Still Breaking New Ground

April 2013

Vijaya Raghavan giving a training course in India

Every year, approximately 80 outstanding scholars, researchers, scientists, and artists are elected to the Academies of the Royal Society of Canada. Fellows are chosen by their peers for their outstanding contributions to the humanities, the natural and social sciences, and the arts. In late 2012, G.S. Vijaya Raghavan, James McGill Professor in the Department of Bioresource Engineering, was inducted as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, signifying not only his contributions to science and engineering, but also the passion, determination and hard-work that it takes to be a top-tier researcher and mentor. Professor Raghavan studies and develops pre- and post-production technologies and processes for growing and handling crops and horticultural produce. His work on soil management, controlled environment storage, drying, and thermal processing have led to the development of technologies and techniques that are being applied not only in Canada but also in India and China, and potentially in Africa to address issues of food security and safety, and poverty.  Currently he continues to break new ground through research on the use of hyperbaric pre-treatment of produce before storage as a means of extending shelf life without cooling and refrigeration, and research on microbial fuel cells that generate electric power through bacterial activity.  These technologies address circumstances where refrigeration and electricity are not readily available such as in isolated communities.

“What I have always tried to do in my research is to find solutions to production and post-production challenges in food, environment and energy,” says Raghavan. “The underlying goal has been to strive for food security, food safety and sustainability.”

Raghavan joined McGill University in 1974; he started his research career working on the effect of soil compaction by agricultural machinery. The results of his research — quantifying the effect of compaction on soil, the resulting damage and its alleviation, effect on production losses and design of better tillage practices — led to several significant recommendations on conservation and zero-tillage practices at the provincial level that are still relevant after two and half decades.

Subsequently, Vijaya Raghavan turned his attention to postharvest technology and focused his research on crop processing and storage. Apart from pioneering work in the areas of controlled- and modified-atmosphere storage of fresh fruits and vegetables, he has contributed to the development of knowledge in the areas of grain processing, drying and dehydration of agri-food produce, and storage.

Old methods of preparing vegetables for market were labour intensive and resulted in losses.

“An estimated 30% of crops and produce in developing countries are lost after being harvested as a result of damage and spoilage.  Losses occur at every step of the chain of events from the field to the market as a result of mishandling during sorting and transport, of poor storage conditions that leads to spoilage and infestation by insects and pests, and of inadequate packaging for market,” says Raghavan.  “Post-harvest losses are not only that of quantity but also of nutritional quality of the produce.  Preventing or reclaiming these losses by implementing adequate storage methods and by processing the food would provide a means of addressing food insecurity problems, and also provide the resources to deal with problems of poverty, malnutrition and hunger.”

Raghavan worked on various modified atmosphere storage technologies focused on the application of techniques involving use of membranes and diffusion channels to passively alter the storage conditions that control the quality and longevity of fresh produce. This innovative research brought him into contact with farmers near Montreal, leading to the establishment of one of the first large-scale commercial storage facilities in Canada.

Vijaya Raghavan has always been striving to develop technologies that enhance heat and mass transfer in industrial and agricultural processes. The various designs developed by him for the use of particulate medium-based heating and drying systems have been put to use for heat treatment of soybeans and other grains. With support from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), he has shared the benefits of his research efforts with people in India and China; he was the director of three major CIDA projects that provided training and support to Indian and Chinese Universities to strengthen their capacity in postharvest technology and food processing. He has also been part of developmental activities in parts of Africa and South America. He is currently working on a fourth CIDA project “Postharvest Enterprises for Rural Development” which is bringing rural and urban stakeholders to a common platform.

Vijaya Raghavan has been fortunate to witness the positive results of his work in his native India

Dr. Raghavan has been honored with many awards around the globe for his contributions in food processing outreach activities and his contributions to the many professional associations to which he belongs. He has supervised 115 graduate students and as many post-doctoral fellows, visiting scientists (China, India, Ethiopia) and research associates. He has brought in $25.5 million in research grants; he is the holder of four patents and nine reports of invention. He is the recipient of two Doctor of Science (Honoris Causa), conferred upon him by the University of Agricultural Sciences Dharwad and by the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, “recognition of services rendered to the development of agricultural education, research and extension in the country.”  In addition to him being elected to the Fellowshop of many professional bodies (CSBE, ASABE, ASME, IIE), he was elected as a Foreign Fellow of the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (NAAS) of India.

Vijaya Raghavan has been fortunate to witness the positive results of his research work in his native India. His work has helped turn hunger into sustainable agriculture and has impacted the lives of thousands. Now, after almost four decades at McGill, Raghavan is still going strong, taking on new challenges with great enthusiasm.

Professor Raghavan in reflection on his career appreciates that “Learning and transferring of knowledge has been my main mantra.  Macdonald Campus has provided me and continues to provide me, an engineer, the invaluable opportunity to operate in a multidisciplinary context.  The work we do touches upon the lives of millions in remote rural parts of the world, and is appropriate to the vision of Sir William Macdonald, in which science and engineering is used to help remote farming communities.  I am truly humbled by the opportunity to be part of this vision.’’


Learn more about Vijaya Raghavan’s research:

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