Food remains a basic need of man. Interestingly Nigeria is blessed with all it takes to get good harvests – human resources, arable land and massive water source; but unfortunately much of it is lost to pre and post-harvest challenges, Ruth Tene Natsa writes on the need to tackle post-harvest losses towards ensuring food security
Food is one of the basic needs of all living things and while man can survive without clothing and shelter which are other basic needs, man cannot survive without food. The need to ensure food security is one Nigeria must look into towards preserving the lives of citizens.
Post-harvest losses as the term implies are losses which occur to a farmer’s produce after harvest. They are losses which occur between the time of harvest and the time of human consumption and can be divided into quantitative and qualitative losses. Whichever way the losses occur, it is usually a loss to the farmer in particular and the nation at large as the value of that produce depreciates.
Saddening also is the fact that while Nigeria records very high imports of produces, which though it can conveniently produce locally, local produces, exported are often rejected internationally as they fail to meet international standards required for export. While the nation pays heavily to import, it gains very little from the export of its produce, as such they all become losses after harvest.
These rejections are often caused by a number of factors including poor storage facilities, lack of processing facilities, poor or non-existing markets, transportation challenges and even lack of knowledge or capacity in food preservation, poor and inadequate power supply.
Nigeria is one country where fruits and vegetables grow in and out of season, but the problem of processing and preservation leads to post-harvest losses.
Post-harvest losses are caused by various factors including fruit pest diseases, poor preservation of harvested produces, poor transportation of harvested produces due to bad roads, lack of storage facilities such as cold rooms, silos and properly ventilated warehouses.
Records by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) have shown that as a result of poor or absence of good agricultural practices (GAP), and poor post-harvest handling, the acceptance of local products from Africa and other developing countries is very difficult. This is a big challenge to market development for local farmers.
According to the permanent secretary, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mr. Sonny Echono, post harvest losses have been estimated to range between five per cent and 20 per cent for grains, 20 per cent for fish and as high as 50-60 per cent for tubers, fruits and vegetable.
He said: “Horticultural crops because of their delicate nature face tremendous post-harvest challenges. In Nigeria specifically, tomatoes has the highest priorities with domestic demand of 2.3 million tonnes of fresh product annually, national production of 1.8 million tonnes, wastage of over 750.300 tonnes and import bill of N16 billion to make up for the short fall in local production.”
He said citrus (oranges) has national production of 3.48 million tonnes, contributing about 29.71 per cent of the world’s production and 81.98 per cent of Africa’s total output, however, 1.53 million tonnes of citrus product is lost annually as waste while an annual import of 7.851 tonnes (concentrates and related products ) valued at over (717 million ) has been recorded. The horticultural sub-sector is undoubtedly faced with problems of processing and post-harvest handling.
Echono meanwhile assured that the Nigerian government in partnership with the private sector is working to tackle issues of post-harvest losses through the establishment of Staple Crops Processing Zones (SCPZ), and a number of export crops handling, preservation and conditioning centres.
It is to be recalled that the immediate past government through the former minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr Akinwumi Adesina announced various policies to tackle post harvest losses, chief among which was the introduction of the Staple Crop Processing Zones(SCPZs).According to Akinwumi “agriculture had the greatest power to create jobs, because whether planting, weeding, harvesting, threshing, processing, or adding value you employ people. So the power to create jobs is there but first you must add value to every single thing.”
He said, “If you take the case of fruits, for instance, Nigeria is the largest producer of pineapples in Africa, producing 903,000 metric tonnes, South Africa produces about 100,000, but we import pineapple juice from South Africa. Nigeria is the largest producer of mangoes, 620,000 metric tonnes, South Africa produces about 50,000, but we import the juice from there. We produce 1.5 million metric tonnes of tomatoes making us the largest producers of tomatoes in African yet we are importing tomatoes paste from China.
“The good thing is that we are changing it very fast. Today, Dansa Foods, that is owned by Dangote Group, puts in $40 million in Cross Rivers to plantations in pineapples and process same into juice. It puts in $30 million in Kano State to build up a plant that will process all these tomatoes into paste. Now as we speak, you take Telagro, which has put up a big plant in Benue State making its own concentrates from mangoes and oranges that were rotting away before, all that within a short period of two years.
LEADERSHIP Sunday findings however, reveal that Kogi as the largest producer of cassava lacks processing facilities which leads to severe post-harvest losses for cassava farmers,despite the inclusion of 10 per cent cassava in the nation’s flour.
Similarly, fruits harvested in Benue State are wasted due to inadequate processing, storage and marketing facilities, and vegetables suffer the same fate in Jos, among other states.
