Helping farmers cut postharvest losses

City residents who go to the provinces for rest and relaxation have surely seen unmilled rice grains that are spread along road pavements. This practice is common during harvest season, when farmers sun dry unmilled rice before selling it to traders or to the National Food Authority. Planters resort to sun drying because of its low cost compared to mechanical drying, according to the International Rice Research Institute (Irri).

Irri said sun drying requires little investment and is even considered environmentally friendly as it uses the sun as heat source and therefore produces no carbon dioxide. Unfortunately, sun drying is labor-intensive and temperature control is difficult in this method, which can cause the grains to crack. A sudden downpour during the wet season would also cause farmers to lose a portion of their grains.

Sun drying, according to the Philippine Rice Research Institute’s Rice Engineering and Mechanization Division, is being discouraged (See, “Food waste, postharvest losses where millions remain hungry,” in the BusinessMirror, October 18, 2018). Despite the risk of incurring losses, planters could not stay away from drying palay on road pavements, as they could not afford mechanical drying. Because of this, annual postharvest losses in palay production remain at double digits—around 16.4 percent, based on BusinessMirror estimates that used data from the Philippine Center for Postharvest Development.

The Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture found significant postharvest losses not only in palay but also in mango, onion and tomato production (See, “Study bares big postharvest losses of PHL’s mango, onion, tomato,” in the BusinessMirror, March 27, 2022). According to the study, mango produced in Iloilo and traded in Manila showed the highest postharvest losses at nearly 34 percent. It also indicated that the total postharvest loss of freshly harvested onions from the farms in Bongabon, Nueva Ecija, to the final market destination in Divisoria, Manila, was 45.06 percent, and that the estimated volume of postharvest losses for red onion reached 48,891 tons valued at close to P1.96 billion.

Meeting the food needs of the country’s population does not only mean increasing the production of staple crops and other agricultural products. It also entails huge investments in other crucial components in food production such as postharvest facilities to reduce losses, which remain significant. Reducing postharvest losses in rice alone would enable the Philippines to cut its purchases of the staple from abroad and allow local farmers to increase their incomes.

It would do well for our policymakers to allocate funds for postharvest facilities and invest in cold storage and packing facilities, facilitate the transport of agricultural goods and increase the access of planters to credit and insurance.

There is also an urgent need for the national government to strengthen extension services by partnering with local government units so that farmers would get guidance on practices that would enable them to reduce postharvest losses. Output gains would not help the Philippines if farmers would continue to dry their grains on road pavements or incur losses during the transport of their crops.