Culture and Lifestyle

Nigeria’s Food Security and the Challenges of Post-Harvest Losses

Lagos State Governor, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu announced that the state is unveiling its five-year agricultural master plan to boost food production in the state. He disclosed this at a recent event with the theme, “Implementation of Exploratory Dialogue of the United Nations Food Systems Summit in South-West Geopolitical Zone.”

According to the governor, “You will agree with me that the government alone cannot ensure the sustainability of our food system in the nation. It requires combined efforts of all stakeholders within the food system. I, therefore, use this opportunity to appeal to our financial institutions to make funds in the form of loans and grants, readily available to farmers and other stakeholders within the system to expand and implement those ideas that can make our food system more sustainable.”

All these submissions could amount to non-solution if perennial rainfall or flooding is not addressed.

Depending on the part of the country and other variables, the rainy season commences largely from April to the end of October (sometimes going into the last two months of the year). At the beginning of the planting season last year, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture flagged off input distribution in some geopolitical zones across the country, thereby kicking off and encouraging farmers to commence the farming season. From the north to the south, agricultural activities heighten strictly at this time of the year.

The rainy season is often characterised by low temperatures, sometimes with abnormal rainfall patterns. This results in flooding which should naturally be an advantage to be capitalised on.

Regrettably, flooding in Nigeria has taken a new dimension. No state is entirely free of floods. Flooding has become injurious to some crops which ordinarily require just a desirable amount of water for them to flourish, as there are stories of farms that have been flooded and a lot of losses incurred. No thanks to climate change.

Conversely, some specific crops are suitable for planting during this season. In other words, there are crops that can grow within the flood plain, while others cannot.

Flooding is a universal phenomenon. But when farmers lose their livelihood through heavy rain and flooding, it is a sorry state of affairs. It affects the food system and non-farmers also suffer the calamity. Sometime last year, the Hydrological Services Agency and the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET) warned of devastating flood. It was reported that at least, 102 Local Government Areas in some 28 states of the federation would be heavily impacted.

Farmers in most parts of the country usually gear up to take advantage of the rainfall by tilling and preparing their farmlands in readiness for the farming season. This is usually effective from March when farmers survey the chain cycle for effective food production.

There are indications that an estimated 60 per cent increase in food production will be required by the year 2050 to feed the global population. Ultimately, more is expected from the agricultural sector to increase farm yield and contain post-harvest losses which remain one of the major drawbacks of Nigeria’s food security architecture.

Farming activities during the rainy season ensure the abundance of food crops, but because of lack of storage infrastructure and other facilities, most of the harvest is lost. Sub-Saharan Africa has been described as having huge food security concerns as the majority of food waste occurs at the post-harvest stage. Some crops perish on the farm during harvest gathering, and others occur while the commodity is in transit.

Post-harvest loss is a major problem for all farmers, especially smallholder farmers. The major problem with subsistence farming in Nigeria is the lack of support and infrastructure. If smallholder farmers are provided with driers, processing machines, among others, rice, for instance, produced locally will compete favourably with its foreign counterpart.

Regrettably, statistics emanating from the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) suggest that interventions from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Federal Ministry of Agriculture, will only cater for a maximum of 2 million farmers out of the total number of 14.5 million farmers.

Former Minister of Agriculture, Akinwumi Adesina, now President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), was perhaps the initiator of value addition in agricultural produce. But local farmers are not adequately equipped to take advantage of value processing and value chain in agriculture. Most of the subsistence farmers sell at a loss. They are shortchanged by their involvement in commodity trading. They lack the technology and machinery to harvest crops. They lack good storage facilities, sufficient power, transportation capacity, among others.

Experts reveal that in 2013, losses were put around 78 per cent but with advocacy and improvements from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, it has been reduced to 50 per cent. Recent statistics show that post-harvest loss is put at 30-50 per cent loss for grains, while other commodities record over 50 per cent loss.

Some farmers, especially in the north, dry their grains on the roadside. That is part of the reasons why little stones are found in rice and some other grains. The commitment of AFAN in addressing the situation in this regard deserves commendation. According to the association, about two years ago, it participated in some arrangement to guard against post-harvest loss by collaborating with universities and the private sector to bring about ways to dry crops and store them.

Pests and worms destroy farm crops, causing farmers to use agrochemicals to reduce the impact of damage on grains more particularly rice, beans, millet, among others. The use of agrochemicals as part of inputs in agriculture is sometimes abused by local farmers. Many of them lack the basic knowledge and training to apply the required quantity of agrochemicals on grains. This affects the taste of the grain which becomes toxic to the body.

