Why Food Security May Not Be Achieved Before 2020
Nigeria is, indeed, a blessed nation. The country is endowed with abundant natural resources. These include 68 million hectares of arable land, fresh water sources covering 12 million hectares; 960 kilometres of coastline and an ecological diversity which enable the country to produce a wide variety of crops and livestock, forestry and fishery products.
In spite of these natural endowments and favourable agro-ecologies, Nigeria is still far from attaining sustainable agricultural development. The per capita food production has not kept pace with the growing needs of the population. The country continues to import agricultural raw materials.
Agriculture plays the most determinant long-term role in the Nigerian economy, accounting for 40 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and providing 60 per cent of employment. Indeed, agriculture bellies the veritable growth reserves to drive Nigeria’s economic greatness.
But Nigeria’s arable land, going by experts’ submissions, still remain grossly underutilised with only 32 million hectares or 46 per cent of its arable land under cultivation. Close to 90 per cent of this is accounted for by households with less than two hectares under-cropping, with farm sizes ranging from 0.5 hectares in Southern Nigeria to four hectares in the north.
Inputs supply to farmers, according to agriculture experts, have also been abysmally low and of poor quality. Not only that, fertiliser consumption in Nigeria, according to experts, is put or estimated at seven kilogramme per hactare and is one of the lowest in the Sub-Saharan Africa. Also, less than 10 per cent of irrigable land is under irrigation.
Nigerian farmers have limited access to credit with lending to agriculture, representing a paltry 1.4 per cent of aggregate lending far below the six per cent in Kenya and 18 per cent in Brazil.
It is also estimated that there is one extension worker per 15,000 farm households in Nigeria, compared to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) best practice estimate of one to 500-1000 farm households. There are also about 30,000 tractors for 14 million farming households in Nigeria.
In terms of agricultural processing, Nigeria loses significant value of between 15 to 40 per cent of its post-harvest outputs due to many factors ranging from poor or non-existent roads, through poor practices to lack of processing facilities.
Not only that, in livestock production, local supplies, as experts explained, have been inadequate with an estimated 30 per cent of livestock slaughters imported from neighbouring countries. The daily animal protein intake per head per day, as explained by Dr Charles Chukwudike, President, Nigerian Veterinary Medical Association (NVMA), is currently estimated at 10 grammes compared to the FAO recommended 36 grammes.
However, there is a growing concern among the Nigerian populace and it has to do with the ever-increasing prices of food items with its attendant effects on almost every household. Many Nigerians are saying agriculture is not performing the expected roles as much desired, and every attempt to unravel the reason (s) for this unfortunate situation has been attracting attention, yet, without a concrete solution.
The major and recurring question on the lips of many however is: “When would Nigeria be food sufficient and food secured?
Going by the submission credited to Dr. Gabriel Akinboye Oluwatosin, a principal research fellow in Soil Survey and Land Evaluation at the Institute of Agricultural Research, and Training (IAR & T), Apata, Ibadan, Oyo State, lack of access to food and its availability is of great concern to Nigeria and a fundamental challenge to human welfare and economic growth.
Low agricultural production, he said, results in low incomes, poor nutrition, vulnerability to risks and lack of empowerment. The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), in Dr. Oluwatosin’ s opinion targets an average annual increase of six per cent in agricultural productivity to ensure food security and sustained national economies.
In the nation’s agricultural sector, post-harvest handling is the stage of crop production immediately following harvest, including drying, threshing, cleaning, sorting, packing and cooling. Immediately a crop is removed from the ground, or separated from its parent plant, it begins to deteriorate. Postharvest treatment largely determines final quality, whether a crop is sold for fresh consumption, or used as an ingredient in a processed food product.
Speaking with Engineer Anthony Egba, the National Secretary of Agricultural Machineries and Equipment Fabricators Association of Nigeria (AMENFAN), he explained that one of the major challenges facing food production in Nigeria is the issue of post harvest losses of our agricultural produces. Nigeria produces so much food crops but most of them are lost during harvest and others are lost as a result of poor handling and poorer storage facilities.
“So much emphasis had been placed on intensive land clearing, fertilizer distribution and other inputs, at highly subsidised costs with very little or no attention paid to post-harvest loss prevention. Whereas, no matter the tonnage of food that you produce, if you are unable to store them or add value to this food product by partial or full processing, there will still be food shortage and scarcity.
In Nigeria, the second biggest economy in Sub-Saharan Africa, losses easily exceed one-third for many crops,” he stated.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Bank are currently urging Nigeria and other Sub-Saharan African countries to invest in post-harvest technologies in a bid to reduce food losses that could significantly increase their food supply. This is contained in a new FAO/World Bank report that was released recently.
The report, entitled: “Missing Food: The Case of Postharvest Grain Losses in Sub-Saharan Africa, “ produced in collaboration with the United Kingdom’s Natural Resources Institute, estimates the value of post-harvest grain losses in sub-Saharan Africa at around $4bn (about N600bn) a year. “This lost food could meet the minimum annual food requirements of at least 48 million people, “ said FAO Assistant Director- General, Maria Helena Semedo.
