Assessment of vegetable postharvest losses among smallholder farmers in Umbumbulu area of KwaZulu-Natal province, South Africa.
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Smallholder agriculture is identified as one of the probable and sustainable approaches to farming and offers insights towards a paradigm shift in food, nutritional and income security. Generally, smallholder fresh produce farmers in South Africa have performed poorly and have not delivered on their development objectives of increasing crop production and improving rural livelihoods. Where farmers have access to supply markets, post crop maturity quality deterioration and postharvest losses deprive farmers of profit. Lack of postharvest handling knowledge and effective cold storage facilities to mitigate postharvest losses threatens their profitability. In spite of the acute damage caused by fresh produce postharvest losses; these challenges have not received much attention, with the focus mainly on encouraging farmers to increase production. For perishable crops such as leafy and fruit vegetables, there is even fewer representative data available in African countries. Research on the contribution of postharvest losses on household food insecurity is limited, yet postharvest loss reduction may substantially contribute to food, nutritional and income security for many rural households. Postharvest handling practices of smallholder farmers who face several constraints related to production, postharvest handling and marketing are relatively unknown because they have not actively participated in formal value chains. The study set out to investigate postharvest losses among smallholder farmers in Umbumbulu area of KwaZulu-Natal province, South Africa. Specifically, the study set out to describe the demographic and socio-economic characteristics of smallholder vegetable farmers in Umbumbulu; determine the main vegetables grown by smallholder farmers, their knowledge, training and the respective postharvest handling practices and to establish the determinants of vegetable postharvest losses among the smallholder farmers. Primary data was gathered by conducting a survey on 120 purposively selected smallholder vegetable farmers supplying and others who are intending to supply Umbumbulu Agri-Hub using a structured questionnaire, key informant interviews and observations. Socioeconomic data, household demographics, agronomic practices, knowledge, training and postharvest handling practices were captured during the survey. Descriptive statistics was used to provide summary and frequency of key variables. The ordered probit econometric model was used to establish leafy and fruit vegetable postharvest loss determinants with respect to cabbage and spinach as leafy vegetables since they were the most grown vegetables; grown by 90% and 85% of the farmers in the study area respectively and played a critical role as household food and income source. Tomatoes were selected among the fruit vegetables since they were reported to have high postharvest losses and among the fruit vegetables, they were the ones grown by most of the farmers (76.7%). Cabbage postharvest losses were significantly influenced by gender of household head, farming experience, literacy, type of packaging used, distance to the market and attendance of postharvest handling training. On the other hand, spinach postharvest losses were significantly influenced by gender of household head, farming experience, hand and equipment washing before harvesting, time of harvesting, storage duration before marketing and attendance of postharvest handling training. Variables that significantly influenced tomato postharvest losses were farming experience, farmers’ group membership, farm size, hand and equipment washing, packaging used and distance to the market. Findings from this study provide expedient tangible acumens for policy makers, agricultural extension officers, farm advisers and researchers in the design of effective and efficient policies, programmes and projects which can enrich the smallholder farmer postharvest handling practices, increase smallholder farmer’s capacity to market their produce, drive progression in the fresh produce value chain and hence considerably contribute towards food, income and nutritional security.
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