Noel Valentin Mulinda is an expert in postharvest technology and techniques which focus on prevent crop losses and maintaining the quality of produce after harvest. He is a 2012 graduate of the Postharvest Education Foundation (PEF). The educational programs run by PEF provide an important platform for learning and engagement by young professionals working in agriculture and postharvest systems across the world, and the story of Mulinda demonstrates the positive impact that the program has for grassroots change.
Food Tank recently had an opportunity to chat with Mulinda about his experiences with PEF and Polytask, a postharvest services firm he launched in Rwanda.
Polytask promotes improved postharvest handling techniques as a way to address the long-term poverty that growers in developing countries often face. To overcome farmers’ limited purchasing capacity, Polytask offers a first round of support to farmers free of charge in order to demonstrate the “cost benefit of utilization of new techniques.” In subsequent rounds of support, farmers and farming cooperatives “cover some expenses like transport and communication.” This contribution helps Polytask address its “lack of capacity to reach many individuals as wished,” one of the other key challenges identified by Mulinda. Mulinda has also conducted training in loss reduction and quality improvement for agricultural leaders in the Northern Province in Rwanda.
Postharvest loss is a significant challenge for food systems around the globe. Dr. Lisa Kitinoja, the founder of PEF, has found “losses in the 30 to 80 percent range for many perishable food crops […] even as high as a complete loss of 100 percent if the weather is very hot or it’s the rainy season and local market roads are closed.” According to Mulinda, the main causes of postharvest loss in Rwanda are limited knowledge of improved postharvest techniques, a lack of transportation infrastructure along the food chain, and “farmers’ low purchasing capacity to buy available postharvest materials.”
“To address these causes of postharvest loss,” Mulinda expains, “[Polytask] provides training on how to use improved harvesting techniques and proper postharvest handling. And we show individuals working in the postharvest chain how to exploit some available opportunities, and open their mind to start thinking about minimization of food waste and to maintain quality of crops from farm to consumer even if there are constraints.”
Polytask’s Facebook page provides regular updates on their activities and work in loss reduction and sustainable development.
In 2013, Mulinda received PEF’s Kader Award in Postharvest Training for his work in preventing postharvest loss and empowering farmers to achieve higher yields and financial stability.