A Bangladeshi friend working in Japan said that while he was walking on the way to his home, he saw a bag with brinjal kept in a nearby field written on it - anyone can buy it. Another sack was inscribed with animal feed. On another sack, it was written that the stuff they contained was spoiled which will be used as waste. He told me, “I learnt that the brinjals will be mixed as garbage into the ground if no one takes them.”
Japan, a highly developed nation, has taught its farmers so much that their thinking and mentality have changed a lot over the years. And all of it has been for the better. They don’t waste anything by being careless. They utilize everything. How come we can’t? Every country’s problems are similar to a great extent. However, management is not the same. Is it so difficult to imagine that by mastering advanced techniques and management, we can also improve and change the wheels of the economy?
Let us just take vegetables as an example. Previously, only winter and summer vegetables were grown in Bangladesh. Some vegetables are being produced round for the past few years due to increased demand. However, a lot of vegetables are produced during the winter months. At this point, before a batch of vegetables is harvested and sold, another batch of vegetables must be harvested. Following that, due to a lack of storage, many vegetables are either wasted or have to be sold at a low price. Farmers have been financially devastated as a result of this. Furthermore, many vegetables and fruits have been wasted due to a lack of transportation and storage, during calamities, blockades, strikes, and also the recent pandemic. So farmers will benefit if they store and preserve the vegetables locally.
People store vegetables in various ways at home. Tomatoes, carrots, and beans, in particular, are processed and stored in the refrigerator. Some people process potatoes for 8-9 months by mixing sand with them and storing them under the bed or in a dark and cold place. Farmers, on the other hand, want to store vegetables commercially and store excess vegetables produced during the season rather than selling them at low prices or throwing them away. This requires special initiatives and the help of technology. However, no measures to preserve vegetables in the country have yet been developed.
If the vegetables are not stored properly, the vegetables lose moisture, get dehydrated and produce ethylene gas, which spoils the vegetables. This is why vegetable preservation is especially important. Generally vegetables can be preserved in several ways. For example, storing, freezing, drying, canning, pickling, marinating and even some vegetables can be kept as a paste. In many countries they are doing both at home and commercially.
According to experts, it is best to refrigerate vegetables as soon as they pick from the field. When storing vegetables naturally at home, they choose cool, dry, and dark places.
During the winter, keep vegetables on the floor of a well-ventilated room. Wrapping vegetables in straw or newspaper would also preserve vegetables and prevent them from spoiling. However, when picking vegetables from the field, it is important to ensure that they are ripe and healthy. Underground vegetables should be air-dried for a period of time before storage. Any sort of friction is not good for the vegetables.
The first natural cold store was created in Bangladesh under the leadership of Professor Manzoor Hossain, Director, Institute of Biological Sciences of Rajshahi University in 2016. Potatoes and garlic are kept at a temperature of 26 degree celsius. Temperatures are below 16 degrees for fruits and vegetables. It has a storage capacity of 300 tonnes of products. Tk 14 lakhs were spent on the construction of the cold store. Potato, garlic, ginger, carrot, tomato, mango and other vegetables are kept in it. Good results are obtained in potato, ginger and garlic. Potatoes and garlic remained fresh for 4 months. Tomatoes, carrots, mangoes, some fruits and leafy vegetables were unspoiled for 3-6 months without any chemicals.
Since the last 3-4 years, the Agricultural Marketing Department of the government has provided technical and logistical support to the farmers for the construction of such cold storage facilities. It is easier and cheaper than Manzoor Hossain’s cold store. This store requires a little space like a room. Potatoes are placed on the floor of a specially made room. Potatoes can be stored for 4 months in this method. By saving potatoes in this way, the lamentations of the farmers have stopped because small farmers do not get the opportunity to store potatoes in commercial cold stores. Farmers prefer this method as there is no electricity cost in making this type of cold storage and other costs are also very low.
There have various methods of preserving vegetables in our neighbouring countries. In places where there is no electricity, people store vegetables using the ‘Zero Energy Cool Chamber’ method. There are various types of cold stores for storing vegetables. Some are for storing specific types of vegetables and some are for multipurpose use. Cold storage is expensive. So they use low cost cold stores available in the market. It can be used according to location, budget and needs. There are also various sizes and shapes of refrigerated containers available. It can be carried from one place to another. Even vans can use this type of cold storage. There is a blast freezer where fruits and vegetables can be stored. In this freezer, the temperature can be controlled up to minus 40 degrees as required. But cold store is ideal for keeping vegetables fresh enough. It can be used by farmers, traders, agencies and wholesalers. Vegetables can be stored and used throughout the year. The government of that country makes a special policy to subsidize the cold storage business every year by giving importance to vegetable preservation.
Thailand, Philippines and South Korea are also leading in terms of vegetable preservation. They also have a lot to learn about it. Japan buys vegetables from the Philippines. Japanese conglomerate JICA is working on vegetable production and marketing in the Philippines through financial support and advanced technology. JICA is also doing research and training in this regard. There they are also working through poor farmers and associations even at municipal, provincial and national levels. Japanese SME technology is helping the Philippines with crop production, marketing and even overseas sales. This Japanese aid added a different dimension to Philippine agriculture and economy.
We can activate such international institutions in our country. The School of Agro Industry at Mae Fah Luang University in Chiang Rai Province offers various courses on vegetable production, conservation, marketing, etc. in the Philippines. Farmers are taught how to grow vegetables at low cost and make more profit. This kind of training we can learn not only vegetable preservation but also its production, marketing and selling in the international market. It is badly needed in the present times of global food shortage. If this method is followed, it is possible to deal with the issue of food shortage or increased prices in the country. The Philippine government is working directly in the agricultural sector. The Philippines produces a billion kilograms of vegetables annually. Benguet Agri Pinoy Trading Centre (BAPTC) is a government institution of the Philippines. It acts as a platform for farmers, traders and buyers.
Thailand is also doing well in this regard. Bangladesh can learn a lot from these countries too, not only countries in South Asia. The time to learn has come. We can also learn about how these small countries are changing their fortunes and sustaining themselves in the international market and doing good business. We can master their policies.
Canada, Mexico and South Korea are the largest vegetable exporters in the world. There is a huge market for dry vegetables in preserving vegetables in South Korea. They also export dry vegetables abroad. Taking inspiration from South Korea, the government has taught people in 11 coastal regions how to store potatoes by drying them in the sun. In this way, other vegetables can also be dried and stored for a long time. If the teaching of drying all kinds of vegetables in this way is spread throughout the country, it is possible to preserve vegetables on a large scale.
Food waste management is an essential element in preserving vegetables. Many countries feed surplus vegetables to animals, nutrient cycling and recycling to prevent vegetables from getting wasted. We can also implement animal feed, nutrient cycling and recycling. They should be done in such a way that they are environment-friendly. Many families in South Korea prepare pickled vegetables (kim chee- this is a very popular dish in this country), soybean pastes and chili pastes to ensure that the vegetables are not wasted during the vegetable season. These are very effective and contemporary practices. We can do that too.
Vegetable storage and preservation will become easier if the government provides various facilities and subsidies for doing cold store business. Apart from this, refrigerated containers and blast freezers etc. can be made at the same time so that its market can be developed along with preservation of vegetables. We can make arrangements for vegetables to be dried, canned, pickled, made into paste and marinated. By using all these methods to preserve vegetables, a huge industry and source of employment will be created in this regard. It will easily provide income to the less educated, unemployed youth and women of the village. Winter is approaching soon. It is important to take prompt action now so that vegetable preservation can be started this year.
The writer is a freelance columnist. She can be contacted at [email protected]