality
goods. We don't have such a system in place yet. As long as we don't
organize the distribution network, the introduction of crates will not
During the past three decades, less than 5 percent of the funding provided
horticultural development worldwide has gone on post-harvest factors, while the
rest has gone
towards increasing production, according to the
and Agriculture Organization.