The Bangladesh Institute of Nuclear Agriculture (BINA) is preparing a project to establish a food irradiation centre in Faridpur in an effort to drastically cut back on the post-harvest losses.
At the centre, crops will be exposed to ionising radiation that will extend their shelf life.
BINA says installation of gamma irradiation in the district will cost Tk160 crore, and the technology will cover the country in phases as 25% to 30% of crops and fruits rot away after harvesting, causing Tk20,000 crore in losses for Bangladesh every year.
Officials at the institute said in the irradiation piloting in Faridpur, farmers will be able to get their onions irradiated by gamma-ray for free. Once the technology goes into full-fledged operations, agri producers might be charged while accessing the technology.
Irradiation can extend the shelf life for onions and potatoes for up to three months. The technology can keep mangoes fresh for 20-25 days, litchis and bananas seven days and vegetables up to 25 days, said BINA researchers.
"If the shelf life of perishable agri-items can be extended, marketing of the products will experience a major change," Mirza Mofazzal Islam, director general of BINA, told The Business Standard.
He also said the technology will help boost agri exports.
Food irradiation technology improves safety and extends the shelf life of foods by reducing or eliminating microorganisms and insects. As in pasteurising milk and canning fruits and vegetables, irradiation can make food safer for the consumer.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has evaluated the safety of irradiated food for more than 30 years and has found the process to be safe. The World Health Organisation (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) have also endorsed the safety of irradiated food.
Post-harvest losses eat away Tk20,000cr per year
As much as 25% to 30% of crops and fruits rot away after harvesting, causing Tk20,000crore in losses for Bangladesh every year, according to BINA research.
As per the research conducted by the Bangladesh Institute of Nuclear Agriculture (BINA), onions and mangoes top the list of post-harvest losses.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the expression "post-harvest losses" means a measurable quantitative and qualitative loss in a given product. These losses can occur during any of the various phases of the post-harvest system.
BINA says post-harvest loss for onions in Bangladesh is around 20%-25%, which is to the tune of Tk2,000 crore. The institute found that a large amount of the cooking essential rots away during preservation times.
Post-harvest onion loss leads to a seasonal supply crunch and import as Bangladesh produces 33 lakh tonnes of the bulb against an annual demand of 25 lakh tonnes.
BINA says mango post-harvest loss hovers around the highest 30% to 35%. The rates are 5%-8% for potatoes, 9% for paddy and 6% for lentil-like legumes.
BINA Director General MirzaMofazzal Islam told TBS that irradiation technology can slash post-harvest losses up to 95%.
Neighbours already using it
For export to many developed countries, food irradiation is already a mandatory process. The use of technology is also increasing day by day in various countries in Asia, such as neighbouring India.
For mango export to the US and New Zealand, India has been using the technology since 2007. China is leading the use of food irradiation, while the technology has been gaining popularity in Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Thailand and Vietnam.
For the last four decades, two gamma radiation plants have been used in Savar's Atomic Energy Research Establishment in serving export-oriented pharmaceuticals, and spice manufacturing and marketing companies. But the services are inadequate compared to the demand.
On the other hand, there is almost no use of irradiation in agri products and food items in Bangladesh.
BINA estimates that once the irradiation centre in Faridpur starts operations, 85,000 tonnes of agri products can be processed there annually.