Improving crop quality and safety by significantly reducing the level of contamination in sorghum and millet is one of the reasons Nestle Nigeria embarked on an aggressive training of local farmers. Jonathan Eze reports
Poor farm practices, low crop yield and post-harvest losses have been identified as major challenges to food security in Nigeria. Recognising these limitations, NestlÃ© began training the farmers on good agricultural practices and business methods, to enable them develop farming as a sustainable business in a way, which will boost their output, minimise losses, and ensure financial independence to improve their livelihoods.
In 2016, 15,000 of the smallholder farmers (SHFs) benefited from the trainings while 8,237 have so far been reached in 2017.
However, to have a firsthand experience of how their produce is being transformed, Nestle hosted community leaders and representatives of the farmers to strengthen their resilience of millet/sorghum farming systems in Northwestern Nigeria by empowering small holder farmers (SHFs).
These local farmers watched keenly how the grains and legumes they produced on their farms are transformed into high quality nutritious products for families.
The teams represented 89 farming communities who supply mostly Sorghum and Millet to the company. Sorghum is used in the manufacturing of food products especially Milo, the energy food drink that is a staple in Nigerian diets.
However, THISDAY checks show that since 2016, NestlÃ© Nigeria has been working with smallholder farmers in Northern Nigeria. This relationship is borne out of the companyâ€™s commitment to the improvement of livelihoods across the communities in which it operates.
The Managing Director, NestlÃ© Nigeria Plc, Mr. Mauricio Alarcon explained that the company is currently working with International Fertiliser Development Center (IFDC) to improve the sustainability and quality of millet and sorghum production in Nigeria.
Alarcon, who was represented by its Corporate Communication and Public Affairs Manager, Victoria Uwadoka, said that the company is presently working with four different states in the northern part of Nigeria and had so far trained about 41,600 farmers where over 15,000 have been trained on pre planting seasons, planting seasons and post-harvest practices.
“We have been working with Kano, Kaduna, Katsina. This year we have added Jigawa State. We have so far trained 15,000 farmers and about 8,000 out of these 15,000 farmers â€Žin business practices because we want them to see farming as a business.
â€œThere were 1606 women and 1325 youths involved in this business training. We have about 41,600 farmers supplying grains, millet, sorghum to our factories and talking about 2016 alone, we have reached over 30,000 farmers across the states we are working with”
According to her, the company is also in talks with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture â€Žto seek ways to make mechanisation and agriculture financing available for local farmers, maintaining that mechanisation and finance are key for the nation’s agricultural development.
“Agriculture is about mechanisation and another critical thing for agricultural development is financing. We are really engaging the government around to seek ways to avail these farmers access to cheap financing and one thing that has been pleasant to our ears is that the federal government is planning to provide mechanised farming to farmers in clusters. We do our own part as partners as well to ensure that they get access to things that they need to mechanise their farms,” she added.
She said millet and sorghum production is not all about the sustainability and availability, but also the resilience to ensure that the level of contaminants are reduced to acceptable limits.
“This is what we are working towards in order to ensure that the quality of grains that are produced are better and are also sustainable for the farmers in terms of increasing their revenue and also to improve their standard of living.â€Ž
â€˜â€™Our expectations from the farmers is to make sure that they put into play all the farming practices we taught them such as the pre farming best practices, best practices during planting and post-harvest practices. One of the key things that happen during the dry season is the contamination that comes from the soil where we teach them ways to prevent contamination. This we believe will help them scale up their production taking into consideration quality grains for increased productivity and profitability,” Uwadoka added.
She said the companyâ€™s â€Žgolden morn brand is 100 per cent locally sourced, stressing that it is making headway in sourcing for raw materials locally in all its production.
“It is not all about preaching buy made-in-Nigeria products, but all about adding value to made-in-Nigeria products. Most of our products are fortified with iron, a micro nutrient that is very important to combat anaemia especially in pregnant women. We are doing some work to provide the necessary information and also to make this information available as well,” she stressed.
Earlier, the Head, Tafoki cluster, Bature Abdullahi, commended the company for its investment drive in supporting local farming, saying that partnership such as this is vital to achieve food security in Nigeria.
He assured NestlÃ© that the different clusters would spread the knowledge gathered from the tour to farmers in their respective states to address issues bothering around quality, storage and harvesting of grains, millets and sorghum.
“We have been exposed to technological development about how the companyuse what we produce to manufacture quality and nutritious wholesome goods. We are ready to support companies with the raw materials to help Nigeria achieve food security,” he said.
â€œWe are very happy to host our community of small holder farmers today. They are very important stakeholders to help us achieve our objective which is to continue to deliver high quality nutritious meals for Nigerian families.
Uwadoka expressed satisfisfaction that the farmers had seen for themselves why quality is important for food safety.
The farmers were also trained on crop quality and safety measures to reduce the levels of mycotoxin, aflatoxin and aluminum contamination which pose serious health risks for humans and livestock. The high occurrence of this toxin in African dietary staples including maize, corn, cassava and nuts makes it imperative to focus on eliminating its occurrence to contribute to improving food security in Nigeria.
As these toxins are produced by certain fungi and are usually found in diseased or mouldy crops, improving handling and storage practices is key to their elimination.
The SMS project partners told THISDAY that they lay emphasis on teaching farmers good planting, managing, harvest and post-harvest practices aimed at eliminating contamination due to the dire outcomes of toxins on the health of individuals. Research shows that the effectof aflatoxins on health include cell damage, stunting and cancer.
Aflatoxinâ€™s effects on the other hand also include kidney inflammation leading to kidney failure, reduced sperm count, infertility and low birth weight. The organ most impacted in the body by aflatoxin is the liver.
Speaking after the factory tour the farmers expressed their excitement and renewed commitment to quality standards.
Mr. Bature Abdullahi, one of the farming cluster representatives from Funtua, Katsina State said: â€œNow we have a good understanding of the importance of ensuring quality in every step of the process. Indeed, seeing is believing. We commit to use what we have learnt about good farming practices to improve the quality of our grains. Now we are also
assured that our farm produce is not being used for any unwholesome activities. When we go back, we will spread the news.â€
Also, speaking, the IFDC SMS team leader, Mr. Yakasai Abidina said that he was convinced the farmers were very satisfied with what they had seen. He added that the factory tour exposed the smallholder farmers to the quality standards of NestlÃ© and has solidified the trust they have in the company that their outputs are not used in manufacturing unwholesome products. He ended by saying that the farmers have been motivated to put in more effort in ensuring hygiene and to carefully applying appropriate measures to deliver high quality grains.
He further added that â€œThis partnership we have progressed with does not end with Maize and Sorghum alone. We hope to extend trainings and empowerment of this sort to small holder farmers specialised in the production of other grain and cereal crops, in the future.â€
NestlÃ© reiterated its commitment to continue to touch lives within its communities from the farmers who supply the raw materials to the individuals and families who enjoy their products.
The delegation included community leaders and farm cluster representatives from 89 farming communities from Kuki – Kano State, Funtua in Katsina State, Kafin Hausa in Jigawa State and Soba in Kaduna State, who supply mostly Sorghum and Millet to NestlÃ©.
The visitors were led around the Golden Morn, Milo and Maggi production sites, where the outputs from their farms namely Millet, Sorghum and Soya are utilised daily.