Finding a lasting solution to the perennial food wastage in Nigeria is a major concern of the government of the United Kingdom and the World Bank. However, Nigerian vegetable dealers may have found succour in the innovations in a DFID/World Bank Funded GEMS4 project in curbing tomato waste and spoilage. AGBO-PAUL AUGUSTINE reports
In spite of Nigeria’s enviable position as the 16th largest tomato producing nation accounting for 10.79 per cent of Africa’s and 1.2 per cent of total world production, a lot is desired as the nation suffers losses in tomato production up to 45 per cent annually. This is contained in a document obtained from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture.
Recent visits to some of the vegetable markets around the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and Nasarawa State showed the ugly development of waste of what hitherto had arrived the markets days before as fresh tomatoes from farms mostly around northern Nigeria.
The estimated annual loss is said to be the results of poor food supply chain management; price instability resulting from seasonal fluctuation in production and the supply preference of farmers and middlemen to urban markets than processors due to low farm-gate prices.
Continued tomato waste in Nigeria in recent times has drawn the attention of the United Kingdom funded Department for International Development (DFID/UKaid) and the World Bank especially to Lagos and other parts of the country where the farm produce is of high demand.
The two major international organisations have stepped up efforts at addressing the problem through a campaign to drive food security by providing for farmers and sellers modern techniques in preserving perishable farm produce to reduce wastage and spoilage.
The issue of perishable food loss is a visible reality across major food markets in the country, such as the Mile 12 Market in Lagos, which has on constant display, a refuse dump of perishable foods such as tomatoes, pepper, fruits and vegetables and other markets in Kano and around the FCT.
The coordinator of AgroNigeria, Abigail Anaba, who lamented the continued losses to individuals within the tomato value chain in Nigeria, said the situation is counterproductive.
Anaba who is also a consultant to Growth and Employment in States – Wholesale and Retail Sector (GEMS4) funded by the DFID/UKaid) and the World Bank said, the “organisation is committed to the growth and development of the Nigerian wholesale and retail sector as over 70 per cent of perishable goods are lost within the value chain due to poor preservation and storage techniques.
“Majority of the farmers still rely on the natural shelf-life of their produce during transportation and sale to markets, which given Nigeria’s weather conditions, often does not exceed a few days. This situation inevitably translates into an increase in the price of these produce as the retailers have to factor in the cost of the produce lost to spoilage and wastage.”
She noted that the impact of the loss is not restricted to the consumers alone as farmers, wholesalers and retailers of perishable goods also experience lower returns due to challenges of poor storage and preservation techniques. Available techniques often rely on the availability of electricity for cooling and refrigeration. “There is therefore a need to develop technology and innovation that will address the issue of storage and preservation without totally relying on the electricity grid,” she said.
In line with this present detractive reality, the Growth and Employment in States – Wholesale and Retail Sector (GEMS4), which is a market development project in Nigeria has launched the “off-grid” funding window under the GEMS4 Enterprise Challenge Fund.
The challenge of fund is a business contest targeted at private sector actors to stimulate their willingness to develop and adopt innovative business models and approaches to delivering storage and preservation solutions powered by affordable alternative energy sources for poor actors within the wholesale and retail sector.
GEMS4 through this initiative is set to provide both technical and financial support of about N45 million for eligible private sector actors whose business or innovative entries will ultimately result in the creation of jobs, market availability of quality, affordable food products and improved incomes for economically challenged men and women within the sector.
According to Anaba, GEMS4 project is working with business associations, service providers, producers, retailers, wholesalers and other actors involved in the market by linking them up so as to work together and serve each other better. Additionally, the project is building local capacity and changing market incentives so that the sector better meets the long-term needs of the economically challenged.
Some of the tomato sellers in Lagos, Abuja and Kano were particularly happy to be included in the innovation to reduce their losses in the market.
The yet to be reached tomato sellers like Abubakar Lamorde at the popular Orange Market in Mararaba, Karu in Nasarawa State is worried that many of his colleagues suffer quantum loss of tomatoes daily due to their inability to preserve their products.
“Because of the loss in tomatoes, we sometimes have to increase prices to recover from the losses in other to stay in business. We will love to be included in innovative ideas to improve our business,” Lamorde said.
The Orange Market is one of the biggest vegetable markets close to the FCT providing most of the tomatoes consumed in the territory. However, the sanitary state of the market is appalling even as authorities in Nasarawa State continued to neglect the hygiene needs.
It is not uncommon to find heaps of wasted perishable products in the market as it has become part of the features of the place over a long time. Visitors to the market told LEADERSHIP Weekend that the low prices of perishables is the biggest attraction in spite of the bad state of the market.