According to data from the Office of Agricultural Studies and Policies of Chile (Odepa), the country exports as fresh fruit nearly 2.6 of the almost 5 million tons of fruit it produces, i.e. almost 52% of its total production, a year. These exports generate an annual income of about 4 billion dollars (i.e. 2.7 billion Chilean pesos). However, 3 to 5% of the fresh fruit exported does not reach its destination because of the action of phytopathogenic microbes that damage the fresh produce and cause it to be discarded.
A group of scientists from the University of Concepcion has developed an innovative technology based on trees and algae, to reverse this complex (and expensive) fruit problem.
Understanding postharvest handling
The problem of food waste is not exclusive to fruits. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), nearly 1.3 billion tons of food is lost in the world each year.
To prevent losses in their exports, the fruit sector must take into account postharvest handling during the shipment of the products to different countries, i.e. everything related to the correct conservation and transfer of the product being transported.
Currently, exporters use different materials, such as embossed paper (characterized by its texture), to counteract the effects of postharvest on the fruits being transferred. The Gibmar Laboratory team of the Center for Biotechnology and Faculty of Pharmacy of the University of Concepción developed a bio-paper prototype that would allow better preserving the fruits being exported from Chile.
Algae + pines?
"The objective of this project is to validate and produce an algae bioactive paper from Pinus radiata pine and bioactive extracts of seaweed that will allow reducing fruit losses caused by oxidation and decomposition due to postharvest microbial action, which occurs during the storage and transport process," stated Dr. Cristian Agurto, from the Gibmar Laboratory.
The development of this bio paper has been supported by the National Commission for Scientific and Technological Research (Conicyt) and the Fund for Scientific and Technological Development Fund (Fondef) program. According to Corma, "the capabilities of algal paper to reduce the deterioration and decomposition of fruits have already been demonstrated and patented by the University of Concepción."
Fortunately, the country has enough raw material to produce this bio-paper; Chile has two million hectares of Pinus radiata plantations and extracts nearly 360,000 tons of bioactive seaweed extracts a year.