Economy Opinion

Agriculture and Food Processing in Nigeria: A system ripe for transformation

Dr. Timi Olubiyi, an Entrepreneurship & Business Management expert with a Ph.D. in Business Administration from Babcock University Nigeria.

Undoubtedly, the demand for more food consumption is the case globally, mainly due to the increasing population year on year. One of the extreme challenges that Africa faces particularly Nigeria is that of feeding its growing population amidst other perennial issues. Consequently, this makes hunger, undernutrition, and food insecurity prevalent across the continent despite government agriculture and food business sector supports. Without mincing words, food insecurity might worsen if the population continues to grow and a corresponding reaction to arrest the situation is not in sight.

In Nigeria, each year the country losses and wastes a substantial portion of its total food production which is never preserved despite hunger and undernutrition that exist. One of the key reasons is that food loss and food waste continue to grow without any significant intervention by the government or businesses. The magnitude of food loss and waste (FLW) is undeniably common and high in the country along the food supply chain, particularly from the North to the South of the country. The loss and waste problem have been neglected for so long and the last few years have witnessed a consistent increase as a result of heightening insecurity, movement, and transport restrictions due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, street trading, open animal grazing, decrepit infrastructure, illiteracy, inconsistent power supply, environmental pressure, lack of innovation and climate change. Though food loss and waste are a global problem, it appears it is more prevalent in Nigeria now with the current realities. Therefore, persistent food loss, and food waste amid starvation should not be overlooked, this piece should trigger a wake-up call.

While I agree that both “food waste” and “food loss” signifies the food portion that is wasted and not eaten, the terms are different but often use interchangeably. Painfully, both are damaging to the economy, businesses, households, and the well-being of the populace. The fact is food loss and waste are quite different anyway in terms of origin and scope and the true difference lies in exactly where the waste occurs.

According to literature food loss typically takes place at the harvest, storage, transportation, and sometimes at processing, and distribution stages in the food value chain. Staggeringly, in Sub-Saharan Africa, post-harvest food losses are estimated to be worth the US $4 billion annually – or enough to feed at least 48 million people, this is a disclosure in a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. In my opinion, the large chunk of this may likely be from Nigeria, considering the population and economic size of the country in Africa.

Further findings in the report indicated that some of the leading causes of food loss are poor storage, insecurity, loss during transportation, insufficient and inefficient agro-processing skills among smallholder farming communities, and lack of innovative approach to preservation, and insufficient infrastructure. It is not out of place to mention that with the current realities particularly with the disruptions occasioned by COVID-19 and increasing insecurity, food waste must have increased exponentially in the last two years. Indicating a major barrier to food security and development in the country and this obviously requires attention.

On the other hand, food waste” refers to the food that is of good quality and fit for consumption, but does not get consumed because it is discarded―either before or after and it is left to spoil. Surveys of families in Lagos State the economic capital of the country to understand the causes of food waste elicited packaging and preservation as a key aspect of the problem. One of the root causes of food waste is a lack of power and some restaurants equally mentioned lack of proper packaging techniques. It was easy to conclude from the survey that food waste occurs at various stages of the supply chain due to a lack of constant power and adequate packaging.

Though funding and investing in agriculture or food sector can improve food security and promote sustainability, in my opinion, improved food sufficiency can be achieved by considering the reduction of food loss and food waste. This can be a more effective and cost-saving strategy for a developing economy like Nigeria at this time. Because when food is lost or wasted, all the resources that are used to produce the food, including water, land, power, labour, and capital, are also wasted. So, a reduction in loss or wastage will more than likely reduce wasted resources and increase profits along the food supply chain.

To address this prevailing huge problem, businesses and the government must result in policy responses to enhance storage, cooling technologies, and packaging for the preservation of perishable foods and to lengthen food shelf lives. The good news is that there are a variety of ways to prevent food loss and waste throughout the supply chain, for example, investment can be made in the importation of cooling and refrigerated trucks for transportation of perishable fruit and vegetables. Farm produce such as tomatoes, plantain, or even catfish can be preserved with the cooling system from the farms directly to urban businesses or consumers, thereby reducing food loss and increasing fresh produce availability in the country. Furthermore, innovative smart food packaging and smart sensing technologies for monitoring food quality can be also be introduced for the sustainability of high-quality standards and improved product safety. These are lines of business opportunities for investors to explore or for the attraction of foreign direct investments(FDIs). Sincerely, the government, businesses, and decision-makers need to target investments deliberately in the food supply value chain because opportunities are bound. The government also needs to create incentives to boost efforts to reduce food losses by businesses and smallholder farmers.

In conclusion, no single solution can tackle this whole issue but having an innovative mindset, can get the government, businesses, researchers and the populace started. In fact, reducing food wastage will strengthen and enhance general food security in the country. Indeed, investments in training, technology, digital agriculture, innovation, and behavioral change are key to reducing food loss and waste. Therefore, innovative initiatives in the agriculture sector should be encouraged because it will create more job opportunities and also improve urban-rural migration, increase food exports, and reduce food imports. Good luck!

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Dr. Timi Olubiyi, an Entrepreneurship & Business Management expert with a Ph.D. in Business Administration from Babcock University Nigeria. A prolific investment coach, seasoned scholar, Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment (CISI), and Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) registered capital market operator. He can be reached on the Twitter handle @drtimiolubiyi and via email: [email protected], for any questions, reactions, and comments.

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