Cut farmers’ post harvest losses
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.