Agricultural Innovations Help Cambodian Farmers Thrive

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Gaining opportunities after harvest

Increasing fruit and vegetable availability is not just about growing more, but also how crops are cared for after harvest — a need the packinghouse concept helps address. At night, the fresh vegetables are washed, air dried, sorted, trimmed and packaged for their ride to the city.

“With this project, the postharvest loss reduction is notable,� said Buntong, whose academic specialty is postharvest technology, such as packaging and cold storage.

Cambodian farmers move crates of bittermelon in the packinghouse cold room
Farmer’s Nob Non, right, and Cheang Sophat, left, move unsold bittermelon into the packinghouse cold room to keep the vegetables fresh for future sale. Non is president of the cooperative that owns the packinghouse and also the first farmer to be certified for “good agricultural practices,â€� a certification used commonly in expert products and that is made possible by improved technologies at the packinghouse. (Max Fannin for UC Davis)

The cold storage room — central to the packinghouse design — is built with a CoolBot, a device that tricks an air conditioner into achieving colder temperatures and costs less to buy and maintain than commercial refrigeration. Buntong first heard about the CoolBot from Horticulture Innovation Lab colleagues, who have used this tool in other developing countries.

“Cooling is the most important element of keeping fruits and vegetables fresh, so we must find ways to establish a cold chain in emerging economies,� said Elizabeth Mitcham, director of the Horticulture Innovation Lab and postharvest specialist with the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences. “I’ve heard too many people write off fruits and vegetables as just too perishable. But the interest in CoolBots and cold storage in Cambodia is one example that shows this is solvable.�

Improved technologies and practices at the packinghouse also mean farmers who use the facility can become certified in “good agricultural practices� or GAP, an international food safety standard commonly used in export markets. Not coincidentally, the country’s first GAP-certified farmer is one of the leaders of this packinghouse.