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Preventing food loss, wastage as harvest begins

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•NSPRI harps on research, product applicationm
•Don advocates storage facilities at LG levels

As the rainy season harvest time begins amid mass food shortage, experts have harped on the imperative of avoiding food loss and wastage, urging the government at all levels and corporate investors to mop up available crops, add value and store adequately to arrest shortage in the future.

In the south-western, north-central, south-southern and south-eastern Nigeria, harvests of yam, maize, potato, tomatoes, and other food crops have started, but lack of adequate processing, storage and preservative technologies poses risks of loss and wastage.

The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) says an estimated 931 million tonnes of food, or 17 per cent of total food available to consumers in 2019, went into the waste, that is, at the retail and home levels.

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FAO adds that 14 per cent of the world’s food is lost from post-harvest up to (but not including) the retail level, saying, “As we improve our estimates, we will know whether the order of magnitude of the problem is comparable to earlier estimates of around 1/3 of the world’s food lost or wasted every year.”

It indicates the loss is more pronounced in developing economies with poor facilities for proper harvest, transportation, cold chain and storage facilities.

A former Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, had corroborated the fact when he stunned Nigerians that 30 per cent to 40 per cent of food crops produced in Nigeria were ultimately lost and wasted.

During Nigeria Yam Export programme in June 2017, he had said: “We actually over-produce food in Nigeria, (but) 30 per cent to 40 per cent of some of the food we produce is wasted…”

Also, Youssef Zitouni, Sales Manager, North West & Central Africa Refrigeration and Air Conditioning, Danfoss, while unveiling the Danfoss Company in Nigeria in 2016 at Eko Hotel Convention Centre, said that Nigeria’s food waste had hit $750 billion yearly.

According to Zitouni, “80 per cent food was wasted in Nigeria, while 33 per cent was wasted in the world.” Executive Director of the Nigeria Stored Products Research Institute (NSPRI) in Ilorin, Kwara State, Dr Patricia Pessu, explaining how to preserve beans, grains and other food crops for years without synthetic chemicals, said post-harvest losses could be addressed along the value chains with determination backed by research, development and investments.

“We have losses that occur at the harvest, drying, transportation, storage and market levels. So, addressing losses at each of these levels will go a long way in reducing the post-harvest losses.

“If we look at the various stages in the value chain, you will see that a lot of losses occur at harvesting. What we do is to develop technologies that can prevent the losses. So, at the harvesting level, handling is crucial. The maturity and the equipment used in harvesting play important roles in managing losses,” Pessu explained to The Guardian.

She added that if handling during harvesting is properly done and at the right time, chances of spoilage and losses would be minimised.

Pessu said standard operating procedures and technologies to reduce post-harvest losses for various agricultural crops had been developed.

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For instances, ventilated stackable crates for fruits and vegetables; inert atmosphere silos for grains and various mechanical, electrical and solar crop dryers have been developed by NSPRI and other institutes in the country, according to her.

Shedding light on the inert grain silos, Dr Pessu said the silo is a structure developed for bulk storage of grains without the use of synthetic chemicals.

She said: “The technology is about creating an inert environment for storage. The oxygen in the storage environment is replaced with nitrogen that does not support life.”

Hence, pests as living organisms cannot flourish in the inert atmosphere filled with nitrogen, and based on experiments at different locations, cowpea, sorghum, wheat, and paddy rice had been stored with in the device.

“In our Ibadan office, beans were stored for 24 months without any loss in quality. This technology is one of the patented technologies of the institute and is opened for commercialisation,” she said.

Emphasis on food loss and waste is reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Target 12.3, which calls for halving per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reducing food loss along production and supply chains (including post-harvest losses) by 2030.

A clear distinction exists between food loss and food waste, according to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO). Food losses occurs along “the food supply chain from harvest/slaughter/catch up to, but not including the retail level.”

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On the other hand, “Food waste occurs at the retail and consumption level. This definition also aligns with the distinction implicit in SDG Target 12.3.”

Vice Chancellor of Al-Qalam University and grain breeding specialist, Prof. Shehu Garki Ado, also harped on construction of more storage facilities in most food-producing local government areas.

Another way to minimize food loss after harvest, he said, is improving the rural road networks across the country. If crops are moved from farms to cities or storage facilities as soon as they are harvested, he explained, pests and moist that destroy them would be eliminated.

He added that the Federal Government should reclaim all leased silos to mop up food as soon as harvests begins. Similarly, Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Agriculture, Dr Glory Edet, said other states of the federation should emulate the state by providing storage facilities for both food and cash crops as provided by the state. She added that this method would encourage farmers’ productivity, investments and assurance of crop protection after harvest.

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Audu OgbehFAONSPRI
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