We sell only 30 % and lose 70% of our farm produce — farmers lament
Mangoes, water melons, oranges, tomatoes, pepper top list of wasted farm products
By Peter Duru, Makurdi
AT a time when hunger is rising across the country due to food scarcity and attendant high cost, farmers in Benue State are still counting their losses due to the amount of farm-fresh produce they lose on a daily basis. Unfortunately for the farmers, who are making serious effort to increase their yield in the sprawling farmlands that crisscross the state, known as the “food basket of the nation”, they are not getting as much returns on their investments as they should due to the absence of post-harvest storage facilities of any kind in the state.
The absence of storage or processing facilities that would have aided the preservation of their farm-fresh produce has left them with no option than to strive to sell off their perishable produce such as fresh vegetables and fruits even at discounted prices so as not to lose everything at the end of each day’s business. The situation has not only stifled the efforts of the farmers in the state to produce more food but has also robbed them of the maximum economic advantage they should reap from their farming business.
Apart from staple food such as yam, rice, cassava, soya bean, sesame that the state produces in abundant quantity, Benue is also the leading producer of vegetables and fruits such as mango, watermelon, tomatoes, orange, apples, fresh pepper, pears, and pawpaw.
Regrettably, most of these food stuffs end up in the refuse bins and not in the households of those who mostly need them.
The story remains the same year in and out. The fruits are produced in commercial quantities that should turn around the fortunes of the state and the farmers alike but they end up recording huge post-harvest losses yearly due to the non-availability of storage facilities or off takers who are ready to buy off the items at below their prices.
A farmer Mrs. Grace Shuur, told Arewa Voice that she farms and trades in fruits, including oranges, tomatoes and various species of mangos but does not have much to show for it due to various reasons beyond her control.
“I work in the farm but the losses I record yearly is usually more than the money I make because we sell not more than 30 per cent of what we produce and are forced to throw away about 70 per cent of our produce because they are perishable items that cannot last for more than a few days after we bring them out from the farms.
“The loss we suffer is huge and painful and this has been going on for too long without any form of intervention from any quarters. You need to visit the villages to see the level of wastage and losses we incur daily because we are not able to sell off before they go bad. We are pleading with people who have money to build factories in the state that would process these fruits and vegetables and end this wastage. They will make big money for themselves because there is so much money in it but for now the money is wasting,” Shuur pleaded.
On his part, the Benue State Chairman of All Farmers Association of Nigeria, AFAN, Comrade Saaku Aondongu, lamented that the state is losing huge funds that it would been earning from taxes and revenue if there were facilities in the state to process the large quantities of fruits and vegetables being wasted daily on the roadside and dustbins annually.
“The farming of tomatoes, oranges, and our different species of mangoes which are in high demand across the country is like a goldmine; but everything is simply being wasted in the state; this should stop so that farmers do not just waste their efforts for nothing.
“We need investors who will establish processing industries for the production of concentrates and others. Without that, we will continue to record wastage because what is produced annually in Benue State cannot be consumed within the year, even with the traders who come from outside the state to make purchases. Oranges, mangoes and tomatoes are all produced in commercial quantities but the quantum of the annual post-harvest losses is alarming. So without the off-taking factories, the state and the farmers will continue to record huge losses annually.
“With the right investors, our mango, oranges and tomato farmers would become millionaires but this goldmine is laying fallow and waiting for the right investor.”
However, the Benue State Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Dr. Terna-Kester Kyenge, said much was being done by the state government to attract the right investors to the state to take up the processing of farm produce and reduce wastage.
Dr. Kyenge said: “The issue of post-harvest losses for our produce has been a major challenge that the administration of Governor Samuel Ortom is addressing; not just on the issue of sensitising our farmers, but government itself has gone into partnerships with agro-purchasing contractors who will buy from the farmers themselves to reduce losses.
“We are talking to private investors and I have scheduled meetings with some of them to see how we can attract them to do business in the state. It is a known fact that government cannot necessarily go into the business of setting up fruit processing factories but we are creating the enabling environment and reaching out to investors to see how they can come and mop up the products and check the post-harvest losses and by so doing enrich the purse of the farmers and the government as well,” the commissioner said.