A University of Guelph research project that has already improved the livelihoods of small-scale Asian farmers will further expand worldwide, thanks to more than $4.2 million in federal support announced this afternoon.
The project involves innovative packaging developed in part by Guelph researchers using nanotechnology to improve the shelf life of mangoes, a major fruit crop in much of the world.
Already, the technology has helped to significantly reduce post-harvest losses in Sri Lanka and India. Poor storage meant that farmers routinely lost up to 40 per cent of their crops, worth upwards of $800 million a year. The new technology has also boosted per-acre revenue.
New funding support from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada will allow researchers to broaden this successful initiative to Kenya, Tanzania, and Trinidad and Tobago.
Researchers will also look at other fruit — bananas, grapes, papaya, nectarines and berries — and investigate ways to commercialize the technologies.
“Our global perspective aims to reduce post-harvest losses, which are estimated at 1.3 billion tonnes worldwide,” said project leader Jay Subramanian, a professor in Guelph’s Department of Plant Agriculture.
“This is a key strategy to enhance food security across several regions of the world.”
He said nanotechnology generally makes people think of electronics and engineering. “But using nanotechnology to enhance post-harvest preservation of fruits, vegetables and flowers is a great initiative, and will find prominent positions in other aspects of agriculture and food science.”
About $2.5 million of the grant will be managed by U of G, with the remainder allocated to supporting partners. The funding will come from the Canadian International Food Security Research Fund (CIFSRF), which supports partnerships between researchers in Canada and developing countries for projects addressing hunger and malnutrition.
CIFSRF also funded Subramanian’s earlier work in Sri Lanka and India with a $2.3-million grant in 2012.
“This project is a great example of why the University of Guelph is a world leader in agricultural research,” said John Livernois, interim vice-president (research).
“We’re taking a local invention to the global level. With our current and new partners, we will be working in Asia, East Africa and the Caribbean, as well as in Canada.”
Livernois added that it will also be a main pillar of the Guelph-East Africa Initiative, which U of G established to bring together stakeholders to support research and teaching in food, health, water, education, environment and community.
“This confirms our commitment to improve agriculture in East Africa and around the world.”
The project involves the use of hexanal, a natural plant product that delays fruit ripening and aging. Guelph plant agriculture professor Gopi Paliyath holds an American patent on the discovery of hexanal as a post-harvest agent. It’s also an FDA-approved food additive.
Using nanotechnology, the team will also continue to develop hexanal-impregnated packaging and coatings to keep fruit fresh during handling and shipping.
Subramanian said studies have shown that hexanal is safe for all normal orchard organisms and meets bio-safety standards.
“We also expect that the development of such nanotechnology-based applications of hexanal will have positive effects for Ontario agriculture, especially in utilizing agricultural bioproducts from grain crops.”
The project also involves Guelph plant agriculture professors Paliyath and Al Sullivan; Loong-tak Lim from Food Science; and Elizabeth Finnis, Sociology and Anthropology. Foreign research partners are based at Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, India; Industrial Technical Institute, Sri Lanka; University of Nairobi, Kenya; Sokoine University of Agriculture, Tanzania; and the University of West Indies, Trinidad and Tobago.