By Shadee Nowrouzi
Researchers at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business are working with the Rockefeller Center and other partners to evaluate post-harvest loss of mangoes in Kenya. The goal is to increase the supply of mangoes and ensure farmers in Kenya have a more secure income.
“With all the advancements in technology, it’s difficult for some people to understand why post-harvest loss continues to be a challenge,” Maryland Smith professor Christina Elson says. “We wanted to see if there was something we could learn that would inform strategies in Kenya and around the world.”
Elson is managing director of the school’s Ed Snider Center for Enterprise and Markets, which joined the mango project in 2016. Working with the Rockefeller Center, she recruited her undergraduate students in the QUEST honors program to assist. The multidisciplinary program, which brings engineering, business and computer science students together, focuses on experiential learning.
The Maryland team is currently in the second phase of the project. The first phase involved evaluating what the research community already had learned about post-harvest loss.
Elson says one problem with fresh produce is disease, but farmers can reduce the risk by placing flytraps in their gardens. A bigger problem is information asymmetry.
“The exchange of information throughout a supply chain is essential,” Elson says. “How do buyers let farmers know they need more mangoes, have too many or need a certain kind?”
The Rockefeller Foundation and their partners in Africa are looking at various technologies, including flytraps, cold storage, dryers and better transportation systems for the mangoes throughout the supply chain.
Maryland team members then analyze the data collected over the past three years to get a better understanding of what techniques are most effective. They hope to have the project completed in two years.
“My classmates and I get to make sense of the findings, notice patterns and determine what the Rockefeller Foundation has done to make a positive difference,” said Shannon Donaldson, a QUEST engineering student in Elson’s class. “I’ve learned that big datasets and data analysis, in general, is like a puzzle and a mystery put together, so it's incredibly fun for someone like me to get lost in it, piece it together, and make sense of it.”
The Maryland-based team working on the project includes Elson and professor Rajshree Agarwal, founding director of the Snider Center. Snider Center affiliates at other institutions who are also working on the project include Adina Dabu, Kylie King, Sonali Shaw and Steve Sonka.
Shadee Nowrouzi is a communications writer at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.