Notes from the Field
Last year was a highly eventful inaugural year for the YieldWise program in Nigeria as we worked to reduce post-harvest loss in the tomato value chain. We recorded major milestones, but also experienced significant challenges.
The business of tomato production and marketing in Nigeria is extremely dynamic. The YieldWise program, a Rockefeller Foundation initiative, focuses on tomatoes, a ubiquitous regional crop that farmers have been cultivating for years in spite of volatile markets and unpredictable returns on investment. As with most perishable vegetables, tomato production faces consistent market instability. This has led to an average annual post-harvest loss of up to 45 percent. It is well known among stakeholders in the value chain that tomato is a commodity that historically could either drive a farmer into poverty or provide a path out of it depending on market dynamics, weather, or pests and diseases.
It is in recognition of the importance of this crop and the potential impact that loss reduction could have on farmers’ livelihoods that PYXERA Global supports the YieldWise initiative and works with local and international partners to reduce post-harvest loss in the tomato value chain.
Farmers were excited and had high expectations when we launched project activities in January 2016, in the middle of the dry season. The unpredictability of the market is the reason why tomato farmers may be rich in one season, and struggling in the next. Farmers saw YieldWise as a potential end to their woes in the marketing of tomatoes, which they reported as poor and unstable – enough so that they had even composed a poem in lamentation.
The PYXERA Global team shared the hopes of local stakeholders as we piloted appropriate technologies, such as the use of plastic crates, established aggregation centers, and began training farmers. Initial efforts also included facilitating linkages between farmers and the 1,200 metric ton capacity tomato processing facility established by Dangote Farms Ltd., located at the center of the tomato farming communities in Kano. With promising predictions of a good harvest, plans to open the factory were moving forward. More and more farmers, happy with the price offered by the company, were increasing their production and signing purchase contracts.
The processing factory opened on March 14, 2016, to much fanfare, but unfortunately suffered operational technical difficulties soon after. It ran intermittently thereafter, resulting in tomato loss at the factory and delayed payments to some of the farmers. At the same time, the pest ‘Tuta absoluta,’ locally known as ‘Tomato Ebola,’ spread through tomato farms rapidly and unnoticed, causing severe crop damage. Farmers agonized over their losses, which came at a high cost. The tomato scarcity that followed the epidemic resulted in a major supply shortage to the processing factory as well as the local fresh market, driving up the price of tomatoes and making it impossible for the Dangote factory to continue production. Sadly, this resulted in the factory’s early closure in April, approximately six weeks after it opened.
Farmer morale was very low, and many farmers considered abandoning tomato production altogether. However, despite the odds and in a show of resilience, many farmers cultivated tomatoes at the beginning of the rainy season – typically a season when farmers might grow other crops. Simultaneously, the PYXERA Global team worked to facilitate supply contracts for farmers with alternative buyers. Post-harvest loss reduction technologies were introduced with the assistance of Cold Hubs Limited, a project technology partner that established a walk-in cold storage facility and crate leasing service in Kano. Currently, other private sector partners including Lange and Grant, another cold storage and tomato off-take company, have announced plans to expand into a greater project area. Additionally, the Initiative for Global Development (IGD) convened market stakeholders late last year, which led to a better collective understanding of market needs and how to engage with buyers.
In launching the project, we sought to leverage existing management structures in government projects and other similar projects to gain speed and ensure sustainability. In our assessment, however, existing farmer groups and associations did not meet the required standards, which actually slowed down the speed of the process and led to a review of our approach. The launch primarily focused our team’s efforts on farmer aggregation and training, which is now yielding better results. More than 8,000 farmers added their names to the project registry compared to just 520 in the last dry season.
In preparation for the 2017 growing season, the PYXERA Global YieldWise team has hired several additional staff members. A larger team will be critical to expand the project into six additional local government areas, including some in neighboring Jigawa and Kaduna states. Particular attention will be given to women-owned small-scale tomato processing operations, by providing trainings, facilitating linkages with financial institutions, training partners, and helping with market access. The 2016 experience built trust among farmers, and now we are looking ahead to continue with the task of reducing post-harvest loss.