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South African expert on a ‘postharvest gynaecology’ visit to Egypt

As Egyptian grape exports to the Far East increase with longer shipping periods, growers have been turning to the experienced South African industry to share expertise. Jan Lievens, cooling expert from UTE Miatech (right, with Mohkles Harraz, the owner of Egyptian Fruit Export-Agrostar), visited Egyptian grape growers as the guest of the Horticultural Export Improvement Association (HEIA) at the end of last month.

He delivered a seminar in Cairo on postharvest cooling and visited seven grape farms around Cairo and Alexandria.

He has long maintained that growers don’t pay enough attention to the cooling and humidity requirements of the harvested fruit, or as he puts it, ‘postharvest gynaecology’. “Cutting the fruit from the tree or vine is like cutting the umbilical cord of a baby. Once this is done, you do have to look after the baby, or it dies. The same is true for fruit.”

There is a window of opportunity after harvest on which everything from then on is dependent, Jan says. “The timing between harvest and getting the fruit from the orchard to starting the postharvest process in pre-coolers is of utmost significance. Getting the field heat off in the correct manner as soon as possible is paramount. At this point, relative humidity and airborne bacteria removal in the pre-coolers and pack houses are crucial, it’s all about attention to detail. We leave nothing to chance.”

"99% of your income comes from last 5% of fruit's lifespan"
“Producers spend all their money and attention on the first 95% of fruit's lifespan but 99% of your income comes from the last 5%. The client doesn’t come to your farm to buy, they don’t know how great the fruit is. They only buy it four to six weeks later.”

In Egypt he noted, as he has in South Africa, that the research into the impact of postharvest cooling regimes on quality has been amply done, but that its implications do not reach growers. “In Egypt they have exactly the same problems as we do, for instance dry stems on grapes, because of the same practices like, among others, too high wind speed in coldrooms. You can’t change the laws of nature. Whatever works to preserve postharvest fruit quality in South Africa works everywhere.”

Jan Lievens shakes the hand of Taghreed Mohamed, general and packhouse manager of Dakahlia Farms in the Minya District by the Nile

He gave practical consultation sessions on farms on carton and tunnel design, air flow and wind speed and packaging facilities. (In the vineyards he noted with interest that Egyptian vineyards are generally higher than South African vines for tractor traffic.)

At each farm that he visited, a large group of staff, not just those directly involved in cooling, would attend his consultation. “There was tremendous interest in what I had to say and they understand it, it all makes scientific sense. I have been invited back by HEIA to advise on strawberries and mangoes. I think it’s the way I explain complicated material in a simple and visual way.”

He recounts that at one large farm he visited a grape coldroom was under construction. On his way past he noticed that the lamps were in a position that would cause air flow turbulence, which he mentioned to the construction team – and when he passed by an hour later, the lamps had been unscrewed and repositioned as he had indicated.

For more information:
Jan Lievens
Umhwebo Trading Enterprise
Tel: +27 22 448 1002

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