‘When farmers, producers gathered to discuss food security challenge’
Several issues, ranging from corruption, insecurity, political and policies inconsistencies among others have always been identified as problems confronting Nigeria. However, one other challenge, which much credence is yet to be given, is the crisis of food security, which consequences is as severe to the development of any given country, as other factors above due to its direct effect on health and the human resources of the nation.
As a matter of fact, one of the major factors and indices, if not the most cogent that determine the level of growth and development in any country are the quality of human resources it has at his behest health and education wise.
Putting this fact into consideration and to further enhance capacity building along the agricultural value chain, Postharvest Loss Alliance for Nutrition (PLAN), under the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), in collaboration with The Rockefeller Foundation Yieldwise Programme and USAID, recently organised a three-day workshop on food safety in Lagos, which focused on packing house operations and good handling practices for fresh fruits and vegetables.
The workshop, which brought stakeholders in the agriculture sector together, was aimed at educating participants on post-harvest handling practices that are required to maintain quality and ensure the safety of consumers in Nigeria. It was also aimed at contributing to postharvest loss reduction.
Participants at the workshop included, the All Farmers Association of Nigeria, market associations, government officials, HORECA, and manufacturers and others.
In his address, Senior Project Manager for PLAN, Dr. Augustine Okoruwa said it was possible for Nigeria to thrive on agriculture, because part of the main objectives “is to produce profit, apart from feeding the family.”
According to him, “we discovered that to feed the family, there is need to have the product available in the market, but unfortunately, the challenge in getting this achieved was that the loss of fresh foods and vegetables after production in the country is very high.”
Okoruwa added that on the average “the loss of fresh foods and vegetables after production is about 50 per cent but in some locations in Nigeria, over 70 to 100 per cent losses of the fresh fruits and vegetables are recorded. This has always been so because of lack of cold chain logistics, no cooling facilities, poor transportation and lack of processing facilities close to the place where they are producing.”
He said, “to ensure that we reduce postharvest loss, there is the need to ensure that people understand the importance of postharvest handling of fresh foods and vegetables.
“Apart from that, the issue of food safety is critical, so that when they are handling it, they are conscious of the fact that human beings would consume the product.”
He also disclosed that having identified food safety as a gap in the sector “PLAN had decided as part of its project to build capacity for businesses.” Said he: “We have been doing a lot of capacity building in finance, on development of bankable business plans and now we are doing on food safety.
“We want them to come and get more information on food safety, so that on their own they can start disseminating the information amongst themselves. This is part of our own contribution to sensitize the people. We ran two series, this is the second one, and the first one was in Kaduna, earlier in the month, where we had stakeholders from the farm and producers.”
As part of the steps taken to address the situation, the organisation said it has identified Kaduna and Lagos as good locations to start with, “Kaduna being one of the largest regions in the north that produces tomatoes and other fresh foods and vegetables and Lagos being the hub for consumption and processing. So, here we are seeing more processors in attendance, and the essence is to build the capacity of businesses in the agricultural value chain to adhere to international best practices, even on the farm.”
One of the identified challenges to food security is high wastage and loss of agricultural produce. It was recalled that one of the participants had recorded 80 per cent loss of agricultural produce resulting in the shutdown of the whole plant.
Citing example of Israel, he said, “For a hectare of land, you get 120 tons of tomatoes compared to the Nigerian farmer, who only get 10 tons using the same resources. If we continue that way, it would get to a point were a lot of people will go hungry and a lot of resources would have been wasted. So food safety is one of the identified drivers of food security.”
He said it was imperative of government representatives and participants at the workshop to deploy what they learnt and then improve on their operations.
A lead trainer for Kowafresh, Ademola Adebowale, in his paper entitled: ‘Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), Production Requirements and Control’, said consumers must always demand for quality food for the sake of their health and that the government at all levels should ensure that all markets, where fruits and vegetables are sold, have clean water and are not located in a contaminated environment.
He urged government to set the template for standard, stressing that there should be national GAP “countries like Thailand, Japan and Malaysia have it, and Nigeria, as a country needs it.”
Adebowale further said there should be a standard for produce that comes to the open market because consumers are currently insisting on getting value and quality for whatever they are buying. “If someone can go to Shoprite and spend N2000 to buy a few pieces of tomatoes, it simply means the individual wants value,” he said.
According to him, “Nobody wants to buy food that would pose threat to his health, it is therefore, necessary for stakeholders to come together, form collaborations and ensure a standard, is in place for the agriculture industry as fruits and vegetables needs to be standardised.”
He continued: “In this training, we have people from Federal Institute of Industrial Research, Oshodi (FIIRO), Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON), Lagos State Ministry of Agriculture; as well as consultants and business men including farmers. We are bringing people together in the agriculture industry, training them on the importance of good handling practices and how to go about good agricultural practices, to grow better produce that can be sustainable and bring more income to the farmer and are safer to the consumer.”
He emphasised the fact that the younger generation of Nigerians are eager to go into farming and the government needs to encourage them. Also speaking, another trainer from Kowafresh and a trained food technologist, Oluwadimimu Adebowale, affirmed the workshop was equally put in place to facilitate food safety and hygiene.
While speaking on food hygiene and food security in the country, she noted that the country is still at the initial process of change and the essence of programs like this is to sensitize people on how to improve on our current practice.
She said, right now, “The general practice is still below global standard and we are actually optimistic that we can improve on where we are now and get better. I won’t say it is totally bad, I won’t say it is totally good, but I say that there is need for improvement.
She suggested that the government can come in the area of legislation to ensure food security by ensure that existing legislation in that regard are enforced, adding that there is also the need for facilities for proper practice of hygiene.
According to her, “in a situation where a market does not have water and toilet facilities and you want to preach hygiene, you will just be speaking into the air. Government should put in place enabling environments to encourage good practices.
A highlight of the workshop was a visit to Selema Farms Limited packing house in Ketu, Lagos were fresh farm produce are sorted, graded stored before getting to the consumer.
The workshop ended with the belief that participants had an increased awareness on food safety standards in handling fruits and vegetables as well as clarity and ability to work according to agreed standards and control guidelines.