By Sarem Ugoh, Postgraduate research student, School of Geography, The University of Nottingham, UK
Pasta. Gelato. Admirable architecture. These defined my visit to Rome – well not completely, the First International Congress on Postharvest Loss Prevention was absolutely significant. As a PhD student presenting my research for the first time at an international conference, sweaty palms, a pounding heart and anxiety (raised to the power of 100) defined the days before. I mean, we’re encouraged to get out of our comfort zones; hop on planes/ trains to international conferences and present our research. Stand in front of a room full of professors, researchers and professionals from all walks of life with years of experience split across them, and tell them you think your research is fascinating and probably relevant to the world outside academia. Well that’s hard, but definitely worth it.
The International Congress had the whole package – people from all over the world, working on myriad projects that placed postharvest losses in the spotlight were gathered for one cause. It was somewhat exciting to realise that a lot of participants had no idea Nigeria produces oranges. That made me feel like my research was scoring points on the ‘relevance scale’. I don’t blame non-Nigerians for not knowing that because a majority of Nigerians have no idea we produce oranges in large amounts. Also, most of us are oblivious to postharvest losses; we just don’t see it as a problem. Does that have to do with the culture? Perhaps, because for a very long time I didn’t know we produced oranges or had an issue with postharvest losses. That level of awareness is not widespread. I thought food wasted along the chain impacted the immediate people who had contact with the ‘food’ in question, like the farmers and market traders. I detached myself from the impacts and that is what a lot of people do. We feel like because we don’t literally ‘farm’ or ‘trade’, we’re not quite sure how postharvest losses affect us.
So back to oranges – Nigeria provides 3% of the world’s production estimated at 3.9 million metric tonnes every year and Benue State is the hub of citrus production. About 30% of oranges are lost before they get to the consumer. Most of the oranges produced are consumed fresh and there is no significant processing of citrus. Nigeria has just one citrus processing plant – Teragro, which started concentrate production in 2012. The capacity of Teragro is nothing compared to the production of citrus in Benue – let alone Nigeria. At the same time the rate of fruit juice consumption is on the increase. To complement this demand gap, the Nigerian Government imports 95% of citrus concentrates for local fruit juice production. Yes, you heard me right: we import citrus concentrates. Over 13 years ago we were importing fruit juice too; thankfully, that was banned in 2002.
Nigeria experiences high postharvest losses for a variety of reasons. The lack of processing facilities is a major cause, but even if we had processing facilities, what about the power situation? Without constant power there is only so much we can do about infrastructure. Maybe gigantic processing facilities are not what we need now, but how about cottage industries or mobile processors? Farmers put in so much effort and resources to produce oranges that go to waste. The climate in Benue is adequate for fruit production; literally every home in Benue has an orange tree. I remember growing up and visiting my grandma in the village, we would just sit down under a tree and stretch to grab an orange. Farmers depend on fruit production for a living; it is unfair that they produce so much and all that goes to waste. How are they supposed to provide for their families? Or send their children to school? Or purchase other food items if they are unable to sell what they have laboured to produce?
The congress presentations mirrored the same situation across all sectors – fish, fruits, vegetables, and grains in different countries. People need to be aware of the level of losses, in the case of oranges – we need processing facilities, but before we jump at that solution we require an enabling environment for it to thrive. Farmers are tired of not having off-takers – they pray for processing facilities. Whatever is produced and wasted has a negative impact on the environment.
Inform your neighbour, enlighten your friend, we need to fix postharvest losses. It is not a problem confined to only developing countries but the entire world. It’s not exclusive to small-scale farmers, no! We are all in this together and we have to fix it together.
The blog entries in this #PreventPHL series are by students and members of the PHL Prevention community of practice. The opinions expressed are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of the ADM Institute. In addition, none of the statements should be considered an endorsement of any person, product, or technique by the ADM Institute.