4.1. On the Main Issues Addressed in the Study
In the present study, the volumes of persimmon FL were quantified during the harvest process. Persimmon is a fruit that is cultivated in the Valencian Region (Spain) for human consumption as a fresh product. These FL not only imply relevant economic losses for farmers but incur additional environmental and social costs that also damage land. In addition, unpaid fractions are generated in warehouses. These unpaid fruits are another crop volume that is not paid to producers, and they also generate additional negative economic, social and environmental impacts. In contrast, they have the potential to contribute to increased production amount with connected benefits to sustainability if they could be redirected to the intended market without additional need of arable land. Knowledge of the magnitude and the reasons behind this problem, which affect producers directly and land indirectly, was a clear motivation to conduct this work.
Persimmon is a very similar crop to other Mediterranean fruit plants as regards physiological and management issues, such as citrus fruit, pomegranates, or peaches. However, we understand that the methodology used means that this study can be very useful for other studies on food loss carried out anywhere in the world and for any type of fruit tree. For this reason, the approaches followed for this study could help to set up working patterns that better diagnose the FL problem in large agricultural areas which have no available information to date.
An average of 11.44% of persimmon losses remain in fields in relation to the potential yield of these areas (Table 3
). Moreover, the main reasons associated with such losses were determined by revising all the sampled fruit one by one (Table 4
), and the main options to reduce these volumes are described below.
Class 0: The reason for being left on trees was because they were hidden by foliage density or were found on inaccessible topmost branches. This is minor and almost unavoidable loss, except in those cases in which they are left by workers who rush during the harvest process. In order to reduce this category, major efforts need to be made to properly train workers and to reduce the time pressures during harvest. Although they are usually paid per hour worked, not per volume of fruit harvested, they must move quickly to complete their working day. Thus, it is necessary to encourage paying special attention and taking care to properly harvest crops and to raise awareness about the importance of their work to avoid FL.
Class 1: This problem is generally associated with poor flowering, which can lead to double fruit or irregularly looking fruit, which are completely undervalued by markets, even if they have a considerable calibre and are suitable for human consumption. Reducing this typology of damage is no easy task. There are different examples of good practice in large European supermarkets, which offer a commercial outlet of a fraction of these “ugly fruits”, which they are called given their singular character.
Class 2: Although they are considered purely aesthetic damage, these fruits are not collected. A change in marketing standards could reduce such losses, such as admitting fruits with certain aesthetic marks and informing consumers that they are fit for eating.
Class 3: In relation to pests, for example, “cotonet” is an insect that hides in the corolla and the rest of the skin are covered by molasses, which is a tacky dark fungus that proliferates. This fungus cannot be easily cleaned in the warehouse washing phase, and the fruit look unpleasant. Both damage types can evolve in a larger unpaid fruit fraction, which is why these fruit are rejected outright. Producers complain about it being impossible to more exhaustively control these pests because currently admitted chemicals are very limited. Then, there is also the difficulty of setting up effective biological control methods. The claim for a sanitary plan to facilitate pest control on fruit plantations, which is the case of persimmon, is a long-standing endeavour by Valencian producers. However, possible solutions are fully subordinated to strict phytosanitary legislation in both Spain and elsewhere in Europe.
Class 4: As a species, persimmon trees have very fragile and brittle wood, so branch breakage is very frequent. This is why producers tend to reinforce treetops with plastic tape to create a kind of mesh and to strengthen the tree’s main branches. It ought not to be forgotten that persimmon branches bear large amounts of fruit, and many have quite a large mass. Breaking branches spells FL for all the fruit left on the branches that have fallen to the ground, even if they present no additional defects or have not been marked by the blow. In order to solve this problem, more balanced pruning is recommended to gain more evenly distributed fruits. Increasing the reinforcement mechanisms of branches is also recommended and is currently carried out. In any case, manual work that is labour intensive does not seem viable with the current price circumstances.
