Pilot Postharvest Losses Vietnam, identifying solutions to reduce food waste in a value chain

As part of the process of identifying solutions and best practices in Vietnam, the project team consisting of Peter Prins (Land Water Food Consult), René van Rensen (Fresh Studio) and Françoise van den Broek (PhN/Duoinlog) went on a fact-finding trip to Hanoi, HCMC and Da Lat from August 22 till 26, 2016. Awareness and understanding are prerequisites for doing business in Vietnam and Asia. One of the purposes of the meetings was to understand the mindset of the different target groups.

By Françoise van den Broek, Postharvest Network/Duoinlog

Visit Hanoi

In Hanoi we first paid a visit to Fresh Studio and the Dutch Embassy to discuss the planning for the upcoming week, the meetings that had already been scheduled and the focus areas. Fresh Studio is a food consulting company, assisting clients with every aspect of their food provision. Assuring food quality and safety is one of their core competencies, and by that, inspiring clients with insights into their sourcing, quality assurance and marketing opportunities.

In the afternoon we visited a wet market for flowers and a shopping mall with a supermarket. The wet market was really wet, because it was raining. The assortment and variety of fresh products in the supermarket was overwhelming. We saw some good examples of the very nice way of presenting the fresh products. But it was also made clear to us, that the sorting of products differs from the way we do it in Europe. And the plastic wrapping around the (cut) products contains a lot of condense due to the temperature differences during handling and transportation. And of course, we also saw the more traditional street vendors, selling the fresh cut products in the streets or bringing them to restaurants for instance.

Visit Ho Chi Minh City

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the project team met with the Association of Vietnam Retailers, International Finance Corporation (IFC), Natural Fruit and Viet Exotic Fruit, Saigon Trading Group (Satra), Nong Lam University (Faculty of Food Science & Technology), The Fruit Republic and Zespri. Almost all conversations were about the need to extend shelf life and to learn about storage possibilities with the aim to bring fresh product to customers. Major concerns are about food safety (less chemicals: pesticides and fertilisers), followed by proper packaging materials and handling for export). Improvements in post-harvest handling/-management are needed. The current level of agricultural technology for harvesting is not good enough. In Vietnam there’s a lot to learn and to do: quality of seeds and seedling material, logistics, challenges due to the different climate types within the country, long traveling distances for products from farm to market, quality of the product due to transportation issues, lack of cold storage facilities within the value chain, etc. In many cases, the current situation is that: harvesting is done early in the morning, products are put into a cold storage facility (if available), transported by regular truck without cooling facilities (the driving takes about 4 – 5 hrs) and put in a cold storage facility again (if available). The temperature fluctuations have a large impact on the quality, freshness and shelf life of the product. Several methods are used to treat crop to improve shelf life, but most methods are not suitable for tropical fresh cut products.

Farmers, retailers, research institutes, governments, do not have a tradition of close cooperation. Farmers and all other supply chain partners will not change their current way of working, unless they see that a solution is going to work. Demo farms/pilots are crucial in dissemination of knowledge: seeing is believing. The success of New Zealand’s Zespri Kiwi is based on the integral chain approach, controlled by only one supply chain partner: Zespri. Several technical solutions help to optimise the value chain, such as the use of data loggers during transportation (also fruitful to prevent from pests/diseases), optimum temperature for storage, the effect of packaging. Close collaboration between farmers and applied research could become key success factors in finding, testing and implementing new solutions.

On our way to the Nong Lam University we passed by a modern industrial zone and logistics park, still under construction.

Tuesday night we visited the whole sale market of Satra. This was really impressive to see. We could only visit part of the market. If we would have been wearing rubber boots, we could have visited the meat and fish market as well. Now we concentrated on the fruits and vegetables and also saw the flower market. The market place is well equipped with a restaurant, toilet facilities, a pharmacy, gas station. etc. And during the night, it is a very busy place. Trucks, scooters and other vehicles are driving on and off, to trade and bring the fresh products to the shops, restaurants and other locations as soon as they can.

Visit Dalat

On Thursday morning we flew to Dalat where we had meetings with Vien Son / Garden Mountain, a packing company, the Post-Harvest Department Lam Dong Province and the Fresh Studio office in Dalat.
Vien Son has a factory of 6,000 m2 to prepare fruit and vegetables for export. Export is done with fresh and processed (frozen) products. The main business of Vien Son is export of fresh and processed sweet potato, but other products like sweet pepper, carrot, dragon fruit are also processed and exported. Main export markets are Japan, Taiwan and Singapore. They have 1,500 m2 cold storage available. The company has several quality assurance certificates, incl. Global GAP. We visited all the processing facilities and saw various equipment to clean, cut, wash and freeze (IQF) produce.

In the afternoon we visited a packing company, a wet market where meat, fish and vegetables were sold and we had a meeting with the Post-Harvest Department Lam Dong Province.

On Friday, Françoise had an intense and in-depth meeting with MARD where we discussed our findings in much detail. Finding solutions to extend the shelf life of fresh products is a very important topic. So far, focus has been on the quantity of the product and not on the quality. Overall products are cheap, fast processing is necessary and therefore, they are looking for simple techniques that can be implemented at farm level. Packaging and cold storage capacity is still rather limited. Focus is on high value products, both fruits and flowers. It was suggested to start with smaller projects, in which you can also take the farmer along. Farmers need to understand the benefit in order to pick it up by themselves. The Ministry is also rather concerned about the investments needed to improve crop planting, husbandry, processing, new harvesting and cold chain techniques and equipment.

Debriefing & conference

During the debriefing at the Dutch Embassy we presented our first findings. A lot of interesting appointments and visits provided for a good first overview regarding post-harvest management of fruit and vegetables in Vietnam. It is not yet possible to directly determine / present projects for the conference, as most contacts were met for the first time. Follow up meetings / discussions need to take place.

The conference will take place in the first quarter of 2017. The date has been extended, because the conference has already attracted a lot of high level interest from the region. This also allows the organization to extend the duration of the conference from one to two days. Of course we will keep you updated on the developments. In case you are interested to become actively involved in a pilot project, or if you have any questions and/or suggestions for post-harvest interventions in Vietnam, feel free to contact us at office@postharvestnetwork.com.

Please download the full trip report, including pictures (PDF) here.