It is unfortunate that in the 21st Century, there are still talks of farmland as a basis for a bumper harvest. Time is now to talk about programmes that are actionable and can give answers to the frequently asked questions by farmers.

It is important that stakeholders in the agricultural sector imbibe the culture of looking inwards and working towards those factors that are necessary to enhance agricultural production. There are critical federal government ministries that can play key roles in achieving this objective.

Whatever farming methodology that does not fit into the national development project is lost in attrition. The Ministry of Budget and National Planning comes in here. Many do not know that agro-forestry is perhaps the biggest component of agriculture and produces economic trees. This is under the control of the Ministry of Environment.

The Ministry of Water Resources is responsible for providing water bodies and dams for agricultural purposes. There are collaborations with the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) on the production and utilization of medicinal plants. NIPRD is under the Ministry of Health and so this ministry is also a very important component of agriculture in Nigeria.

Authorities of the University of Abuja have disclosed that the institution has 11,000 hectares of land — the majority of which is lying fallow. Many universities in Nigeria also have large expanses of land that other people are encroaching into because the lands are not put to use. Government is in a position to come up with partnership programmes to ensure that mechanised agriculture can be practised on lands that are not being used.

Right from the beginning of the farming season, farmers should have a plan for their farms. Experts advocate that the first and most important plan is land mapping. The moment the land is mapped out, it gives a clear idea about per hectare yield. The second factor after land mapping is land preparation where fertilisation, irrigation and suitability, technology and support system are emphasised. Perhaps it is time to revert to the old order when the soil was investigated before cultivation, with support from research institutes. In other words, stakeholders need to go back and build at the local, ward and community levels so as to get data of farmers and know what their lands can best yield vis-à-vis the comparative advantages.

Stakeholders can take advantage of what the Agriculture Research Council of Nigeria is doing. The Council has over 2,700 research outputs documented, printed and produced on practically all types of cropping. Besides, there is a medicinal institute under the Ministry of Science and Technology, which has six volumes of about 3,000 pages each of medicinal plants arranged according to zones in Nigeria.

The Federal Government should create the enabling environment in terms of policy direction and invest more in agriculture so that smallholder farmers can enhance their productivity by mitigating the post-harvest losses that they incur.

A very strong policy on upscaling agricultural production in Nigeria should be centred on the sub-national entities. The sub-national entities have a responsibility to construct feeder roads that link the farms to the markets.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) deserves commendation for providing small cottage processing infrastructure to farmers in some states in the northeast and northwest. The farmers are already forming cooperatives. This is the direction that the government should go so that other parts of the country can equally benefit.

More so, water is life and agriculture thrives on water and water management. It is all about water conservation. What we see as much rain is what some countries are earnestly looking forward to. Countries like Indonesia are engaged in what is referred to as “rain harvesting.” In other words, when there is rain, they harvest the water for agricultural purposes.

What we should be doing as a country is to turn this seeming disadvantage occasioned by flooding into a positive outcome. The aim is to attain all-year-round agriculture with the aid of hand pumps and large water bodies, and upscaling irrigable lands, among others. This is so that food supply will be readily sufficient to feed the country first and perhaps support other neighbouring countries. Recall that despite the challenges in the agricultural sector, Nigeria has been supplying food to Niger Republic and some parts of Ghana.

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Nigeria is in a position to feed Africa because of the country’s arable land. Regrettably, many of the country’s research efforts end up on the shelves because most of the findings are not adopted. We need to get to the point of tapping into research findings and outcomes and see how they can be implemented.

Technology and tractorisation of agricultural practice in Nigeria are some of the aspects that are required not just to manage flood, but also ensure commercial, modernised and mechanised farming with a view to improving agricultural productivity. The use of technology to support production should be promoted. In doing so, one is able to identify clearly the challenges, strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities in the agricultural sector. There is a need to develop a technology that can give us a comparative advantage on this free resource called flooding. When it is channelled properly, it becomes very useful.

Educating the farmers on flooding and agriculture has suffered a setback partly due to the collapse of extension service in Nigeria. It is cardinal to the problem of post-harvest losses. The technology from research institutes is supposed to be passed on to the farmers through the extension agents and Agricultural Development Banks (ADBs). Regrettably, the manpower required to do effective extension work is lacking. There is a need to recruit more extension agents that will pass on these technologies to the farmers. All these factors should be harmonised to help Nigeria to build and sustain her food system.