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‘Food-drying techs to ensure self-sufficiency for Nigeria’

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With a population of over 200 million people and food inadequacy, Nigeria battles post-harvest losses of crops as a result of poor processing and post-harvest value addition for elongated shelf life. In this interview conducted by FEMI IBIROGBA, Head, Agro-Economy, an agro-allied entrepreneur, Mr Adebayo Osiberu, disclosed that value to crops could help Nigeria in job creation, food sufficiency, and forex earning through exports.

Some people says Nigeria produces enough food crops but post-harvest management causes food shortage. Do you subscribe to the view?
Yes. We, in fact, produce more than enough. Here’s an example, in seasons for tomato cultivation, we would find a lot of tomatoes. Katsina State recorded a lot of losses to tomato glut at a certain period because there was no post-harvest management and this would have discouraged the farmers to not return to tomato planting for the next season because of the losses incurred.

The same thing is affecting the cultivation of mangoes. You would have noticed in Nigeria that products are in large supply when they are in seasons and people enjoy their availability and affordability for the period of time in which they are readily available, but we would also realise that the products disappear in its due season. With the population growth, we would still have to ensure the availability of seasonal products while they are off-season too.

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How do we dry crops to remove moisture and keep them in stable conditions to ensure availability and losses?
We cannot wait indefinitely for the government because the government is lagging behind in the provision of basic amenities and this is why people must begin to think of alternatives and solar power, which is becoming a fast-growing reliable option.

As part of the initiative, we should develop solar drying for poor farmers. Beyond that, other measures and methods should be taken into consideration which do not solely depend on electricity. There’s something called waste to wealth, which can convert agricultural waste to heat through the use of biomass and there are many other methods. The most important thing is to get started before the government interventions.

How can processing of Moringa have a positive effect on the volume of production in Nigeria? And how have you managed to process the leaves without electricity?
The thing about vegetables is that they have to be dried at a temperature that will not destroy their nutrient. Unfortunately, most of the sophisticated drying requires power. Freeze and spray dryings are heavily energy-dependent. But there are other processes like the window technology where you can dry products on the bed of hot water and ensure that the temperature is controlled, the nutritional value is intact and the quality of the product is preserved. The only problem would be that the process does not allow for the products to be dried all at once, but in bits to ensure effective growing. Although there are several ways, we use window technology and we have dried over 20 products using this method.

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The association of Moringa farmers and some foreigners are planning to escalate Moringa production, alleging that the government abandoned them in the past years. Do you see a future with Moringa creating jobs and wealth for farmers and industrialists?
Yes. Moringa is called a super food. The leaf contains more protein than any other leaf. Abroad, Moringa is an ingredient in smoothies, thus the usage of Moringa is extensive. Moringa has been consumed in Nigeria for centuries, especially in the North. The international community has just realised the value of Moringa. So, there is high demand for Moringa. The Moringa trees can last for years and thus it would create wealth and jobs.

What should the government do to encourage cultivation and industrialisation of Moringa and similar crops?
All the government needs to do is to encourage farmers to open up fields where they can plant. Some people have been advocating the return of commodity boards or councils to synergise, coordinate, gather adequate data and to stabilise agricultural production.

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Are you in support of this?
I totally agree. The quality of what goes out of the country determines how international consumers view the country. There are instances where Nigeria produces something and the neighbouring countries produce the same thing and they go about saying that Nigeria’s product is a counterfeit even if the source of their primary source for such products is from Nigeria and owing to their meticulousness in sorting and extracting the primary sources, they may claim superiority because Nigerians have not been able to exercise such patience. But if the board exists, it would determine the quality that should go out.

What would you recommend to correct the abuse and poor processing of foods in Nigeria?
This is the reason we went into Moringa tea production. You would notice that at the motor parks, people sell all sorts of concoctions and we do not know the components of what they carry and the kind of water used nor the dosage to be used.

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As well, there has been an increase in kidney-related diseases in Nigeria.Moringa is a herb and what we have done is to add so many other things into the Moringa such as Pumpkin leaf, bitter leaf, lemon, ginger and so on in a tea bag which cannot be overdosed. For example, there is a hibiscus flavour which is popularly known as “Zobo.” We need to move away from drinking anything.

As a chemical engineer, how did you develop interest in post-harvest management of crops, leaves and herbs?
I started because of the post-harvest losses that I witnessed over the years. Some of the instances were of people transporting goods to different market locations far from the reach of the farms where crops are then left to rot. I have discovered that most of those things contain a lot of water. Owing to this, I thought about processing them at the point of harvest and putting them in a very stable state so that they are able to last longer. One of the things that came to mind was to dry, which I believe is applicable to virtually every product available. Once the products are kept in stable forms, quality, good price, storage and food availability are guaranteed round the year.

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