Class 5: It is difficult to provide recommendations to reduce this problem because of the unknown causes involved.
Class 6: This demonstrates the triage in fields is only guided by purely commercial criteria and this necessity is translated to workers to deliver only the fruit that is completely optimal for selling to warehouses. Reduction options are more feasible in this class. Here, the commercial criteria must not be so harsh, and the collection and sale of all fruit susceptible for human consumption should be performed. Moreover, reducing this group is also possible by improving workers’ labour conditions, especially if it enables the period to collect fruit from each tree to be extended. As mentioned with class 0, another relevant good practice is to raise generally awareness among staff about the need to adequately use the whole yield thanks to the reduction in the generated FL.
Overall, not all FL are equally addressed or can be reduced by producers. In some classes, such as class 5, the main reasons remain unknown. Therefore, proposing a solution is no easy task. For classes 1, 2, and 3, and partially for classes 0 and 4, relevant reductions cannot be expected of producers because the main causes derive from climate conditions and the very nature of the crop. However, such damage types are precisely more acceptable by producers because they are related to agricultural activity. One very different case is class 6, which, apart from the losses generated when handling fruit, includes all the fruit discarded for commercial criteria. These losses account for the producers’ heaviest grievance, because they often feel powerless against buyers’ decisions and cannot collect this part of yields. This fact forces producers to intensify crops, because they need to produce many kilograms of perfect fruit in aesthetic terms if they are to achieve a minimum return.
In addition, what can be observed is that all these damage groups have substantially increased with time. Some of these damage types are inherent to the crop, such as defects from fields that vary naturally every year. The warehouse staff provided the present study with information indicating that the penalties set by the retail have constantly increased. This fact forces warehouses to be equally strict when selecting fruit to be catalogued as the first category. This higher level of demand in aesthetic criteria terms seems to be in accordance with a bigger offer. For the last few years, the available persimmon volume on the market has increased. The main consequence of this was that the defects which were scarcely penalised before are not acceptable today. This explains the demanding triage undertaken in parcels. Moreover, an additional triage takes place with the fruit delivered to warehouses which are catalogued as a second category or for industrial uses due exclusively to aesthetic criteria.
This study attempts to bring about a significant change in current marketing approaches which govern agri-food chain functioning. The present study intends to highlight the key role of farmers as their work is the starting point for the entire agri-food chain. Nowadays, farmers have to face all the risks and implicit uncertainties of field production. They always have the least market power, and are usually forced to accept prices and commercial conditions that severely constrain their profitability and their options to continue with agrarian activity. The availability of studies that explain the reality of this production sector and show the fruit volume that is pointlessly lost on the ground should serve to initiate fundamental thinking about all this. Thus, the use of the indicators known as “unpaid fraction” and “total mass and economic losses” could be interesting to start detecting possible unfair trading practices in this agri-food chain step.
Given the importance of farmers’ work, it is necessary that the entire yield lead to economic profitability. Undoubtedly, the increased recognition of farmer’s work may result in their work being adequately paid. For this purpose, the incorporation of the entire yield suitable for human consumption into the commercial chain would be a promising alternative in order to promote economic justice. As farmers are not in a position to change the framework on their own, there is pressing need to adjust the trading system framework with each stakeholder on a level playing field. This would also entail reducing the environmental and social impacts associated with the FLW issue that indirectly affect rural territories.
The role of cooperatives is also essential. Firstly, the wide variety of direct services provided to producers is a key factor, because farmers cannot possibly render these services themselves, given their limited dimension. Secondly, the effort made to commercialise production and the volume of work generated in producing regions must be appropriately valued. The link between the demanding triage in parcels according to aesthetic criteria and the generated FL can come into play by visualising what work in the field is like and by knowing that those responsible for following the harvesting process are the personnel from cooperatives. Nevertheless, after observing the trend in the last few years, we should focus on thinking that these criteria have been forced from the next agri-food chain step.
