The Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (PhilMech) is studying interventions to enable cultivators of sweet potato to have higher productivity and better earnings.
According to a study published by the agency, postharvest losses of the crop ranged from 31.21 percent to almost 33 percent caused largely by the inefficiency of existing manual and labor-intensive harvesting methods which covered 350 farmer-respondents from the provinces of Albay, Bataan, Tarlac and Northern Samar.
The study added that sweet potato is the seventh most important food crop in the world and in the Philippines, the third most important food crop after rice and corn.
“I would consider this study on the possible postharvest interventions needed for sweet potato as pivotal, as lessened postharvest losses for the crop will help improve the quality and quantity of kamote available for the market,” Baldwin G. Jallorina Jr., PhilMech’s executive director said in a statement.
He added that at present, sweet potato is mostly harvested manually, requiring 30 to 50 laborers per hectare per day and lasts for two days which causes damages to the crop and in turn fetch lower prices in the market.
Likewise, harvesting loss due to uncollected and mechanically damaged roots ranged from 15.96 percent to 17.94 percent of marketable harvest and the rest of the losses were from the shipping and transport from the farm to the market.
Notably, PhilMech’s study recommended the development of farm equipment for harvesting the crop. It noted that a tractor-drawn implement was already initially developed by the Phil Root Crop of the Visayas State University in Leyte, which the agency has proposed to evaluate as to its status of commercialization.
The study also recommended an imported harvester to be localized in its design so it could be manufactured locally and its cost reduced apart from suggestions to improve and utilize an indigenous harvester that could be attached to a farm tractor made of two mouldboard plows.
PhilMech added that among the problems that it also wants to solve in the harvest of sweet potato is the fact that most vines and leaves of sweet potato are destroyed during harvesting by farmers and left to rot or are burned instead of processing them into feeds or feed supplement in the form of sillage.
According to data from the Philippine Statistics Authority, the country were able to produce 525,634.39 metric tons of sweet potato last year, down by 2.2 percent compared to 2017’s 537,303.36 MT.