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A Plant-Based Coating Helps Small Farmers Stop Crop Rot

Developed by Apeel Sciences, it can double or triple the shelf life of fresh produce.

Fruits ready for coating at Apeel Sciences.

Fruits ready for coating at Apeel Sciences.

Photographer: Yuri Hasegawa for Bloomberg Businessweek

Once smallholder farmers in the Kenyan village of Masii have picked their crops, all they can do is wait until a buyer trucks through. The system works fairly well for beans and corn, but mangoes—the area’s other main crop—spoil more quickly. If the trader is late, they rot.

“We lose market because the mangoes go spotty,” says Obadiah Kisaingu, chair of the Masii Horticultural Farmers’ Cooperative Society. He estimates 40% of the co-op’s mango crop is lost to spoilage. But a simple coating could change that. A California company has created a formulation that doubles—or for some foods even triples—the shelf life of fresh produce, enabling farmers like Kisaingu to access far-off, larger markets.