Canada-funded international collaborative nanotechnology research bears fruit

Monday, 26 March 2018 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The launch of two new research-developed products to enhance the preservation of fruits was held on Thursday, 22 March, in Colombo, with the participation of Minister of Science, Technology and Research Susil Premajayantha and High Commissioner of Canada to Sri Lanka David McKinnon.

The Canadian International Food Security Research Fund (CIFSRF) – an initiative of Global Affairs Canada and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) – supported a partnership between the University of Guelph in Canada and Indian and Sri Lankan institutes as well as research and development organisations from three other developing countries to address post-harvest losses of fruits in South Asia. 

In Sri Lanka, the research was undertaken by the Industrial Technology Institute (ITI) of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Research through a grant of CAD 790,112 (approximately Rs. 94 million) over a six-year period (2012-2018) for the project entitled ‘Enhancing Preservation of Fruits Using Nano-Technology’.

The research targeted post-harvest loss reduction of high value Sri Lankan fruits and maintenance of their quality for obtaining premium prices in the domestic and export markets. Poor handling of fruit results in post-harvest losses of nearly 40% in developing countries, including Sri Lanka. 

The research scientists utilising cutting-edge nanotechnology have successfully developed two new products to extend and optimize the use of hexanal for pre- and post-harvest applications to commercial fruits, such as bananas, papayas and citrus. 

Hexanal, a natural compound that can delay the ripening of fruits, is a highly volatile molecule, but nanotechnology regulates the release of the compound, successfully preserving the fruit. The research work has included an extensive study of the biosafety of hexanal with data clearly showing that hexanal is harmless to honey bees, natural pest enemies, earthworms as well as being safe for humans.

The Bio-Wax and Tree Fresh Formulation (TFF) developed by the scientists are edible formulations with the added advantage of not only reducing moisture loss, but also reducing loss due to spoilage caused by post-harvest diseases. The innovative products are eco and environmentally friendly and would ensure international food safety standards. The two new products developed through this research were launched at this ceremony for commercial production by Hayleys Agriculture Holdings Ltd., a leading company in the agricultural sector in Sri Lanka. 

The project has also extended collaboration to another Canada-funded project, namely, the Agro-Economic Development Project (ADP) implemented by UNDP. The technology was provided to Nirveli Banana Producers and Processors Association in Jaffna to process waste material from banana fibre extraction in the production of environmentally friendly bio-degradable paper products which can be used in place of the polyethylene sleeving currently used during transportation and distribution of fruits.

The innovative products will significantly reduce post-harvest losses, improving incomes and livelihoods of smallholder fruit farmers and also provide new economic opportunities for women farmers engaged in post-harvest operations and contribute towards Sri Lanka’s economic development.