By Dr. Mujahid Ali, Shahid Iqbal, Tehseen Ashraf (Horticulture, UOS)

Scientists with the Horticulture Innovation Lab are testing and adopting a range of technologies aimed at significantly improving the profitability of fruit and vegetable production throughout the world. Given the complexity of horticulture, technologies such as these can reduce constraints that limit the ability of smallholder farmers to achieve maximum profitability with high-value horticultural products. Our goal is to develop and test technologies that can overcome common limitations in land, labor, capital, and infrastructure.

In much of the developing world, rates of postharvest loss exceed 50 percent, and cold storage is virtually nonexistent due to the high cost of equipment and limited electricity. Quickly cooling produce after harvest extends shelf life by reducing metabolic activity, water loss, and microbial growth. Farmers who can store their produce longer can access better prices, as market prices fluctuate.

Problem: Postharvest losses

The CoolBot:

  • Converts an insulated room and an inexpensive, readily available window air conditioner into a cool room.
  • Substantially reduces the cost of cool storage for horticultural produce. •    Overrides the air conditioner’s temperature gauge, maximizing cooling power.
  • Makes cold storage a viable option for developing-world farmers, cooperatives, and market groups to increase their competitiveness.

Problem: Insect pest damage

Insect pests reduce yields directly by attacking crops and indirectly by transmitting viral diseases. As a result, farmers sell damaged produce or use high levels of pesticides, which can be dangerous to both farmers and consumers. Small-scale growers rarely have access to training on effective pesticide use or alternative methods of pest control, such as integrated pest management.

Pest-exclusion nets:

  • Provide an inexpensive, reusable, and safe method of managing insect pests.
  • Create a barrier that protects vegetables against pests and associated viral diseases, and improves temperature, light, relative humidity, and soil moisture.
  • Increase yields and improve vegetable quality, while reducing the reliance on pesticides that impact environmental and human health.
  • Are produced locally by mosquito net factories.
  • Increase market opportunities for domestically produced textiles.

Problem: Poor seed quality

In tropical climates, high humidity causes rapid seed deterioration that results in poor stand establishment, lower productivity, reduced market value, and a disincentive to invest in improved seeds.

Drying beads:

  • Provide a widely adaptable method for drying seeds and are reusable.
  • Maintain high seed quality during storage.
  • Lead to higher germination rates and increased yield capacity.
  • Increase farmer incentive to invest in improved cultivars.
  • Can be integrated with local seed systems to increase the market for local and improved cultivars.

Improved vegetable production practices

Examples of improved production techniques for major vegetable crops, tomato, cabbage, rape, onion, okra and cucurbits were discussed. The techniques covered were:-

  • Land/site selection: To take into account crop adaptation to soils, climate and market considerations.
  • Seed/cultivar choice: Sources of seed, characteristics of good seed, advantages of using high quality seed, adaptability, market suitability, seasonal adaptation, resistance to diseases, disadvantages of using recycled seeds.
  • Nursery Management: Nursery as an intensive care unit, nursery requirements – site selection, rotation, good sanitation, irrigation, fertilizer needs, pest and disease management.
  • Land preparation for vegetables: Importance of good tilth, different tillage systems raised beds, farrows, flat beds, basics. Suitability of tillage systems according to season, soil types, irrigation methods respectively.
  • Fertilisers: Sources of nutrients – organic (compost, green and cattle manures) and inorganic fertilizers. Nutrient requirements of vegetables to determine yields and quality. The importance of following fertilizer recommendations in relation to amounts, timing and placement. Options for improving soil fertility using green manure crops, compost and livestock manure. Handling manure and application of manure. The concept of Integrated Plant Nutrition Systems was introduced. The concept aims at maintaining or adjusting of soil fertility and plant nutrient supply to sustain a desired level of crop production. This is to be achieved through the following:
  • Balanced use of mineral fertilizers combined with organic and biological sources of plant nutrients.
  • Improving and maintain the stock of plant nutrients in the soils.
  • Improving efficiency use of plant nutrients by avoiding losses to the environment.
  • Seed rates: The implications of using recommended seed rates were discussed.
  • Spacing: The importance of using optimum spacing for high yields were emphasized.
  • Crop rotation: The implications of good crop rotations to minimize pests and disease build up and to enhance soil fertility were discussed.
  • Irrigation: The functions of water in horticultural crops were reviewed. Moisture requirements for different crops and critical growth stages to avoid moisture stress were discussed. Soil moisture management in the nursery and direct seeded crops such as okra, beans and peas. Use of mulch to conserve soil moisture.
  • Staking: The importance if staking tomatoes to avoid diseases was discussed.
  • Pruning: Essential to enhance fruit quality in indeterminate tomato cultivars.
  • Pest and disease management: This is the biggest problem in vegetable production. Proper pest and disease identification was emphasised. A list of the major vegetable pests and diseases was presented and discussed. The concept of integrated pest management was reviewed. Integrated approach to pest/disease management involving cultural, biological, cultivar resistance and use of pesticides. Effects of cultural techniques on pests and diseases were discussed. Chemical control of vegetable pests and diseases. Judicious use of pesticide, effects of pesticides on environment and humans.
  • Weeding: The importance of weeding was emphasised avoid competition for space, nutrients, water. Certain weeds like Nicandra are alternate hosts for red spidermites.
  • Post-harvest handling: The following were discussed: proper harvesting methods, time of harvest, care in handling of produce, use of field storage sheds, proper packaging materials, treatment of produce and grading of produce.
  • Marketing of horticultural crops: Marketing decisions should be made before planting the crop. Some marketing strategies discussed include; knowing the market requirements, when to sale, timing, offseason production, formation of association for better bargaining, formation of marketing days to create awareness, market research and crop diversification.

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