Obviously, if production is higher, the sector must make many efforts to organise itself internally and to find new markets to provide this new volume commercial outflow. The first agri-food chain stages, including cooperatives and other warehouses, must invest in creative solutions to obtain new food products as an alternative to fresh consumption. Developing the persimmon industry offers a very high potential [33
] by creating new products, such as dehydrated persimmon, marmalades, and drinks such as beers, all of which are already available on a small scale. Other products must be explored to exploit this raw material, where peptina and other components that can be used in, for example, the cosmetics industry.
This work closes by mentioning the commercialisation of fruit and vegetables that are not suitable according to the aesthetic standard and are also known as “ugly foods”. If we recognise the posed problem of pretending that only very uniform fruit and vegetables must be sold, then more and more people would be willing to consume food that falls beyond current quality standards. In fact, several initiatives are already underway to promote these ugly foods. A large amount of deformed fruit can be offered to commercial outlets if these initiatives are to extend. Deformed persimmons represent 9.47% of the total harvest losses and are included in the aforementioned damage class 1. Moreover, those fruits lost due to marks on the skin and scars, but that do not evolve to greater damage, can also be reduced. They represent 4.57% of the total persimmon losses and are included in damage class 2. The vast majority of the fruit that drops on the ground from breaking branches can be diminished and are covered by class 4, with 31.7% of the total losses in fields.
If these measures are coupled with the significant reduction in the triage undertaken in fields, and if fruit collection is carried out more carefully, the persimmon losses in class 6 could almost be eliminated. This class represents 27.92% of the total FL.
In practice, producers can barely reduce the majority of the damage classes catalogued in the different parcels herein included in a practical manner. There is therefore a need to maintain production support programmes and also to promote policies that enhance their work, all of which could help society at large to increase its awareness that humankind should make better use of the harvest. However, the role of the retail sector can be significant. It is also necessary that the initiatives which support more responsible consumer use become another key link to reduce the FL in fields. Thus, less intensive agriculture can be promoted if ugly fruit demand rises by paying farmers’ work more fairly. Therefore, profits would multiply at different levels, which could contribute not only to diverse SDGs but also to meeting the requirements of the recent European farm to fork strategy, which calls for a fair (better revenue for farmers), healthy (more persimmon fruit available to the consumer), and environmentally friendly (less environmental impact per unit due to reduced losses) food system.
4.2. Limitations and Further Research
The results of this study should be interpreted considering the limitations that emerged during the development of this study, and which could be common to other work on quantifying food loss.
First, one has to be aware of the final destination of products discarded at harvest and if those may be accounted for in food loss measurement or not.
In operational terms, a series of limitations has been detected which should be considered by taking FL measurements of tree fruit plants. FL quantification should be undertaken a few hours after the harvest process due to the fruit deterioration caused by remaining in fields, which hampers the determination of the reasons for discarding fruit. Regarding the sampling type and number of analysed trees, it is always necessary to balance the quality of the information obtained with the operability and the cost deriving from fieldwork. It is very difficult to perfectly measure all the fruit lost in parcels, unless global weighing is carried out by collecting all these fruits quickly and mechanically. Even so, the measurement process herein undertaken is considered suitable for other tree fruit plants. Although the level of representativeness was subject to the size of the sample—which, in this study, is 10 trees that were taken on a discretionary basis—care must be taken to ensure that they are representative for all the trees on the parcel. In addition to this, the selection of parcels must also be as representative as possible for the territory to be analysed. In this work, this approach was taken, so the expected results can have a very acceptable validity.
In addition, sampling must also consider aspects such as the agent that decides the quality of the fruit that is discarded in the field, which, in the present case, has been the cooperative, which is also the one that organises the harvest. Accessing data from various cooperatives would undoubtedly increase the reliability of the data, but one has always take into account the restrictions caused by limited budget, time, and willingness for cooperation, which research faces in most cases.