The Postharvest Science and Technology Group works on durable and perishable crops after harvest to reduce losses, enhance financial or nutritional crop-value, and assure food safety. Research ranges from the fundamentals of storage and preservation of quality throughout the marketing chain, to food-science aspects of agro-processing and responses of consumers to new food products.
Achievements include: development of a reliable technique for predicting risk to farmers of attack by Prostephanus truncatus, a devastating stored-grain pest in Africa, and successful application of the technique in Ghana, thus allowing farmers to safeguard their valuable harvest; development of an innovative method for small-holders in sub-Saharan Africa to protect their limited grain stocks against insect damage by using diatomaceous earth (DE), and proven feasibility of exploiting local DE deposits to replace synthetic organophosphate-based insecticides; and development and validation of improved cassava processing systems. Improved handling, storage and marketing methods for sweet potato, an increasingly important urban food as well as a vital food in times of drought, were adopted and promoted to end users as part of the CGIAR HarvestPlus Challenge Program. Novel methods were developed to test acceptability of food products to low-income consumers, based on price, nutritional value and sensory preference. Improved understanding of variation of storability amongst sweet potato cultivars has enhanced the breeding programmes of the International Potato Centre.
In addition to research in developing countries, the group is collaborating with East Malling Research (EMR), a Kent based research institute with an international reputation for horticultural research, to establish the Produce Quality Centre as a centre of excellence for UK based research on fresh produce quality. Together the two institutes provide the widest range of expertise and the best facilities for post-harvest research in the UK. The Produce Quality Centre (PQC) benefits from the expertise and resources of both institutes, bringing together experts in the production, storage, marketing and supply of temperate, tropical and sub-tropical crops.
The team's future research strategy includes: use of refined behavioural analysis techniques in studies of insect pests of grain, to identify new options for pest management without synthetic pesticides; studies of food safety in the informal food sector of developing countries, to improve quality and safety in a sector vital for employment of poor people; investigating food and energy security to improve sustainability of rural livelihoods in semi-arid developing countries reliant on renewable natural resources; and developing optimum approaches for uptake of post-harvest value-addition in cassava (supported by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and EC) and bio-fortified food crops (with HarvestPlus Challenge Program); support to the horticulture sector in managing quality and waste.