Egba further explained that “If we agree that sustainable agricultural systems need to be developed to feed nine billion people by 2050, addressing waste across the entire food chain must be a critical pillar of future national food strategies.” According to estimates provided by the African Post-harvest Losses Information System, physical grain losses prior to processing can range from 10 per cent to 20 per cent.
Nigeria produces a wide variety of fruits including citrus, mango, pawpaw, guava, pineapple, banana and watermelon. The country is also a leading producer of pepper and large amounts of tomatoes, plantain, onions, okra and other vegetables.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are inherently more liable to deterioration under tropical conditions characterised by high ambient temperatures and humidity, and a high incidence of pests and diseases. Consequently, postharvest losses of fruits and vegetables are extremely high in Nigeria (30 to 50 percent).”
Postharvest losses are a great threat to food security in Nigeria. It leads to food scarcity during the agricultural off season. If one travels round this country when a particular agricultural product is in season, one will see a lot of such products rotting away. For example, more than 50 percent of mangoes, 20 to 30 per cent of tomatoes and 30 per cent of grains are wasted during their seasons in Nigeria.
If our crops are well handled using the appropriate post harvest technology, it is very possible to eat fresh maize and mangoes round the year. The most painful aspect is that this wastage is not limited to the farm alone but during transportation. There are a lot of wastages as a result of poor roads, wrong packaging and wrong vehicles.
“If you also go through our markets, you will see fruit, vegetables and tubers wasting all over the place,”Engineer Egba lamented. One of the major problems that lead to post-harvest losses is the problem of markets in Nigeria. For most of the farm produces, the farmers are at the mercy of the middlemen who take advantages of the highly perishable nature of the unprocessed crops to offer the farmers ridiculous prices for their products.
Major causes of post-harvest losses, as explained by National Secretary of AMEFAN, include the following but not limited to them.
They are premature harvest, poor threshing, insufficient drying, poor equipment, insufficient cleaning, bird attack, rodent attack, insect attack, poor packaging, transport, micro-organism attack, biochemical changes, inadequate storage, transport techniques, poor marketing and poor distribution system,
Poor power supply
• How to minimize post-harvest losses — In order to minimize food losses as highlighted by Egba, appropriate solutions must be proffered for the above causes. Paramount among the various solutions to post-harvest losses is to encourage farm gate partial or complete processing of the agricultural produce. Strategies for improving handling of agricultural perishables in Nigeria should include:
•Application of current knowledge to improve the handling systems of horticultural perishables and assuring their quality and safety;
•Removing the socio-economic constraints, such as inadequacies of infrastructures, poor marketing systems, and weak research and development capacity; and
•Overcoming the limitations of small-scale operations by encouraging consolidation and vertical integration among producers and marketers of each commodity or group of commodities.
Improvement in the agricultural product value chain will also go a long way in reducing post- harvest losses. The terms, “value chain” and “supply chain” can be used interchangeably to include production, collection, processing, wholesaling, and retailing, as well as support functions, such as input supply, financial services, transport, packaging, and advertising. A systematic analysis of each commodity production and handling system is the logical first step in identifying an appropriate strategy for reducing post-harvest losses.
Most of the production, storage and processing have remained in the hands of peasant farmers using primitive techniques that are grossly inefficient, largely unsafe, and invariably uneconomical.
In Nigeria, roads are not adequate for proper transport of horticultural crops. Also, transport vehicles and other modes, especially those suited for fresh horticultural perishables, are in short supply. This is true whether for local marketing or export to other countries. The majority of producers have small holdings and cannot afford to own their own transport vehicles. In a few cases, marketing organisations and cooperatives have been able to acquire transport vehicles, but they cannot do much about poor road conditions.
Marketing cooperatives should be encouraged among producers of major commodities in important production areas. Such organisations are especially needed in Nigeria because of the relatively small farm size.
Advantages of marketing cooperatives include: providing central accumulation points for the harvested commodity, purchasing, harvesting and packing supplies and materials in quantity,
If Nigeria must become the real giant of Africa, we must be able to feed its populace very well and then be ready to feed the whole of Africa. Nigeria must be able to produce and process (reduce post-harvest losses) its agricultural produce within the country.
Nigerian cannot afford to produce cocoa and sell cocoa beans to Europe for $3000per ton and then buy it back in chocolate at $1.00per 10g.
There must be a law that every produce must be partially processed at least before export.
In order to minimize food losses, local production of processing equipment must be encouraged and strongly supported by the government.
Food processing industries alone can give job to five million Nigerians directly and indirectly.
Transportation, packaging and storage techniques are very important in minimising losses in food production.
Post-harvest losses can also be controled in fruits and vegetables by encouraging investors, both local and international, to invest, for example, in fruit processing company in Ogbomoso, Benue and Kaduna. Big companies should also be encouraged to invest in tomatoes canning in Kano, Nasarawa, and other cities.
Stability in power supply is one of the major factors that can minimize food losses especially in the area of fish and frozen foods.
If Nigeria would achieve food security, it must not only increase productivity, but learn to utilize and preserve all the foods that is produced within. Government should also be more consistent in policy implementation and regulatory activities on agricultural produce and should also invest more on appropriate technology for the handling and post-harvest processing of agricultural produce.