Efforts to reduce these losses led to the establishment of Staple Crops Processing Zones (SCPZ) with the aim to industrialise areas with a high array of a particular farm commodity. It was designed such that large industries which will take care of the harvests, processing and marketing will be setup close to areas where a particular crop is largely grown.
Interestingly with the change of government, one wonders if the SCPZs will take off or if it will remain a policy statement of the past administration.
Meanwhile, a vegetable farmer in Dutse, Abuja, Mallam Muazu who spoke with LEADERSHIP Sunday, believes that if the federal government will keep to its promises of processing harvested produce, then the issue of post-harvest losses will be history in Nigeria. He called on the federal government to establish the promised Staple Crop Processing Zones (SCFZs) which was one of the anticipated programmes of the immediate past government.
Muazu said, “I farm tomatoes, fresh pepper and spinach (alefo), but my problem is that even when I harvest these produce, they get spoilt because they cannot be kept for too long. Often, I have to throw away most of them and in the end, time, money and strength are wasted. So I have to produce only to the extent I know I can sell off or consume without wastage.
“If there are processors to buy off my produce, believe me, I will produce more. After all, it will add money to my pocket, but right now, when we supply, the marketers only buy the quantity they can sell within a few days and sometimes we are left with so much, that we have to throw them away because they got spoilt.”
Reacting to the formation of the SCPZs which will ensure the processing of fresh produce and fruits, Adamu said “We heard about the SCPZs, but that was in the past government. With the way Nigeria works, the idea of SCPZs will just die off, except the new government buys into the policy.”
Unfortunately while government continues to toy with agricultural policies, farmers continue to suffer and lose hugely.This, unfortunately remains a challenge to food security in Nigeria. Government must help farmers to preserve their produce or else there wont be food security in Nigeria.
Also speaking, Mrs Kalu Egbu a house wife says she and her family consume lots of fruits and vegetables, but she can only buy a little at a time, because she lacks good ways to preserve them.
“I eat lots of fresh produce and fruits in my house, particularly the vegetables, but I cannot buy more than a little at a time because it will get spoilt. For instance tomatoes, I buy what I need for the week and then a little for frying purposes. I hate eating or buying processed tomatoes because they do not taste as fresh as the fresh tomatoes stew, so I will only buy a little at a time,” she said.
Meanwhile, as the drive is being sustained, there may be attempts to integrate the use of nuclear technology in food and agriculture. This is probably to complement plans to reduce post harvest losses, prevent wastage as well as improve agricultural productivity. It is a well established fact that radiation processing technology is gaining increasing importance all over the world. It is now being used in agriculture through radiation treatment of food to prevent spoilage and food-borne diseases.
As efforts to tackle post harvest losses continue, Nigeria, as a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), aligned some of its developmental agenda in which the ATA with the IAEA are inclusive.
In its Country Programme Framework signed last year February 14, for the period of between 2012-2017, the nation gave priority to technical cooperation in terms of transfer and application of nuclear technology in the agriculture sector. Some of the areas include use of gamma irradiation for food preservation and processing; application of irradiation technology in pest control; use of irradiation technology in mutation breeding; application of nuclear techniques in characterisation of food contaminants, pollutants to assure food safety and the usage of research reactor for soil fertility mapping.
It is worthy of note that the nation presently has a Gamma Irradiation Facility (GIF) at the Nuclear Technology Centre (NTC), Sheda, Abuja, where it demonstrates radiation processing of food, agricultural and industrial products for commercial purposes.
Available information reveal that so far, the centre has been able to focus on sprout inhibition of onions, potatoes and yams; insect dis-infestations of grains and flour products; delay ripening in fruits (paw-paw, tomatoes, etc); microbial decontamination of meat, pork seafood and reduction of microbial load in species such as chilli, pepper, ginger, for exports.
It is believed that with this technology, onion, a perishable commodity, could be preserved for about six months without getting rotten. Potatoes could also be preserved for a year without sprouting while food fumigation for human consumption can be outlawed because of the proposed better and safer technology
It must, however, be noted that the use of nuclear technologies come with high level of responsibility. This is because it has many global implications, in terms of safety and security. More so, it requires both bilateral and multilateral cooperation in a properly coordinated way, within the framework of the IAEA.
But the question as to whether the nation is ripe enough to adopt this technology, especially as it relates to food and agriculture, is causing mixed reaction. Some had expressed fear about the hidden implication of its adaptation, while others perceive it as a welcome development, capable of boosting the sector.
A farmer, Mr Adebowale Ademoye, from Akoko, Ondo State, expressed fear for the safety of people health-wise, if the technology is eventually accepted. Though he said it may be better to prevent farm losses and check waste, he advised that government should ensure it is safe before giving final approval.
Whatever needs to be done must be done to ensure Nigeria tackles its post-harvest challenges to protect farmers, the economy and ensure a food-secured nation.