Ann Oden is Nigeria country director of PYXERA Global which is implementing Rockefeller Foundation’s YieldWise project working to strengthen the tomato value-chain in Nigeria and across the Mango and Maize value chains in Kenya and Tanzania, respectively
The YieldWise project is aimed at reducing post-harvest lost for Nigerian Tomato farmers. How are you working to achieve that?
PYXERA Global is saddled with the responsibility of implementing the YieldWise project in Nigeria by the Rockefeller Foundation, having done an assessment of the tomato value chain in 2015.
Our mandate is to explore solutions to post-harvest loss across the 5 components of the YieldWise project which include farmer aggregation and training, access to finance, access to market, access to technology as well as creating an enabling environment for smallholder farmers to reduce post-harvest loss.
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Nigeria is the second largest producer of tomato on the African continent, after Egypt; however, 40% of tomatoes produced in Nigeria are lost between the farms and market for several reasons to do with poor handling practices and bad road networks. So, although we have arable land, produce so much improved varieties of tomato we have to import tomato from China and even fellow African countries.
The Yieldwise project is a continental project, apart from working around tomato and cassava in Nigeria; we are also working on the Mango and Maize value chain in Kenya and Tanzania, respectively. Other than the transport challenges and access to inputs we are also having the challenge of processing, so we are working to reduce loss by ensuring that most of the tomatoes produced are also processed.
And since tomato is a two season crop (irrigation and rain-fed) this means processing it will not only reduce post-harvest loss but also help reduce the gap that exists when tomatoes are not being produced which means processing it will help bring down the prices of tomato when it is not tomato season.
How huge is Nigeria’s potential for tomato production in terms of not only achieving self-sufficiency but also export?
The potentials are huge because we have arable land which is very suitable for tomato production and all the states that form the tomato triangle which include Jigawa, Kaduna, Katsina and Kano practice irrigation farming, in big ways.
So, we have so many farmers that practice tomato farming and since tomato is a fragile vegetable which means it requires tender care, it is just for us to have the necessary discipline to uptake some of these interventions, according to the component areas I mentioned earlier and we will achieve bumper harvest, farmers will not suffer huge post-harvest losses anymore.
Every single household in Nigeria consumes tomato which makes it a staple food for everyone so Nigeria alone is a huge market, we are 170 million people, the market is here and if we get it right here we may not necessarily even bother about export for now.
What do you think are the major factors leading to post-harvest loss which if addressed Nigeria could significantly reduce the loss?
The major challenges leading to post-harvest loss are poor agronomic practices at production stage; from the time the seed is planted in the soil farmers need to adopt the right agronomic practices. The tomato virus which wiped off most of the tomato fields last year had to do with poor agronomic practices right from production stages.
We also have poor infrastructure, we don’t have access roads; the roads to fields where the tomatoes are being harvested which are not motorable which means the crop has to be transported on motorcycles and motorbikes. Another challenge is handling, how the tomatoes are being handled, raffia baskets are fragile and most times left the tomatoes bruised, couple with bad roads this means double jeopardy.
We are therefore advocating that farmers use plastic crates which alone reduce loss by 70%. Another issue is cold chain, we are losing most of these tomatoes because they are been transported under harsh climatic conditions. And since it is not all tomato that can make it to the market or factory to be processed what we need to do is ensure it is preserved long term which brings us to the issue of low cost solar drying.
You have spoken about the challenges of tomato loss across the tomato value chain including issues to do with transportation and processing facilities. Now, what do you think all stakeholders in the tomato value chain including growers, marketers, government and donors must do to reduce post-harvest loss to the barest minimum in Nigeria?
No one entity can do it all, it calls for an integrated approach with collaboration at its best, everybody has a role to play, the farmers have a role, the government also has a major role, private sector companies and donors all have a role to play. So, I will say collaboration, collaboration, and more collaboration.
We need to ensure we are talking to one another and sharing experiences. It is about diversification of our economy as we cannot continue to rely on oil since we have what it take to feed this nation and even produce surplus for sale.