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Wastages contribute to Nigeria’s trillion naira food import bill

The premises of the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) was agog penultimate Friday as government officials, including...

The premises of the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) was agog penultimate Friday as government officials, including the minister of Agriculture, Akin Adesina, met with leading researchers, policymakers and donors to discuss opportunities on value chain development in cassava processing.
Better and improved cassava varieties helped Nigerian farmers to boost production by 10 million tons between 2002 and 2009, making the country to overtake Thailand as the world’s biggest producer of cassava.

The crop, which is consumed by millions of Nigerians, is also an important industrial crop that provides starch and other products for confectionery, sweeteners, glues, plywood, textiles, paper, biodegradable products, monosodium glutamate, and drugs. Cassava chips and pellets are used in animal feed and alcohol production.
But the opportunities for making this a major revenue earner for the country have not been realised. In a way, experts say, this has been representative of the challenges facing our Agriculture sector, which seriously limit
the nation’s food production capacity.

Little wonder the country spent trillions of Nigeria every year to import food.

Mr Adesina, on assumption of office last month, disclosed that over N635 billion was spent to import wheat, N365 billion on rice, N217 billion on sugar, and N97 billion on fish importation.

Post-harvest losses which occurs largely to the absence of viable storage and processing facilities, are some of these challenges which have impoverished farmers and dampened their enthusiasm for farming.
At present, 12 silos are distributed across the country, with a combined storage capacity of 300,000 tonnes for assorted grains, beans and garri, while 20 additional silos are being planned to further raise the joint storage capacity of the nation’s silos to 1.3 million tones.

Foluke Oluwatoyinbo, Provost of the Federal College of Agriculture, Ibadan, explained that post-harvest losses largely arose from multiple sources, namely pests and diseases, natural disasters, careless human actions and inadequate storage and processing.

“People are producing foods but we lose a lot of them because we do not have the facilities to preserve and store them,” she said.

Ms Oluwatoyinbo said Nigeria’s peculiar weather condition is not kind to food preservation without the aid of refrigerators and other storage and preservation devices, stressing that most foods produced in Nigeria are perishable at harvest.

A journalist, Nkechi Okoronkwo, who reports the agriculture sector, corroborated such a viewpoint.
“I was at the Orange Market in Mararaba, near Abuja, a few days ago and saw the huge volume of assorted fruit available at the market, many of which were bound to waste away because of their perishable nature, if not bought immediately,” she said.

“In other lands and climes, such seasonal and perishable products are processed and stored in manners that make them available to consumers even when they are off-season.”

She advocated that states and local governments should be involved in providing storage facilities for farmers, so as to minimize post-harvest loses and make for food availability all-year-round.

Ms Oluwatoyinbo underscored the necessity for effective storage of produce with the aid of refrigeration, noting however, that the poor electricity supply in the country limited such an option.

A resort to solar energy to power such systems, she pointed out, would be too expensive for the average Nigerian farmers, stressing the necessity for the Federal Government to invest more in thermal and hydro-electricity.

“The cheapest source of electricity today is still the national grid and it is unfortunate that we are where we are today in terms of power supply,” she said.

She said it was imperative for agricultural stakeholders to understand the agricultural value chain, which went beyond planting to include harvesting, storage, processing and marketing.

Adebayo Sodiq, Chairman of the Oyo State chapter of the Association of Cashew Growers and Buyers, stated that about 50 per cent of cashew fruits produced in Nigeria annually, for instance, goes to waste due to lack of storage facilities.

He said the situation was compounded by lack of foreign and local investments in storage and processing of the fruit into packages to span all seasons.

“I don’t know why foreigners have not shown interest. Maybe they still feel that the investment climate in the country is not favourable enough,” he said.
Cashew farmers are not alone in this predicament, as sweet potato farmers have also bemoaned loses suffered over the years, due to lack of silos for sweet potato storage.

Susan Phillips, the National Women Leader of Potato Growers Association of Nigeria, recently complained that huge volumes of potatoes are wasted annually, leading to enormous loses by growers.

