The first time Best Foods Fresh Farms Limited used rail to bring a consignment of tomatoes to Lagos from Kaduna, the owners found out on arrival that it was put in a wagon that had no window.
“In the heat, it took three days to arrive here by which time the tomato had cooked itself. This was 1,400 crates of tomato,” said Emmanuel Ijewere, the company’s CEO.
At the next attempt, through Naija Pride Agribusiness Limited, another company Ijewere controls, the company requested the tomatoes be put in a wagon with ventilation, but just outside Lokoja, Kogi State, there was an incident that caused a 48-hour delay. By the time it arrived in Lagos, Ijewere recalled they were able to retrieve not more than 30 percent to sell.
If the company returns to road transport, where it would face bad, unpredictable roads, there would be other issues to contend with.
“With the worsening security situation, it means there are more checkpoints on the road, from 28-30 to now about 40,” Ijewere said, implying more delays and extortions from truck drivers.
Without physical security, there can be no food security, and in Nigeria, this concept reverberates with even more emphasis. BusinessDay’s interaction with some stakeholders, experts, and investors in the agric sector has shown security ranks as the top priority, which has to be fixed in order for the country to maximise its agricultural potentials, and invariably achieve food security. Other factors, considered important but not as much as security are electricity and roads.
“If there is no security, our people cannot go to their farms,” said Kabiru Ibrahim, national president, All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), in a phone interview. “I even wrote a letter to the president on it, and that is why I think they are putting more efforts now to make sure they restore security.”
Ibrahim did not divulge details of the letter he says was sent to President Buhari in July, but stated, “There is consensus that insecurity is limiting (agricultural) productivity in the country.”
“From a business cost perspective, the cost of engaging security to protect business operations in certain areas adds to operational costs,” buttressed Mezuo Nwuneli, managing partner, Sahel Capital Agribusiness Managers Ltd.
The cost of moving goods across the country is impacted by kidnapping, armed robbery, and limits the ability to operate in some parts of the country.
In other climes, one can move at any time of the day, and even late at night, but in Nigeria, it is often already risky even during the day, and the risk goes up exponentially at night.
“That in itself reduces economic activities, and ability to operate,” Nwuneli said. “Roads and power may be ranked equally, but security ranks top.”
For Ibrahim, any emphasis on electricity (or even roads) is not necessary now.
“These are salient issues around agriculture. They are worth mentioning,” he said, but emphasising his preference, added, “We can harp on insecurity.”
The AFAN president, however, also acknowledged, “If you don’t do well in transport, you are certainly going to do something very bad to agriculture.”
Post-harvest losses (in Nigeria) have been estimated to range between 5 and 20 percent for grains; 20 percent for fish and as high as between 50 and 60 percent for tubers, fruits and vegetables, and without electricity not much can be done in storage or even processing for value addition. Good roads also play a role in ensuring agricultural produce would not only be saved from losses, but in fact, get to the market and enable farmers get the best returns.
Post-harvest loss is not just a crop thing, it affects even dairy where if one milks a cow and it is not properly preserved within three hours, it will go completely bad. As some researchers have noted, increased food production is not the final solution to food security. It has to be complemented by good harvest and post-harvest practices to reduce the amount of food loss. A 50 percent reduction in post-harvest food loss in Nigeria will also reduce the need for food importation.
Augustine Okoruwa, senior project manager, Post-harvest Loss Alliance at the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), told BusinessDay that all factors (security, electricity, and road) are important and need to be addressed simultaneously.
“We need to reduce post-harvest losses in order to achieve food security,” he said. “In order to reduce post-harvest losses, infrastructure has to be on ground. There has to be security, because if you have to move produce from one place to the other, the farmers’ security is important.”
As he noted, if farmers cannot go to the farm to plant, they cannot go to the farm to harvest and, invariably, the country will not achieve food security.
Even as the country is incentivising farmers to produce more food, as stakeholders have noted, there is a need to ensure they are secured enough to produce food, and that the road infrastructure is good enough for them to access the market. It is also imperative that there is power for proper storage and processing, which will reduce post-harvest losses and increase value addition, respectively.