After losing millions years past, Nigeria tomato farmers find ways to cut post-harvest losses

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It is a bright February morning in Kwanar Gafan, the largest tomato market in Kano State. It is a peak period of harvest and sales of the perishable crop. At only 9a.m., hundreds of buyers and sellers are already at the haggling business.

On the other side of the market is a large expanse of land comprising tomato farms, which locals have cultivated for years, using water irrigation from Tiga dam, some 30 kilometres away.

Kwanar Gafan, located in Garun Mallam Local Government Area of Kano State usually operates at full capacity only in the dry season and this February is no exception.

The farmers bring their crops to the market for buyers who select the healthy ones. Then the purchased crops are loaded into trucks, off to Lagos, Rivers, Oyo and many other parts of the country. This is the routine but some stages of the value chain have posed great challenges to the farmers.

‘’I lose N300, 000 worth of tomatoes annually,” says Saadu Ali. “This is supposed to go into taking care of my family,’’ the 52-year-old farmer who has been in the business for 30 years added.

Mr Ali and many other farmers in Kwanar Gafan, tomato Market have been benefitting from the irrigation channel built in 1974. With the water problem solved, the post-harvest loss incurred from poor storage facilities became their major problem.

A solution to this came in December 2019.

Due to the yearly losses, the farmers under the umbrella of Tomato Out Growers Association of Nigeria (TOGAN) sought the help of the government in 2015. The help came in the form of a new initiative for storage of tomatoes.

Right within the expanse of farmland is a building constructed by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) for warehousing the produce. The building, opened to farmers in 2018, is sometimes used as a meeting point for buyers and sellers. It is a rule that all farmers must take their produce for certification by the head of the tomato farmers before going out for sale.

Inside the building and scattered around its environment are thousands of crates in different colours which the farmers now use to store their produce. This is the new initiative.

“The crates have helped to save so much for farmers as we have been able to protect our produce from getting damage on transit,” one of the farmers, Mallam Ibrahim, said as he guided this reporter through the building.

In the 2019/2020 dry season, the farmers, aided by a N723, 488.26 loan acquired through the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) Anchor Borrowers Programme purchased 300, 000 crates.

Before the purchase of the crates, the farmers used raffia baskets to store and transport tomatoes. TOGAN Chairman, Sani Danladi, said the farmers lose up to 45 per cent of the produce during this period. This loss comes in the form of breakages. However, since the introduction of crates, the loss has been reduced by at least 20 per cent.

“For instance, If you use a raffia basket when transporting like 60 – 65kg tomato fruit from Kano to Lagos when it gets to Lagos you realise that what you have left is just 40 – 45kg only. On transit you’ve lost 20 kg. It is a serious issue we are facing and that is why we are promoting the use of plastic crate because on plastic crate loss is less than 5percent,” Mr Danladi said.

Mr Danladi said the new initiative will go a long way in mitigating post-harvest loss.

“Each of them will get 30 pieces each,” Mr Danladi said, noting that not all farmers have been given the crates. “This is to ensure that they are able to move their produce from one location to another without breakages and wastages of tomato, thereby meeting the needs of consumers and meeting the agenda of achieving the 2030 zero hunger.

‘’It is expected that tomato farmers move away from the conventional use of the raffia basket to crates to further avoid postharvest losses from the farm to its end users,” he added.

Already, the new storage method is yielding some advantages as, according to Mr Danladi, Kano produced 2.1 metric tons in the 2019/2020 dry season, leaving the gap at just 0.2 metric tons from the previous year demand of 2.3 metric tons.

One of the farmers, Mr Ibrahim, already contemplated quitting tomato farming due to the losses. He had a change of mind late 2019 when the crates were introduced.

“Before now, I used to think of leaving tomato farming for another crop, because I have always lost too much during harvest and while packing my produce. But after being introduced to the use of crate I noticed a lot of improvement,” he said.

Similarly, Uzariu Magaji, another tomato farmer said he loses up to 20 per cent of his produce before he started using crates.

I have learnt several lessons on how to keep my tomato safe while transporting them, by making sure that my tomato are well arranged in the crate. But before the coming of the crate, I used to lose up to 20 per cent of my produce. Now I even save more after harvest,” he said.

Having conquered issues of post-harvest loss due to breakage, the farmers are now working towards adopting new technologies to improve their productivity.

“Part of the adoption strategy is the adoption of a new tomato variety,’’ Mr Danladi said.

Aminu Mudassir, a 30-year-old was weeding his tomato farm when this reporter met him. He has been planting kaskai, a new variety of tomato, since the 2019/2020 dry season.

Mr Mudassir said he spends less than N150, 000 on the new, modified variety and this produces 500-700 baskets per hectare. Meanwhile, the old variety which costs N250, 000 produces less than 50 baskets.

He said the new variety of tomato which takes 40 days to mature, unlike the old variety which takes 70 days, was purchased from the Dangote processing factory.

“After all that has been spent on both yields, I can now compare which is the best to invest in while trying to mitigate losses, looking at the market value and the quality of both yields.

“The old variety takes one week to start getting damaged, while the new variety takes two to three weeks before it gets spoilt. This is now compelling me to change my farming system by switching to the new variety.”

The new variety also sells for a higher price; N2, 500 per basket while the old ones sell for not more than N1, 500 to N1, 700.

The challenge the farmers now face with the new breed is the undersupply of seedlings.

“Our farmers are bitter because out of the 6000 hectares of tomato seeds paid for, only 1,600 has been delivered to farmers, which is making them uncomfortable as some of them have also protested as regard the lateness in the arrival of the seedlings to meet up with the season,’’ Mr Mudassir complained.

According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United State (FAO), Nigeria has held second place (second largest) in tomato production in Africa, trailing consistently behind Egypt. Globally, the country is the 13th largest tomato producer with 2.3 million tonnes in 2016. This account for a marginal contribution of 1.2% of the world’s output in 2016.

Over the last decade, the production of fresh tomatoes in Nigeria has grown by 25% from 1.8 million tonnes to an estimated 2.3 million tonnes. However, this growth has been primarily facilitated by a continuous increase in the harvested area for tomatoes from 265,000 hectares to 668,292 hectares in the same period.

Between 2006 and 2016, tomato yields have remained very low at an average of 5.47 tonne/ha relative to the world average yield of 38.1 tonnes/ha. The use of old seedling varieties, pest and weed invasion and low soil fertility contributed to the low tomato yield.

Nigerians consume an estimated 2.3 million tonnes of tomatoes annually, with tomato consumption per capita at 12kg in 2016. However, domestic production less the tomato wasted along the value chain 1.3 million tonnes – is not sufficient to meet the demand.

To meet local demand and self-sufficiency target, the farmers sought government support, and urged the government to provide more incentives in terms of training, pest control, fertilizers and new technologies.

Mr Danladi said, “In Kano State, we have a lot of extension services, but what we need is for the government to retrain our extension service, so that they can be updated, about the emergence of a new disease in the soil.

‘’Educating us on the best technology to apply on our farms during the planting season. The absence of such made us lose about N500,000 to N1,000,000 in the last 2018/2019 farming season, while also spending N25,000 per day to fuel the irrigation pumps per day.

‘’To prevent insect invasion are substandard chemicals, which has made us call on the federal government to checkmate the chemicals sold in the market to farmers, to further avoid more losses during harvest.

“In terms of storage, the vehicle we use to transport the fruit from the Northern part to the Southern part is another issue because the truck is not cooling van, they are not well-ventilated talk more of having a cool van with refrigerator. For instance, when we transport our produce from Kano to Lagos, we don’t have a cool room where to store the produce to avoid spoilage.”

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