Cut farm­ers’ post harvest losses

Daily Trust - - OPINION -

Last week Prof. Stella Wil­liams, founder of Nige­rian Women in Agri­cul­tural Re­search for De­vel­op­ment, said over 80 per cent of crops pro­duced by farm­ers in this coun­try are wasted due to lack of pro­cess­ing and value ad­di­tion. She said farm­ers in Nige­ria suf­fer from post harvest losses and that when they take their prod­ucts to ma­jor mar­kets and they are not sold, they go straight to the garbage bins.

Other ex­perts who shared her pain noted that in­ad­e­quacy of stor­age and pack­ag­ing sys­tems, ab­sence/un­re­li­able trans­porta­tion net­works and poor mar­ket in­fra­struc­ture trans­late into sig­nif­i­cant post-harvest losses an­nu­ally while medium to large scale food pro­cess­ing in­dus­tries are still en­tirely de­pen­dent on im­ported con­cen­trates, plants and equip­ment. Post-harvest losses due to in­ef­fi­cient har­vest­ing, pro­cess­ing and stor­age tech­niques range be­tween 20 and 40 per cent of the to­tal food pro­duc­tion in Nige­ria, the ex­perts said.

A visit to the Mile-2 mar­ket in La­gos or the Or­ange mar­ket in Zuba in the FCT drives home the painful losses ex­pe­ri­enced by farm­ers. More than half of the or­anges or yams brought in from Benue State of­ten go straight into the garbage bins on ar­rival at the mar­ket. Farm­ers across the coun­try have com­plained about their in­abil­ity to make profit or break even from the sales of their pro­duce and this por­tends a great dan­ger for the coun­try’s food se­cu­rity as this set of farm­ers is re­spon­si­ble for most of the food con­sumed in the coun­try.

A World Bank re­port re­veals that, each year, up to US 4 bil­lion dol­lars worth of food are lost in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa af­ter harvest. Such heavy losses im­peril the liveli­hoods of farm­ers and stake­hold­ers across the value chain. Stud­ies have shown that even a one per­cent re­duc­tion in post harvest losses can lead to a gain of 40 mil­lion US dol­lars an­nu­ally as gov­ern­ment in­vest­ment will lead to huge waste re­duc­tion and in­creased in­come lev­els for ac­tors across var­i­ous agri­cul­tural value chains. Such losses de­prive farm­ers of the re­ward for their back-break­ing labour and it makes farm­ing less at­trac­tive in the long run.

These losses oc­cur along ev­ery step of the food pro­duc­tion chain, from harvest and han­dling to stor­age and pro­cess­ing to pack­ag­ing and trans­porta­tion. There are farm­ers who do not have a fast and de­pend­able way to get crops to the mar­ket ow­ing to in­ef­fi­cient trans­port sys­tems. The Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment has taken mea­sures to ad­dress some is­sues re­spon­si­ble for food crop losses in the past but more needs to be done as the sit­u­a­tion seems to be go­ing out of con­trol.

In 2011, the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment built 12 si­los across the geopo­lit­i­cal zones with a com­bined stor­age ca­pac­ity of 300,000 tonnes for as­sorted grains, beans and garri, while twenty ad­di­tional si­los were built to fur­ther raise the joint stor­age ca­pac­ity of the na­tion’s si­los to 1.3 mil­lion tonnes. In spite of these ef­forts, posthar­vest losses are still sub­stan­tial and food im­port bills have been ris­ing in or­der to meet the short­fall. The univer­si­ties and re­search in­sti­tutes also made ef­forts to ad­dress the men­ace through re­search but the out­comes of such re­search usu­ally end up on the shelves while the prob­lem lingers. Re­search so­lu­tions to post-harvest losses must go be­yond the lab­o­ra­tory. Their out­comes should be some­thing farm­ers can ac­cess and re­late with. Farm­ers should be sup­ported to add value to their pro­duce and this can only hap­pen if banks re­view their cur­rent loan terms that shut out farm­ers or other long term loan seek­ers.

Gov­ern­ment should go a step fur­ther by com­mit­ting idle funds such as the grow­ing pen­sion funds and other sim­i­lar funds that tar­get fu­ture us­age to ded­i­cated banks that can dis­burse to farm­ers at very low in­ter­est rates over a long term pe­riod. The pri­vate sec­tor op­er­a­tors should also take ad­van­tage of the sit­u­a­tion and in­vest in the sec­tor as al­ready ex­em­pli­fied by the Dan­gote Group which es­tab­lished a plant in Kano to buy toma­toes di­rectly from farm­ers and process into fin­ished prod­ucts.

The food bank con­cept which brings to­gether farm groups and small holder farm­ers’ co­op­er­a­tives for the pur­chase of farm pro­duce dur­ing harvest for on­ward value ad­di­tion can also be con­sid­ered in Nige­ria. Fi­nally gov­ern­ment must step up power gen­er­a­tion, en­hance the road net­works and bring back the trains and other crit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture that will strengthen the value chain and make post-harvest waste in the coun­try a thing of the past.

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