Reducing post-harvest losses: a priority for Africa

Post-harvest loss and its consequences for development is a widely recognised challenge. So what are the solutions already underway to ensure that food produced reaches the end user?

By using post-harvest technologies such as cold storage and raised sun-drying platforms, Nigerian farmers are reducing their tomato losses © PYXERA Global
By using post-harvest technologies such as cold storage and raised sun-drying platforms, Nigerian farmers are reducing their tomato losses © PYXERA Global

Thursday, 29 March 2018

A food loss programme in Nigeria is providing smallholder farmers in the tomato value chain with simple and accessible post-harvest innovations, such as stacking crates and cold storage, to help reduce significant food losses in the country.

Despite the high demand for tomatoes, which constitute 18% of total vegetables consumed in Nigeria, more than 45% of the crop – valued at €65 million – is lost after harvest each year. Contributing to these significant losses are the various obstacles farmers face in storing and preserving their produce. Temporary storage, for example, is non-existent. Across the country, poor processing and handling techniques, as well as inadequate transit packaging, add to the losses. This combination of factors not only impacts on the livelihoods of local smallholder farmers but has also created a significant gap in tomato demand and supply to the tune of 1.31 million t, valued at €70.8 million.

However, this situation is beginning to change as a result of the Rockefeller YieldWise Food Loss Programme, which aims to halve the world’s food loss by 2030 and is being implemented in Nigeria by PYXERA Global. Initiated in 2016, the programme aims to reduce tomato post-harvest losses through five key components: farmer aggregation and training in post-harvest handling and processing; market linkage; access to finance; access to post-harvest technologies; and creation of an enabling environment for post-harvest policies.

Impacts through innovation

A key intervention has been to create a multi-service aggregation centre, or ‘Postharvest Hub’, in Kano state, which provides a meeting point for tomato sellers and buyers to interact and access farming equipment and information. “The hub provides services such as cold storage, access to inputs such as improved seeds, crop protection products, fertilisers, irrigation equipment, and market and extension information,” says Lekan Tobe, project director for YieldWise Nigeria. “The hub is managed by a union of 44 farmer cooperatives and has about 3,000 farmer members” he explains.

YieldWise has also introduced two large mud cooling chambers, which are cold storage facilities made from local materials that are able to store tomatoes and keep them fresh for up to 6 days, as well as raised sun-drying platforms to solar dry the tomatoes. A more simple and obvious post-harvest loss reduction technology is plastic sorting crates, which are also having a significant impact. The returnable crates provide more ventilation and are less damaging to the produce than traditional raffia baskets, and “are found to reduce tomato loss in transit by 78%,” says Tobe. “The level of post-harvest loss has been reduced to about 30% over the 2 years of the initiative in Nigeria,” he continues.

Capacity building increases incomes

“We were also taught good agricultural practices – the use of hybrids, how to spray fungicides, how to transplant properly and reduce losses – and my output has increased. Before I used to get 20 t/ha, now I get 60 t/ha,” says Sani Danladi, a farmer from Kano state and member of the Postharvest Hub. “Normally, in March, we would sell tomatoes for as low as N500 [€1.15] for a 50 kg basket, we even threw away a lot that were rotten, but now, we sell the same quantity of tomatoes for N2,700 [€6.21],” Danladi continues.

Another farmer, Iliyasu Adamu, explains that due to a lack of cold storage for unsold tomatoes, “Farmers used to sell tomatoes in the open markets at very low prices of N500 [€1.15], N300 [€0.69] or even N200 [€0.46] for a 50 kg basket. But with the introduction of the aggregation centre, bulk buyers of tomatoes come and we sell our produce for N3,000 [€6.90] or N3,500 [€8.5].” Before the programme, Adamu used to get about 100 to 150 baskets of tomatoes from 1 ha, but due to the training in good agricultural practices, he now gets 200 to 300 baskets. Adamu also states that to avoid glut periods, PYXERA has taught farmers to schedule their production so they are not harvesting their tomatoes all at the same time.

According to Tobe, one of the main challenges to reducing post-harvest loss included the inadequate capacities of processing factories due to inconsistent electricity supplies and limited manpower. To mitigate this, about 120 women from the local communities were trained in how to make tomato paste, which is preserved in bottles and sold to consumers in small quantities.

Through PYXERA, the YieldWise programme has reached 20,000 farmers in five states in northern Nigeria. Technoserve will take over running the project from 2018 to 2020 and will focus on supporting post-harvest loss reduction projects in the cassava value chain as well as the tomato value chain in Nigeria.

Oluyinka Alawode

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Facts and Figures

By using post-harvest technologies such as cold storage and raised sun-drying platforms, Nigerian farmers are reducing their tomato losses © PYXERA Global

SOURCE: Rockerfeller Foundation, 2016 & PYXERA Global, 2017

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.