She said while the provision of storage facilities for grains by governments were appreciated, such facilities should be holistic to cover other agricultural products including sweet potato.

“The Federal Government should broaden the strategic grains reserve programme and the construction of silos, by integrating facilities for storage of other ranges of agricultural produces,” he said.

Chairman of the Osun chapter of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Raheem Adeniji, also called on the Federal Government to provide more agricultural storage facilities for use by different categories of farmers across the country, to minimise wastage of agricultural produce.

According to him, very few farmers have the means to build and operate their own storage facilities and, even at that, such capacities would be very limited for the quantum of produce from their farms.

“The number of grain silos in some states is not enough. Other perishable farm produce have to be catered for as only very few rich farmers can afford to build any form of storage facility,” Mr Adeniji said.

While the likes of Mr Adeniji applaud government’s initiative at diversifying the nation’s economy, they also ask farmers to brace to the challenge of embracing large-scale farming.

“The rush to make agriculture viable will be for nothing if storage facilities are not put in place to stem the avalanche of losses experienced yearly by Nigerian farmers, who lose their perishable crops not sold on time,” Mr Adeniji said.
In his opinion, the availability of foods, when off-season, was a prime indicator of the capacity of a nation to meet its food requirement for the populace; especially in the case of Nigeria, which plans to be one of the world’s 20 best economies by 2020.

“A starting point will be for the Federal Government to establish silos in all states of the federation with immediate dispatch,” he said.

Monopoly on storage silos
The Director-General of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan, Peter Hartmann is however of the view that the private sector must play a crucial role to fill some gaps.

According to him, post-harvest loss in Africa opens a vista of untapped opportunities for agro-processors willing to invest in the continent.

Mr Hartmann, who officially ends his tenure at IITA in October, said the opportunities came at a time when crop improvement programs by the Institute and national partners had offered better varieties and increased yields.

“This makes the private sector a key partner at providing solutions to the losses,” he said.
The IITA boss explained that Kenya, for instance, loses 50 per cent of the bananas it produced annually, while Nigeria, which had the second biggest economy in sub-Sahara Africa, loses an estimated one-third of its annual harvests in some produce, due largely to poor storage management.

“Even in countries that are famine-prone, post-harvest losses are still a huge challenge,” he said. “Choose any market in Africa and take a walk during the close of the day and you will see heaps of foods that are lying waste.”

He said that over the years, IITA in collaboration with national partners had developed technologies to tackle post-harvest losses via processing of Africa’s major staples; including cassava, maize, bananas and cowpea.
Mr Hartmann, however, said that such an effort had been done piecemeal and on test sites, stressing the imperative for a pan-African effort that would involve small and big private sector participants.
“Africa needs more investments in processing and packaging of agricultural products, as the current number of agricultural processing firms was low, compared with the demand,” he said.

Notwithstanding this gloomy picture, IITA’s efforts have yielded several benefits to Africa’s agriculture as work in the Institute’s biological control efforts had saved Africa’s cassava against a variety of pests and diseases.

Many analysts, no doubt, agree with Mr Hartmann that commercial and private agricultural storage is a gold mine waiting to be explored in Nigeria and Africa in general.

Some private food producers however say they are not impressed with what they term ‘pseudo monopoly’ of the silos by the government.

High charges and other administrative bottlenecks are some of the complaints by persons and organisations who desire to use the silos to store their produce after harvests.
A former Oyo State Commissioner for Agriculture, Kunle Ishola, complained about the high charges on the use of grain silos located in the Monatan area of Ibadan, which even the state government found uncomfortable.

He also expressed reservations at the prices at which the grains from the silos were sold, saying that they were excessive.

Although the federal government must play the pivotal role in boosting food storage and processing facilities in the country, to avoid the needless wastage of huge volumes of farm produce, analysts say there must also be private sector involvement in the provision of such facilities, provided government offers such investors attractive incentives.

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