Stories by Steve Agbota [email protected] 08033302331
Huge post-harvest losses have posed a serious threat to food security in Nigeria due to inability of successive governments to think out of the box to provide storage and processing facilities for farm produce.
Today, Nigeria is one country where fruits and vegetables grow in and out of season, but the problem of processing and preservation leads to post-harvest losses, currently estimated to about N292,037,0736 trillion annually, and equivalent to $9 billion in the agricultural sector.
Post-harvest losses are caused by various factors including fruit pest, diseases, poor preservation of harvested produces, poor transportation of harvested produces due to bad roads, lack of storage facilities such as cold rooms, silos and properly ventilated warehouses.
Daily Sun learnt that about 50 per cent of Nigeria’s fresh fruits and vegetables are damaged daily as a result of poor packaging, handling and preservation between the farm gate and the market.
However, recent records by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) have shown that as a result of poor or absence of good agricultural practices (GAP), and poor post-harvest handling, the acceptance of local products from Africa and other developing countries has remained very difficult. This has also posed a big challenge to market development for local farmers.
Tackling this challenge, apart from building or providing silos and processing facilities for farm produce, one other way to reduce the N292,037,0736 trillion loss to post-harvest challenges annually, is to adopt the use of Returnable Plastic Crates (RPCs) for moving fruits and produce as against the raffia basket being used presently.
The plastic crates currently in use at the Mile 12 Market can preserve many farm produce such as tomato, pepper, orange, onions, mango, cashew, avocado and other vegetables.
Stakeholders who spoke to Daily Sun said if the plastic crates are properly stacked and arranged, traders will be sure of having their produce in good conditions to the market from the point of production and it would also reduce post-harvest losses of about $9 billion currently incurred in the country.
They also said tomato sellers and buyers will begin to experience a new system of moving the highly perishable commodity in and around the metropolis using plastic crates. They would access higher quality produce with their nutrients largely intact coupled with a fairly longer shelf life depending on the degree of ripeness at harvest.
Daily Sun also learnt that the Lagos State government is the first state promoting the use of the crates and is currently doing sensitisation in 18 markets, which will be completed on September 7, 2017. The state government is sensitising the markets on the use of plastic crates in place of raffia baskets and also better vehicle to move the produce across the state.
At a recent workshop, Head, Produce Inspection Unit, Lagos State Ministry of Agriculture, Adegboye Adebisi, said the use of RPCs is in line with what the state government has in mind as regards changing the face of packaging and haulage of perishable produce.
“We have been advocating since 2013 that the use of raffia basket is not ideal for a mega city like Lagos because the raffia baskets harbour pathogens, which are detrimental to human health and we know that with the use of plastic creates, we will be able to conform to internationally acceptable standard of the right way of packaging perishable produce,” he said.
Speaking with Daily Sun, Senior Project Manager, Postharvest Loss Alliance for Nutrition (PLAN) Nigeria, Dr. Augustine Okoruwa, said the adoption of RPCs for storage and transporting of agricultural produce across the country will not only help to minimise losses but also save costs.
“On average, we have post-harvest losses of about 45 per cent to 50 per cent fresh fruits or vegetables. The kind of material you use in packaging contributes to that. So when you use plastic crate, you are able to fill the plastic crate and pack them on top of each other without crushing the tomatoes. No matter how you transport it, it will get to the destinations because the crate will not be sitting on top of the tomatoes but it will be sitting on top of the frame of the crate so that there would be no crushing,” he added.
He explained that the crates are easier to wash, sanitised and made free from pathogens, diseases causing organisms and contaminations, saying that people can use the plastic crates for over three years.
He said if the plastic crates are properly handled, they could be used for more than three years, unlike the baskets, which cannot be used for more than one month.
Said he: “In terms of costing, the returnable crate is more expensive but looking at the time it takes for you to use the value, it is cheaper on the long run than the basket because you can use it for three years, whereas if you calculate the amount used to buy baskets for three years that used to buy the crate, definitely would be cheaper.
“For example, the quantity of tomatoes a basket can take is about 40kg to 60kg but it depends on the size of the tomatoes; even the baskets don’t have the standard measurement. The baskets differ. You can’t really say for this basket, this is the quantity it can contain because they have different capacities. If you are buying the crate, which is smaller, they can carry produce of 20 to 25kg compared to 40kg. So you need two plastic crates for one big basket and the crate is easier to carry, it is neater and can be arranged more neatly and better than the baskets.”
The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), in collaboration with Rockefeller Foundation Yieldwise Programme-Pyxera Global, GEMS4, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Nigeria Agribusiness Group (NABG) are also promoting the adoption of the RPCs.