As highlighted in a report by Business Day newspaper on February 28, 2023, Nigeria grapples with a staggering 60 per cent annual post-harvest loss in tomato production and other vegetables.
This does not account for losses in other crops.
In a nation plagued by escalating food prices and a growing food scarcity crisis, it is imperative that concrete measures are promptly implemented to prevent this challenge from evolving into an unmitigated catastrophe.
Throughout history, our reliance has predominantly been on indigenous technologies and knowledge to safeguard our food supplies from spoilage. Indigenous methods such as sun-drying, rooftop hanging, and the use of Aloe Ferox plant’s ash have served as preservation techniques to maintain the quality of crops and vegetables, ensuring accessibility during periods of food scarcity. While these methods have their merits, they fall short in the face of contemporary realities. Our population is burgeoning at an unprecedented rate, rendering antiquated methods ineffective in addressing modern challenges. The techniques employed when Nigeria’s population stood at a mere 10 million cannot suffice for a nation of over 200 million today. Attempting to solve 21st-century problems with 14th-century solutions is a futile endeavour.
In a country where middlemen and retailers persist in using raffia baskets instead of crates to transport agricultural produce such as tomatoes and peppers, losses are bound to persist. When compounded by unfavourable weather conditions during transportation, the extent of these losses further escalates. The end result is a deficit in the availability of food within society. Preventing the nation from descending into a vortex of food scarcity necessitates the augmentation of our existing methods for preserving and safeguarding our food supplies.
Indigenous technologies and knowledge hold value, but their efficacy falters in the face of the magnitude of the post-harvest challenge. Relying solely on technologies ingrained within a nation’s cultural heritage, although important, may prove insufficient. In an interconnected world, the notion of “globalising the local” or “localising the global” gains prominence. In either approach, the enhancement of local technologies becomes imperative to effectively combat post-harvest losses.
This transformative endeavour calls for a comprehensive reevaluation of the entire process. Emotional attachments to archaic practices must be addressed through education and awareness campaigns aimed at the local populace. Demonstrations showcasing the functionality and benefits of new methods should become commonplace. The resultant policy framework ought to be a collaborative effort, involving stakeholders in science, technology, innovation, agriculture, and even the National Orientation Agency (NOA). These institutions collectively need to educate farmers, middlemen, and traders on novel techniques, provide training on their implementation, and ensure the accessibility of the requisite technologies.
Traditional preservation methods such as sun-drying and rooftop hanging have given way to contemporary techniques such as refrigeration, freezing, canning, dehydration, freeze-drying, salting, pickling, pasteurisation, fermentation, carbonation, cheese-making and chemical preservation. Moreover, the realm of food preservation has advanced even further with the integration of blockchain technology. Blockchain’s emergence as a disruptive force in the agri-food industry offers a robust mechanism for enhancing food traceability. It provides a transparent and reliable means to validate the quality, safety, and sustainability of agri-food products. The world has evolved far beyond its historical context, and persisting with outdated preservation techniques threatens to undermine the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 12, which pertains to responsible consumption.
Addressing post-harvest losses necessitates the active engagement of stakeholders within Nigeria’s science, technology and innovation (STI) domain. This undertaking demands undivided attention and concerted efforts. It is imperative that modern technologies be embraced to counteract post-harvest losses. The solutions of the Stone Age must be supplanted by those of the 21st century. Only through such a progressive approach can stakeholders within Nigeria’s STI landscape establish themselves as providers of solutions to the prevailing challenges within our society.