Nigeria: Wasting fruits at home, importing juice from abroad
All over Nigeria, from the semi arid desert of the far North through the Guinea savannah of the north central to the thick mangrove forests of the south, the country is blessed with abundant varieties of fruits grown by farmers or naturally spread by animals or birds.
Water melon, pineapple, pawpaw, citrus, banana, guava, mangoes, cashew are the common fruits one sees everywhere on the major highways across the country. Each region of the country produces at least three of these seasonal fruits in commercial quantity.
However, less than one percent of the total fruits produced in the country are processed or exported. The rest are either eaten fresh or just rot away! The implication is that farmers reap less from their many years of labour, while the economy loses millions of dollars that could have been accrued from the export of these fruits.
All over the world, nations that do not have oil are taking the huge advantages presented by the agricultural sector to extract billions of dollars and boost their economy. Some of these nations today are doing better than Nigeria.
South Africa, Kenya and Ghana are some of the countries in the continent that have taken advantage of sparkling opportunities in all subsectors of agriculture.
For instance, statistics from the South African National Agricultural Market Council, an organisation promoting access for South African agriculture, shows that the country enriches itself with billions of dollars in exports of the country’s fruits.
In 2012, South Africa was the largest world exporter of citrus with a total of 1 million tonnes exported, which accounted for 27% of global orange export. The country is the 4th largest exporter of lemon and limes with export share of 11%. It is also the major exporter of grapefruit having 25% share of the world export in 2011/2012 season.
South Africa exported a total of 102 million cartons amounting to 15 kilogrammes of oranges. 17.1 million metric tonnes of grape produced in 2013 while 55 million cartons amounting to 4.5 kilograms exported.
Most of the fruits produced in South Africa are exported making the farmers richer and the country’s economy viable. Only 9% of the citrus produced is consumed locally. 27% are processed while 64% are exported.
Grapes, apples, which are consumed in Nigeria, are mostly being imported ino the country from South Africa, according to Daily Trust’s findings.
Nigeria with its vast arable land has the potentials to dominate the exports of fruits market in Africa but instead, it is a net importer.
Benue State produces the highest quantities of oranges in the country. The production is all year round. There is no time one will not see oranges coming out of Benue. But the questions are: are the farmers richer now? What percentage of the oranges is exported? What percentage is processed? Why is it that most of the oranges harvested go as waste?
Grace Francis is an orange trader at Zuba Market in Abuja. She brings in 70 bags of 100 kilogrammes to the market almost every week from the state. She is just one of the numerous suppliers of oranges to Abuja. She said: “They all come from Benue State. Now, one needs to be careful with the quantities he or she buys because oranges are just everywhere. This is the season.
She lamented that most of the oranges are wasting away because the market was saturated and there are no industries that can buy the surplus fruits.
Alexander Aondowase, another orange farmer in Gboko, Benue State, shared with the reporter the agony of being forced to sale his oranges at cheaper prices because of glut. He said, “If we have processing facilities or industries that buy these fruits from us at good prices, we will not be forced to sell at this cheap price of N100 per basket,” he said.
While oranges are wasting away, millions of orange juices are being imported into the country every year. In fact, it is considered a prestige to serve such imported fruit juice in ceremonies. This juice is coming from South Africa, Italy, Turkey, USA and other countries, that Nigeria is more agriculturally endowed than them.
From Borno, Yobe, Kano, Sokoto, Jigawa and Bauchi, Zamfara in the north, water melon is produced in commercial quantities. At least, 15 trailers load of the product come to Zuba market almost on daily basis. Mohammed Yusuf, the Secretary-General of the Zuba market fruit seller association confirmed to the reporter.
He said while many tonnes of watermelon waste away across the country, shops are filled with imported water melon juice and other fruits juice.
Why are Nigerian farmers finding it difficult to export their fresh fruits like Kenya, South Africa and Ghana? Daily Trust put the question to Michael Kanu, Deputy Director in charge of Horticulture value chain of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture.
He said Nigeria cannot export because the fruits do not meet the international safety standard require for export.
He stressed that the country lacks the standard infrastructure required for the production of fruits and vegetables that will meet the international requirement for food safety, adding that something is being done to that effect.
“A lot has been done to address the problem of standard infrastructure and safety legislation to address the issues so that importations will stop. We are working with Standard Organisation of Nigeria to address the issue of standard. The Stable Crops Processing Zones will also address most of these challenges.”
On why there is so much wastage, especially in season of glut, Kanu said farmers are part of the problems. He said farmers believe that they make more money if they sell their products to individual consumers instead of selling to companies who buy in bulk at reduced price per unit.
Until the Federal Government proposed 14 Stable Crops Processing Zones across the country are put in place and the issues of standard infrastructures for production, storage and processing are addressed holistically, the country may continue to be consumer of imported fruits juice, while our fruits lay waste.
Pineapples are some of the common fruits found across the country