Farmers groan over post-harvest challenges
Harvesting season is here and farmers are counting losses instead of reaping the fruits of their labour. CHARLES MADUABUEKE writes on the situation and the way forward.
The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) has said the economy is projected to hit two per cent growth in 2018 provided sustained agricultural growth is maintained.Consequently, the economy grew 1.5% in the Q2 of 2018; contracting from a 1.9% expansion in the Q1 as growth output of some sectors, agriculture inclusive, shrank.
Stakeholders attribute these to ills surrounding post-harvest management of crops, largely emanating from poor value chain development, infrastructural challenges and market inaccessibility.Founder of Tolulope Foods and Farms, Tolulope Aina, while explaining the situation, told The Guardian “There is an apparent disconnection between farmers, processors and marketers.”
In addition, she stated: “Nigeria is the largest producer of cassava in the world, but we still have limited supply of cassava-based products locally, hence, compelling importation. There is a demand of 12 million metric tonnes of garri per annum, but just about 7.4 metric tonnes are being produced. Indeed, the demand is not being met.”
Therefore, it is either the processors are not getting enough produce to process or remotely located farmers are stuck on the farms with their produce owing to inability to broker produce off-take. This, she said, is one of the causes of huge financial losses to farmers. She attributed this to citing of farms on marshy, hilly and inaccessible environments.
“After harvests, it is hard to locate off-takers but when this hurdle is eventually addressed, sometimes vehicles taking these crops out of farms are wrecked due to bad roads, and this dissuades off-takers from patronising these farms,” she said. Hence, the herculean task here is getting the means to convey crops to its point of demand, she added.
Aina explained that small-scale processing facilities operating at an optimal capacity are both limited and most times, overstretched.A large-scale starch processing plant operating in her neighbourhood in Ogun State, which buys from farmers in the area, had been non-operational and hence, farmers are subjected to hardship, she said.
Rain-fed farming, she said, contributes to harvest of vegetables and fruits like tomato by farmers at the same time. Whenever there is high availability of these crops, glut is inevitable as supply is bound to surpass demand, thereby bringing losses to farmers, she said. Oni Olajide, a farmer who planted flute pumpkin and plantains on several acres of land, bewailed the inability to sell his farm produce as his biggest challenge.
Another farmer, Wale Bolarinwa, attributed some of the losses experienced by farmers as consequences of lack of information to alternative markets, poor harvest and packaging practices.Most farmers do not know the appropriate time to harvest, how to sort these perishable fruits, and suitable materials for packaging, the farmer said, adding that most of them fail to do proper feasibility surveys before cultivation of crops.
Chidozie Ejionye, an agro-allied business consultant, while speaking with The Guardian, bemoaned the lack of constant power supply in the country. “We grow vegetables and such need to be kept under cool temperature,” he said, adding that “it costs a fortune to fuel and power” his cooling devices.
Aina said activities of middlemen have also compounded the marketing challenges of farmers, as the former had turned themselves into a cabal, short-changing farmers. Citing maize as an example, a cob at the farm, she said, is bought at N10, which middlemen then sell at about N50.Ironically, while farmers complain of a glut and low prices, consumers do bewail the high cost. Hence, activities of middlemen are more of market barriers.
Also, high cost of transportation has been a serious factor causing a differential between farm-gate and market prices. “If a truckload of watermelon is N30,000, transporters tend to charge as high as N20,000, leaving the farmer with a paltry N10,000,” adding that this would impact on the landing and selling cost of the produce.
The urge by the government that Nigerians should embrace farming should be backed with developmental interventions, she advised, adding that processing and storage facilities should be set up in every states.This, she said, would eliminate glut and stabilise prices of farm produce, as the stored-up yields would be made available to buyers at periods of scarcity.More so, she called for farmers to see farming as a business that should be managed the same way a financial analyst would prudently run a firm.
Aina stated: “Answers to questions like ‘where, when and how best to plant certain crops’ should be sought after by farmers in order to leverage on these opportunities.” The ‘where’ addresses the location of farms, ‘when’ pin-points the best time to plant while ‘how’ looks at best practices that should be engaged, as efficiency is key to optimal productivity and profitability, she added.
Farmers should be educated on when best to harvest perishable plants like fruits and vegetables, as the necessity of long distance transportation has encouraged harvesting once a fruit like tomato attains maturity.In addition, ripening of tomatoes, bananas and mangoes can be delayed by coating them with waxy materials developed in Nigeria by The Nigerian Stored Products Research Institute (NSPRI).
Ejionye advocated improvement in infrastructure such as road networks and electricity supply, adding that stable power supply would aid processing and storage of harvested crops. Olajide called on the government at all levels to help farmers eradicate glut and discourage practices of middlemen whom he claimed had been impoverishing farmers.
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