Postharvest loss reduction strategies to solve malnutrition challenges took center stage as the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) hosted a training/capacity building workshop recently, in Abuja, to educate farmers and other stakeholders in the agriculture value chain. Louis Achi reports

Statistics show that Nigeria loses almost 50 percent of its fresh fruits and vegetables annually due to poor handling and poor preservation practices. This figure according to experts is not only alarming, but it is also a major source of discouragement for farmers and makes the nation’s quest to achieve food security a pipe dream.

To address this challenge, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) under its Postharvest Loss Alliance for Nutrition (PLAN) initiative, which is one of the food systems solution approach adopted by GAIN to solve global malnutrition challenges, embarked on a series of training workshops to educate farmers and other stakeholders in the agriculture value chain on ways to eliminate or at least reduce postharvest losses in fresh fruits and vegetables from farm to plate.

Speaking in an interview at a training on ‘Proximate Processing of Tomato and Plantain’ held at the Reiz Continental Hotel in Abuja, the Senior Project Manager of PLAN, Dr. Augustine Okoruwa, said “This capacity building component is to ensure that those who are interested, or who are currently producing or processing tomato products, will be able to understand the food safety implications, the technology required, the packaging required and the good manufacturing practices necessary. This is why representatives of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) were invited so that the participants can understand that before they can sell their products to people, there are certain regulatory requirements and standards to be met.”

He also stated that “the training workshop is part of PLAN’s three point strategic intervention activities in the fresh fruits and vegetables supply chain which are: cold chain storage and logistics, crating and packaging, as well as proximate processing which encourages the processing of perishable fruits and vegetables close to where they are produced, so that the long distance that contributes to more losses and the wastages from the seasonal nature of these nutritious foods will be eliminated”.

The three-day workshop which attracted participants from different stakeholders in the Agriculture value chain incorporated Financial Services, Regulatory Agencies and Research Organizations. Officials from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, farmers, food processors and marketers were not left out of the training. Similar proximate processing trainings had been held previously in Kaduna and Owerri, respectively.

Dr. Okoruwa further stated that since GAIN cannot cover the entire 36 states of the federation, it has decided to work based on production and market. The essence of what GAIN is doing is to ensure that the food produced gets to the table of the consumer retaining its wholesomeness and that it is available all year round, thereby achieving a considerable level of food security.
Furtherance to the objectives of PLAN, the Organization for Technology Advancement of Cold Chain in West Africa (OTACCWA) was formed and registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission with GAIN taking the lead. Dr. Okoruwa said the idea is to show that cold chain is an integral part of a sustainable food security strategy in Nigeria.

One of the facilitators at the workshop, Mr. Duro Kuteyi, an industrialist and owner of Betamark Foods, who trained participants on innovative ways of processing and packaging tomato and plantain, praised GAIN for the initiative and pledged his continued support to the programme.

Mrs. Zainab Towobola, Head of Nutrition and Food Safety Division, Federal Department of Agriculture at the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) said she was not surprised that GAIN was taking the initiative this far because the nutrition division has received a lot of support from them. She also acknowledged that more people are beginning to adopt some practices that promote nutrition and reduce postharvest losses due to GAIN’s consistent awareness creation through the PLAN project initiative.

Mr Oyeleke Bola, the CEO of Tomato and Orchard Producers Association of Nigeria (TOPAN), whose members formed the bulk of the participants, also thanked GAIN for the continued support to their association and revealed that they will take it a step further by setting up an incubation centre, where people can learn innovative ways of processing, packaging and proper handling of perishable fresh foods. He however called on the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, to partner with his association in achieving this feat by providing it with land and some capital for the project.