A broad range of issues associated with the application of techniques to the processing of selected local fruit and vegetables are outlined in the recent agro-processing manual prepared by the Ministry of Agriculture.
The manual was produced, according to Agriculture Minister Robert Persaud, to help support the country’s agricultural diversification drive, “that seeks to widen its production base in the light of serious challenges to traditional economic activities…” The manual serves as an instruction guide for entrepreneurs desirous of exploring the potential of the agro-processing industry.
The Ministry of Agriculture said it is concerned that current statistics for value-added products deriving from local fruit and vegetables are negligible, pointing to a low level of activity in this area. At the same time, the high level of local consumption of fruit and vegetables has resulted in a high degree of wastage.
In its introduction the manual points out the efforts to maximize the conversion of fresh produce to processed forms. It seeks, among other things, to minimize “the significant post harvest losses of perishable produce” resulting from “the particular climatic conditions which, in the absence of expensive technology, cannot sustain the quality in an acceptable condition.”
Accordingly, the local fresh fruit and vegetable industry has been seriously affected by “high temperatures and other stressful factors which initiate degradable processes such as high respiratory rates, dehydration, microbial infections, shrivelling and other unfavourable effects.
Articles in the manual address general procedures for fruit and vegetable processing which include measures to prevent cutting or bruising of fruit during harvesting and handling; refrigeration measures designed to minimize growth of micro-organisms and reduce enzyme activity; packaging or storage to control respiration rate; and the use of preservatives to destroy micro-organisms in the fruit or vegetable.
The manual also advises producers on low-cost quality control programmes, which include the observance of basic sanitation practices, pest control and the design and construction of equipment used in the process. In addressing standards in the industry the manual points to the importance of creating an environment that reduces the likelihood of machinery and utensils attracting “undesirable microbiological growth and other forms of contamination.”
The manual, meanwhile, provides details of processing technology, including various graphic illustrations of finished manufactured products made from a number of local fruits including banana, carambola, cashew, cherry, ginger, pepper, gooseberry and dunks.
In his foreword to the manual, Persaud points out that the emergence of the manual seeks to aid the process of effecting a shift from the production of primary products solely for the market to what he describes as a “commodity chain approach” that “encompasses the complete sequence of operations… starting with the raw material, or an intermediate product, and finishing downstream, after several stages of processing on increase in value.”