Curbing the Spate of Post-Harvest Losses in Nigeria


According to a survey by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) in 2016, an estimated 40 to 60 percent of what is harvested is wasted annually in Nigeria, due to poor post-harvest technology.
Post-harvest technology is defined as all activities that follows the harvesting of an agricultural product from the farm to the point of consumption by the end user.
Some of the unit operations that characterizes an efficient post-harvest system are: Cleaning; sorting; grading; sieving; drying; cooling; dehydration; packaging, storage etc. These processes can be carried out using locally sourced for and sophisticated machines.
These operations are always geared towards the following: adding value to the product; making the product attractive; enhancing acceptability; prolonging the shelf life of the product and protection of the product from attack by pests and other harmful agents.
Aside from conventional means of food preservation, like drying, farmers in Nigeria are not privy to some of the aforementioned food preservation methods, which advancement in technology has made them more affordable and assessable in developed and some developing nations of the world.
For instance, a promising commodity like maize grown by majority of Nigerian farmers, has been one of the leading crops with huge post-harvest losses, due to inability of farmers, particularly in the tropical regions of the country to preserve them.
Maize, which reaches safe moisture level in the region of 13 to 15 percent (dry basis) can be easily stored in the Northern part of the country, by use of traditional means of storage, which is largely supported conditions of the region, which most times see temperature hit the 40 degrees mark.
The traditional methods of initially shelling the maize under direct sunlight and bagging them for storage, had since been dumped for the steel silos and other sophisticated facilities, in advanced nations. Perishable crops and leafy vegetables are the most hit, as they are hugely dependent on certain factors, one of such being the environment.
It is rather unfortunate that vast majority of farmers in Nigeria are still yet to come to terms with some of these innovations, largely due to their inability to adapt or inadequate finances. While there are efforts to mitigate these challenges, some of the farmers, especially the unexposed, still prefer storing their products traditionally.
One could trace the successes recorded by most advanced nations in the area of deployment of post-harvest technology, to the ability of key players in the sector to network with rural farmers and seek easier modules that will domesticate such technology, to the understanding of the farmers.
Adaptive technology is the bane of food production in Nigeria, as the services of extension agents are not optimally deployed to serve as a bridge between innovative technologies, farmers and other relevant stakeholders.
The inability of technology driven farmers and to look within and be encouraged to solve relevant problems in the area of post-harvest operations has made the nation venerable and totally dependent on technology from developed countries for solution to local problems in the agricultural sector.
In China and the United States for instance, the less than 5 (five) percent of their total population that are directly involved in Agricultural production, are able to feed their population and also for export purposes, because advancement in technology has helped the farmers at all levels to add value to what is harvested.
The situation is different in Nigeria, as more than 70 percent of the population are directly involved in the production of food, but yet huge percentage of citizens are malnourished. This is basically not due to non-availability of food, but because production capacity has not been optimized due to post harvest losses.
For Nigeria to meet its food demands and mitigate post-harvest losses, the stakeholders should pay prior attention to the post-harvest technology to fight hunger, malnutrition, reduce poverty, create employment and grow our foreign reserve.
There is also need for synergy to be foisted amongst the relevant stakeholders, to discourage continued patronage of non-indigenous technology, and a policy be formulated to grossly support development of post-harvest equipment locally, to fit to our local problems.
These can also be best enhanced, if there is adequate investment in the area of research and development. Developed countries of the world made reasonable breakthrough through continuous research. Training of technicians who are into the production of post-harvest equipment should be enhanced encouraged, while mechanization and crop processing centers should be created in every state of the Federation.
Government should construct roads and affix basic amenities available in urban areas in rural settings to encourage farmers to upscale production. In addition to this is the fact that post-harvest operations is greatly influenced by farm transportation, as access to the farm is key to the quality of what gets to the processing centers and potential end users.
Transfer of technology from the local fabricator to the research center and farmers should be approached with a bottom to top model, since farmers are basically the most affected. Technicians who are into development and deployment of local technology should be encouraged, to increase capacity.
There is urgent need to fund research in the area of post-harvest technology. A special funding programme should be provided for by public and private concerns. Such research programmes should be targeted at real time challenges faced by farmers, which could be examined and analysed through a well optimized extension services.
In addition to the recommendations, there should also be concerted effort in the area of modeling a sustainable off-taking strategy, which will help local farmers reduce the spate of food wastage. Since majority of farmers in Nigeria are practicing at subsistence level, such platform will aggregate agricultural products for post-harvest processing at designated centers and lower financial concerns.
To be placed on the map of food secured nations, and to further be in line with the first and second agenda of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), which are anchored on poverty reduction and reduction of hunger, Nigeria must pay adequate attention to curbing post-harvest losses to the globally acceptable 5 to 10 percent range, thereby ensuring more people have access to and afford food.

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