For two weeks, Chitola Roberts- Agbaje watched the abundant harvest of her plantain farm rot away in acute dejection. She had harvested twice at her Ayepe, Ogun state eld with the impression that her driver client was coming, as usual, too off – take the produce to the various market destinations.
Sadly, his vehicle broke down and a quick-fix couldn’t do the magic. Even her motorcyclist couldn’t do much because of the poor road condition. That brief sequence of event upturned, the robust prospects of her prime farming activity as the enterprise hemorrhaged from a N420, 000 loss.
Since 2017, Agbaje’s 14 acres of plantain plunged to a surviving one, converting her field into a more diversified crop production, like mushroom rearing.
Agbaje, now the founder of Mushroom Development in Nigeria is one of the teeming Nigerian farmers whose efforts are frustrated by epidemic post harvest losses. Many crop producers in the country seem to have embraced the challenge as an invincible element of production, which must be factored into overall cost of operation. The implication is that about 50 per cent of the farmer’s labour on food supply is abruptly devoured by losses largely arising from poor storage infrastructure, transportation and in some cases, methodologies of harvesting.
In fact, highly perishable produce like fruits and vegetables suffered over 50 percent loss, according to the revelations by Federal Institute Industrial Research Oshodi (FIIRO), in Lagos. Five months ago, the institute stated that post harvest losses had peaked over $9 billion. It didn’t end there. Unavoidably, the country has constantly tethered on the edge of importing many of these produce to cover up local demand, which eventually counters its realisation of food sufficiency.
According to the 2030 Agenda of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, food security is regarded as a strategic weapon in the fight against global hunger. After poverty, ending hunger, achieving food security for improved nutrition and sustainable agriculture ranks second in the global transformation agenda. is is expected to be achieved through the combined effort of increased agricultural productivity, the upward slope of small-scale producers incomes and elimination of waste with the aid of the International Food Waste Coalition. Globally one in nine people are undernourished and the bulk of them are habitats of developing nations like Nigeria.
The government, however, has expressed commitment to this goal through initiatives such as the Nigeria Zero Hunger Strategic Review, which births a blueprint on how the government could implement policies, plans, and programmes. But the initiative, just like many others, has not trickled down to the many grassroots farmers, as they continue to grapple with shortages.
“Where are those storage facilities in Ayepe? Ayepe is a plantain farming community. Where is the storage facility there? Government is claiming to be doing so much but let the activity get to the grassroots. Let it get to the farmer. You cannot go and locate a storage facility in Abeokuta and expect farmers from Ayepe, Ijebu Ode, Ijebu Omu to harvest and move it to Abeokuta just because they want their produce not to perish. Do you know the number of markets they must have passed by before getting to Abeokuta?” Agbaje queried.
The experience is not different for farmers in Oyo state where road networks linking many farm routes are not motorable. They face terrible loss in the process of getting buyers and moving their produce to them chiefly because post-harvest storage facilities are unavailable. Meanwhile, modern technologies like the use of silos remain a luxury to many of these smallholder farmers because they lack the capital.
“ There are some commodities we don’t currently have post harvest remedy for, like tomatoes and cashew. We are having terrible problem with that here. We don’t have the materials to use for post-harvest losses because it is too expensive. It is not what we can do lo- cally. We produce cashew on several layers in Ogbomoso, Oke-Ogun and Ibarapa. After production we look for the buyer but before getting to the buyer of market destination, there will be wastages. The same happens with the tomatoes coming from the upper north. They perish before getting here. But if we have steady off-takers, we won’t have these issues,” said Olumide Ayinla, the president of the All Farmers Association, Oyo state.
A report on the Journal of Natural Sciences on “Post Harvest Losses: A Dilemma in Ensuring Food Security in Nigeria,” suggests that a 50 percent reduction in post harvest food losses in Nigeria could e ectively cut the demand for food importation. The report explains that beyond quantitative shortages of produces, losses are also qualitative. “Losses cause both qualitative and quantitative losses. Qualitative losses affect edibility, nutritional quality, calorie value, and consumer acceptability of the products. Quantitative on the other hand are in quantity reduction due to attacks from insects, rodents or micro organisms. Therefore, all efforts must be geared toward reduction of losses from field to the consumers.”
However, the problem might not be irreparable as farmers are also proffering home-grown solutions to curb the menace. Smart farmers like Usman Lawan, the chief executive o cer of USAIFA Agro-allied are ensuring that the process of harvesting is managed with the right techniques and ma- chineries to e ciently reap full harvest.
Speaking with business a.m. via a telephone call, Lawan advised that farmers adopt existing traditional methods such as the use of drums or air tight bags in lieu of expensive silos for preservation.
“I realise that there are some very old ways of do- ing things in agriculture that have been very effective and that we have stopped us- ing or discarded. If we bring back these systems with a little bit of modi cation and innovation, these systems can be very e ective. ere are some methods of preser- vation like the use of drums, air-tight plastic bags. If you put, for instance, maize in the bag, it could stop insects or rodents from feasting on them. Before that, you must have been able to attain a certain level of moisturis- ing. You must have dried your grain to a certain level. What we do mostly here is sun-drying. Technology has moved to the stage where you are able to dry your grain right from the eld in a globally acceptable way,” he said.
He further averred that farmers can conquer the dearth of funding by build- ing strong cooperatives. Such cooperatives could then access huge grants or loans which they can use to a ord storage facilities.
He said: “ e practice in developed societies has always been for farmers co- operative to come together, acquire the silos and every- one is given a place to keep goods.”
In developed societies, the use of silo is one of the advanced methods of mitigating losses. In Nigeria, there are only few of them. The Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development in 2013 completed six silos with 250,000 metric tonnes capacity across the country. Another 100,000 metric tonnes was established in Sheda area of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). But many of them have become redundant. This is why farmers like Ajagbe believe that beyond the provision of storage facilities and other key infrastructure, the entire value chain must be properly engaged.
“Instead of setting up a storage facility, why not invest in value addition. Set up a small processing hub maybe somewhere in Ilisan, Ayepe or Ikene or even Ijebu Ode. If you harvest your plantain, you can turn them into plantain chips or powdery content for other purposes. And if government discovers a farming community and realises that the size of their activity meets the average requirement for setting up a storage facility, they should set it up there,” Ajagbe explained.
Also, further findings revealed that the crux of the menace would not be wholly addressed if enabling infrastructures including electricity, good roads, among others, were not squarely addressed.
Investment in storage facilitation, business a.m. learnt, continues to get dis- suaded as investors are readily faced with the co- nundrum of generating al- ternative power supply.
Babafemi Oke, the chairman of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Lagos Chapter, told business a.m. that most investors could not overlook poor power supply. “If the government gets it right with electricity, then investors can be encouraged. I was in Dubai and the storage facility was so robust and efficient. All over the US, we saw the way they protected their produce. If the harvests are being well preserved then there is no way we should be talking about losses. Most of these things function with electricity. It is not easy for individuals to own this storage, except if the government will allow them to generate their own power,” he explained.
But whether the nightmare of post-harvest loss continues to linger or fades away quickly, much of it would depend on the governmental effort. Should government spur local manufacturing of design and fabrication of post-harvest equipment, construct more roads and fix dilapidated roads in the ruracommunitieses or maintain consistency in implementation of ag- ricultural policies, hope of fruitful harvest would be the lot of Nigerian farmers.