Poor power supply worsening post-harvest losses – Farmers association president

Farmers lose about 45 per cent of their produce as post-harvest losses caused mainly by poor power supply, the President, All Farmers Association of Nigeria, Kabir Ibrahim, tells OKECHUKWU NNODIM in this interview

What major issues should be addressed in the agricultural sector by the new government?

We think the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development should be reformed by appointing people who know what to do to drive the processes. The new agricultural policy that should last till 2027 should be implemented judiciously and transparently. The National Food Reserve Agency should be resuscitated as former President Muhammadu Buhari instructed. However, because of the incompetence of the past leadership in the ministry, it was not resuscitated. Right now, we don’t have a food strategy plan. You can see that the rains have not set in fully across the country, and if there is famine, where do we get buffer stock? Also, farmers should be carried along in all decisions to be taken that would affect farmers. President Bola Tinubu made mention of what he was going to do in the interim. He said his administration would create hubs in all the zones of the federation. He also said he would have various storage centres, which means maybe he doesn’t know that we have dry storage centres. I hope he is referring to cold storage systems to avert or minimise post-harvest losses. He should supervise and follow-up on it so as to ensure that it is done. He is to also make policies that will make food more affordable for the generality of the people. The farmers should also get an enabling environment to be able to optimise their productivity, and this should be followed and monitored closely.

Do you think the government should come up with new agricultural policies?

The policies of the previous administration have not been that bad, implementation was the problem. So, what is expected is that this new President should appoint the right people, who know what to do, to manage the affairs of the various ministries, departments and agencies. This is to ensure that people will not be working in silos. Also the Central Bank’s interventions should be such that it is appraised to reach the actual farmers, not as it is today.

What’s your view about the recent hike in petrol price on the cost and production of food?

The situation is dire right now. Food price hike as a result of the increase in petrol price is non-negotiable. The issue now is, by how much or per cent will the increase be? Fuel is being sold at over N500/litre, so once transportation increases, the cost will be transferred to food. I foresee a situation where the prices of food items would take the biggest hit. However, we hope that with the commencement of the importation of fuel by other players, the price of petrol might come down and this would have a positive effect on the cost of food items.

There are claims that farmers did not support the cassava bread initiative, which eventually led to its demise. Is this true?

Let me tell you what happened; every minister comes with their agenda. When the former Minister of Agriculture, Akinwumi Adesina, came on board, he wanted to project cassava as something you can use in baking bread and other things. We also talked about many other things you could do with cassava. The Bank of Agriculture even had a window where if you had a bakery and you were adding 10 per cent of cassava in making bread, you could get a loan. The CBN also did a promo on the production of cassava. I remember that the then president of the cassava farmers association spearheaded the arrangement and took some money on behalf of the farmers. Unfortunately, he misapplied it, which made him leave office in a controversial circumstance. So I believe the Ministry of Agriculture and other persons who claim that farmers did not support the initiative were trying to tell you that some persons absconded with the fund.

The ministry itself did not really have any package for cassava producers, because I remember that during that time, I was the President of the Poultry Farmers Association and they said we could also use cassava in our feeds for poultry. We had a meeting with the then agriculture minister, Adesina, and a few stakeholders in the cassava value chain, which was held in the minister’s office. At the meeting, I told them that we could buy up from anyone who had about 1,000 metric tonnes of cassava grits, which we could use as the energy component of our feed, so that it would replace, to some extent, maize or sorghum. But up till today, we didn’t get that 1,000 metric tonnes because it is not available. So, it turned out that the whole cassava issue was mere talk.

Was it that cassava was not good enough to meet the requirements needed in baking bread and for poultry feeds?

The issue of value addition in this country is dependent on many factors. One important factor is energy. We tend to only use cassava for garri and our people have perfected this, because you can dry it on the road, fry it manually and put some colour using palm oil, etc. But the whole issue is dependent on the ability to add value, and this depends on many factors. The most important factor is the machinery to be able to do this and the power or energy required to power these machines. Now, this is economics, because you are looking at the economies of scale. Therefore, if you have to buy diesel to run a generator to do the processing, you will find out that there is no profit. Also, the purchasing power in Nigeria today is very low. So, these are some of the challenges confronting the sector, not just the cassava value chain. If you see what people are doing with cassava in other countries, you will be surprised. And this is because they can add value to it.

What is the way forward, going by these concerns you have outlined?

I think it is work in progress, because there are so many people who are now looking inwards. We need to encourage people to look inwards. We must be able to invest properly in some of these processes in-country because there is no sense exporting these things in their primary form and then you buy them after value has been added to them.

Could you expatiate on how the poor power situation affects agriculture?

I am sure you have heard about the issue of post-harvest losses. This is about the loss of agro-products such as vegetables and fruits that go bad when not preserved properly. You keep them in regulated temperatures in order to prolong their lives. Eggs, for instance, you can keep them in an egg-room in their raw form for two to three weeks if the temperature is good. Otherwise, the longest time you can keep eggs in a normal place is one week. Beyond that, it will go bad. So, you need power to elongate the lifespan of farm products that you harvest. Therefore, it is important to state that there is a very strong nexus between energy or power supply and agriculture. You cannot process anything that you produce without power. Even when you slaughter your animal, to preserve the meat, you need a freezer, else it will go bad.

To what extent does it aid losses?

If we are having post-harvest losses that go up to 45 per cent, it means the situation is really critical. We would have made more money, but we are losing a lot of money due to these losses, which reflects the negative impact of the power problem on the sector. On many occasions, we have asked the government to do something about the power situation. In fact, agriculture in Nigeria will be better if you mechandise it, address the issues of power, transportation and storage. I have said it that we record 45 per cent post-harvest losses, but I can again tell you that it is even more in some circumstances. There are some situations where some farmers lose almost 100 per cent of what they harvested. If a farmer harvests tomatoes from their farm, for instance, and tries transporting it from the village to Lagos using a truck, if there is a traffic jam that makes the truck spend about two days before it gets to Lagos, by the time the produce gets to its destination, all the tomatoes would have spoilt. The farmer harvested it and could not keep it in a fridge because of lack of power, and decided to send it to the city to sell, but it became spoilt on the way. It means farmers lose almost 100 per cent of their goods. This is actually what happens to most perishable vegetables and fruits like mangoes, oranges, etc. This is another reason why we keep calling on the government to help in fixing the power situation.

Source: The Punch