Fruit Quality

From Farm to Fork

An increased desire by consumers for healthy food has shifted emphasis to developing quality, accessible and clean food. Fruits are at the top of most preferred snacks, quickly replacing many types of candy loaded with artificial colourants and flavours, high-fructose corn syrup and an array of other additives.

In contrast, fruits contain natural sugars, they deliver beneficial nutrients, vitamins and mineral. However, growing quality fruit is not an easy task. Surely, some people with green fingers do have lemon trees or even avocado trees in their backyards but that is not enough to feed a nation. Fruit production and maintenance of the quality from the farm to fork requires skilled personnel and dedicated teams which ensures that the fruit quality is consistent. At the farm level, pre-harvest quality controllers guide and advise farmers with crop specific technology, production practices and tools to improve crop yields and quality. During harvesting, quality controllers ensure that fruit is harvested without mechanical damage (cuts, scratches, and abrasions), which can affect the cosmetic appearance of the fruit and act as an entry point for postharvest pathogens that cause decay during storage and transportation.

Once the fruit arrives at the packhouse, there are quality controllers stationed there to ensure that fruit quality is not compromised, they are responsible for assessing and sorting the fruit according to set of export standards for every variety to ensure that each variety reaches the market with optimum shelf life and taste. Additionally, there are fruit quality controllers positioned at exporting companies. These quality controllers have a responsibility of understanding the dynamics and interaction of fruit production, packaging, logistics and marketing. They take full quality control management by monitoring pre-packaging and post-packaging to ensure that packaging requirements are adhered to. Additionally, they do pre-shipment inspections, record Perishable Products Export Control Board (PPECB) rejections and communicate to all relevant parties and record shipment arrival reports including third party claims and logging all data into operational systems.

Mulweli Matshidze who holds a BScAgric degree majoring in Horticulture from the University of Limpopo and a MSc degree in Agronomy from Stellenbosch University, and Moleboheng Mokgethi studied a BScAgric degree in Horticultural Science and Plant Pathology and a MSc degree in Horticultural Science at Stellenbosch University. They are both beneficiaries of the Fresh Produce Exporters Forum (FPEF) Graduate Development Programme. I had the opportunity to discuss their experience as fruit quality control inspectors and their journey in the South African agricultural industry. It was fascinating to hear their reasons for joining the agricultural industry. Mulweli stated that she joined the industry because of curiosity, the desire to know more about the fruit production, home grown vs retail vegetable and fruits. Why are the shelf-lives of fresh produce different? She added that she loves fruit quality because she wants the best consumer experience of fresh produce. For Moleboheng, her initial interest was sparked by the lifestyle. She further elaborated and said “I wanted to be a farmer because of the lifestyle and closeness to nature. When I got to university, my interest grew towards horticultural crops because of my lecturers. Their love for the subject matter excited me. I think my personality type is quite A type and commercial fruit production and fruit quality suit that personality type. It is precise, efficient and focused work. I like that”.

When I asked Mulweli and Moleboheng about their experience in the agriculture industry in comparison to studying, Mulweli explained that working in the industry can be better described as a practical learning environment, and everything is very fast paced in attempt to attain immediate results. She further added that, “the industry must balance scientific research with their focus/drive on delivering high quality fruits and increasing market share, which have good impact on the South African economy. In comparison, a studying environment prolongs learning processes to build-up accurate scientific research results”. Moleboheng agreed and stated that she finds the industry to be more commercially focused. It is more about the numbers and relationship management than correctness and precision.

In response to the question about the impact of port congestions and shipping container shortages on fruit quality, Moleboheng stated that port congestions and delays which are related to the container shortages result in fruit quality deteriorating even before leaving the country resulting in customer dissatisfaction or rejection on arrival. Therefore, costing growers huge losses. Mulweli emphasised on the fact that port congestions and shipping container shortages have a huge impact on fruit quality which leads to customer dissatisfaction but can be detrimental on the reputation of the South African fresh produce industry. As a result, growers end up accumulating more costs as they attempt to counteract shipping delays by opting to use air freight which is expensive. We further discussed how fruit producers can possibly mitigate the current challenges, ensure fruit quality and remain competitive. Both Mulweli and Moleboheng agree that investing on improving genetics and developing varieties with good quality traits such as resistance to insect attack and long shelf-life is a starting point for the South African fruit producers. Moleboheng added that to remain competitive and increase market share, the producers need to aim at ensuring consistent quality (using, but not limited to, technology).

To conclude the discussion, we discussed their key competencies. With pride, Mulweli shared that her curiosity and ability to identify challenges and gaps sets her apart. In addition to her outstanding ability to identify the gaps, she is also solution orientated. She constantly asks herself: “What is the cause of the quality defects we are controlling or managing. What can we do to avoid or prevent the quality challenges?” Additionally, she stays informed and updated about latest research papers which focus on fruit quality improvements. While Moleboheng believes that her adaptability, openness to learning and her passion for the agriculture industry are vital. She further added that, working with compassionate recruitment agents contributed to her landing her first job and I must agree, AGRIJOB recruiters are remarkable.

Compiled by:  Makhosazana Shantelle Ngwenya – AgriJob Blog Coordinator