Organisation: Centre de Recherches Regionales sur Bananiers et Plantains, Cameroon (CRBP)
5.3 Proposed improvements
Research and development programmes for the post-harvest systems of plantain focus essentially on the improvement of conservation and transformation techniques of the product, and the reduction of post-harvest losses for a more consistent supply. In the analysis of a post-harvest systems, technical description (presentation of methods, tools or innovations) alone is not sufficient and should therefore be complemented by socio-economic evaluation. The idea behind this approach is to appreciate the technology at the disposal of the operator, proposed technology, the technical constraints, but also the economic and social constraints. In most cases, the operator has at his disposal the methods and expertise, which correspond to his environment.
The evaluation of the advantages and disadvantages of the current procedures must be the first step in the intervention process (Nago et al., 1993). All interventions to improve an existing system (introducing modern conservation or stocking techniques, etc) must be preceded by an socio-economic evaluation.
To evaluate a technique, it is advisable to define criteria from the beginning (Guéneau, 1994). The measures often adopted are:
- Participation/satisfaction of the operators.
The significance of each standard will depend on the specific methodology considered. The measure of the efficiency of a technique compares the results obtained to the financial, human and material means available. Following the identification, assessment and cost-benefit analysis, the probability for its adoption is then determined. For instance, the cutting up of bunches into hands, followed by packaging in reusable cages is a technique that reduces mechanical damages and improves fruit quality. However, it appears that this technique leads to supplementary investment which operators are not ready to incur. There is no certainty that consumers will accept a plantain price increase sufficient to gain the return of investment.
Analysis of the viability of a technique consists of estimating the capacity of the operator to master and carry forward the technique. The challenge is to overcome not only the technical constraints but also the economic ones. Can a success with a new technology be sustained and repeated?
The analysis of the impact of a technique consists of appreciating the effects that this can have on the environment in its broadest sense:
- Technical impact (improving traditional techniques or introduction of new techniques);
- Economic impact (creation or loss of employment and the increase or decrease of income);
- Social impact (effects of this technique on the operator prestige, on social cohesion and harmony, and on social organisation of labour);
- Ecological impact (destruction or protection of the environment).
The participation and satisfaction of the operators contributes to the evaluation of the technique at the operator levels. For more complete information on this point, the opinion of potential operators who refuse the technique should be collected. Possible unfavourable effects that the technique could have on certain groups should not be concealed.
5.3 Proposed improvements
Plantains and other cooking bananas produced throughout the humid tropics constitute a major source of carbohydrates and contribute to the food security for millions of people in Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America, Asia and the Pacific. The modes of consumption vary from one country to another depending on the eating habits. Production systems are mostly of traditional type and are dominated by mixed cropping of plantains with other agricultural products (coffee, cocoa, yams, cocoyams, etc). In some countries, plantain monoculture is reported. The improvement of the production systems of these food-stuffs must permit not only the increase in the quantities produced but also the improvement of the fruit quality. This can be achieved through the development of techniques for a better management of pests and diseases as well as a harmonious and durable land use.
All programmes for the improvement of post-harvest systems in plantain should be aimed at objectives defined on the basis of technical criteria (improvement of production technique, improvement of packaging, handling and transportation methods, development of appropriate preservation techniques), social (reduction of laborious operations), economic (income improvement and market reinforcement). The programme generally includes 4 phases:
- A diagnostic phase to understand the technical system and identify variables that need innovation. This essentially consists of technical and socio-economic evaluation of the system (its functional advantages and constraints, achievements, the expectations and the means of the operators). This next leads to an action plan used as a basis to search for solutions.
- A phase in search for technical solutions which takes into account the objectives of different actors of the system, their environment and their resources. The options to be investigated are not always adapted to the different situations. It is necessary to adjust them or to conceive new ones.
- An experimentation phase carried out with different actors under normal conditions. Experimental demonstrations with actors should be considered as training phase. For example, when testing an equipment, training on installation, functioning and maintenance should be organised.
- A follow up and evaluation phase for the gathering of information on the improved system. The information is then treated and technical options can be adjusted for real situations.
- An improvement programme based on such procedures enables within record time to effectively support the existing dynamics and to actually meet the expectations of operators.
Any study aimed at improving the post-harvest system of plantain should consequently take into account the contribution of the government (repairing roads and tracks in the production areas, dissemination of research finding and results, subsidising of fertilisers and pesticides, organising the market, etc) as well as the other operators in the plantain network (producers, wholesalers and retail traders, transporters, consumers, etc).
The "commodity chain" approach seems to be better for the global analysis of the system. This global and multidisciplinary approach will include a socio-economic aspect to understand the motivations and logic of the actions of the different actors in the chain (researchers, producers, transporters, retailers, consumers and manufacturers), and a technical aspect to evaluate the technical characteristics and to determine the variables for the development of the production and the improvement of the post-harvest system.