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CTA. 2002. Package deals. Spore 99. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/47539
Internet URL: http://spore.cta.int/images/stories/pdf/old/spore99.pdf
New food packaging protects the product, seduces the consumer, and follows the law. The challenge is in keeping up with the latest trends.At Owino market in Kampala, Uganda, there are times when the market becomes flooded in more ways than one....
New food packaging protects the product, seduces the consumer, and follows the law. The challenge is in keeping up with the latest trends. At Owino market in Kampala, Uganda, there are times when the market becomes flooded in more ways than one. First with the rains, and then with an excess of produce due to over-production after the rains. Crop production and yields in Uganda, like elsewhere, depend very much on the rainy seasons. In the market, Sarah Masaaba beats her competitors by cleaning her fresh produce and then wrapping it in fine green leaves and dry produce in transparent polythene sheets. It gives her produce that added attraction for some customers. Packaging is as important as the product itself. It protects the product against damage and spoilage, improves handling, transport, informs the buyers about the contents and will make the produce easier to use. Sarah Masaaba and thousands of other tradeswomen know that the crucial determinants for profitable and safe trade in horticultural produce, as with all other perishable goods, are that the goods reach the consumer safe and whole. In many ACP countries, the packaging of horticultural produce for the domestic market is usually carried out at the production area, but some farmers transport their produce from farms to go downs or retailer shops in containers not specifically designed to carry produce. This affects the nutritional and storage quality. More still, in particular in larger enterprises, or where produce is pooled for export, it is packed in containers that facilitate accumulation of ethylene gases in storage. This accelerates the aging of produce. In Uganda, post harvest losses account for 30% of cost of production in agricultural produce. In Senegal, research has shown that half the failures of small-scale food enterprises are due to bad distribution, and spoilage from poor packaging. The boxes box It is not just customer care and being economical with your produce that make it necessary for food processors and retailers to pay more attention to food packaging. There is also a growing volume of legislation. Each country has its own requirements for local and imported produce, and its standards are often derived from the guidelines of the international Codex Alimentarius Commission. This has drawn up standards for processing, labelling, presentation, advertising, weights, hygiene, and practices in processing and handling as well as packaging material requirements. They are complex, and sometimes hard for the small-scale operator to obtain, but they are available in national bureaux of standards, ministries, chambers of commerce, university food science departments, and embassies. Importing countries also require evidence that processed food has had a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point check. The HACCP check examines critical points on the path taken by food from the farm-gate to the final distributor: purchase, storage, pre-preparation, cooking, cooling and packaging. It is in the West that Codex Alimentarius and HACCP standards are applied most stringently, but since they directly affect exports from ACP countries, they will soon be incorporated into the laws of most ACP countries. They may not be rigorously applied, for lack of adequate mechanisms, but they will be there, in a statute book near you. The role of technology A similar trickle-down effect will affect the nature of packaging, and its production, from the paradoxal perspective of environmental laws. Many Western nations are reducing the amount of material and energy used in packaging food and non-foods, while respecting hygiene laws. The use of non-recyclable plastics is being minimised, with recyclable materials such as cloth and non-wood paper being preferred. An extreme example: a factory in Wageningen in The Netherlands, about two kilometres from the Spore offices, produces degradable waste-bags from maize cobs, for the collection of household organic waste to central composting sites. Here lies a future business opportunity for a resourceful ACP packager! The concern for dematerialisation is not, though, always anti-plastic . In Switzerland, consumers shopping bags in plastic are about twenty times thicker than the ubiquitous thin blue plastic bags which now pollute cities and green belts the whole world over. The reason: a thicker bag will be used more often, and the energy used in production will be lower. Similar calculations lie behind recent changes in the shape of juice cartons in Europe. Taller and thinner, more can be shipped in a lorry, and more placed on shop shelves all requiring less energy. Banana leaf, or banana skin? The sums guiding the choice of packaging are complex, and in the future rare will be the times that a banana leaf wins over something manufactured. Yet for ACP processors and shippers, it is not just a question of getting proper information about laws and trade trends. It is much more about accessing the technology to produce the right cartons and cans. The sale of obsolete packing plants to ACP entrepreneurs, and the adoption of complex HACCP practices, may not be deliberate ploys to exclude some produce from Western markets, but one can see how the idea arises. While trade barriers fall, the technology barriers get higher. That requires a different strategy than demanding exemptions and quotas. It requires machines. [caption to illustration] Tomatoes in Kenya... [caption to illustration] ... coffee in Senegal: industrialisation is here