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Post-harvest loss remains major challenge in vegetable, fruit production — Ogiamien

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Post-harvest loss remains major challenge in vegetable, fruit production  — Ogiamien

By Gabriel Ewepu

As the country struggles to ensure food security for its growing population as the number of food-insecure remains unacceptably high, year-in-year-out, massive quantities of food are lost due to spoilage and infestations on the journey to consumers. One of the major ways of strengthening food security is by reducing these losses.

In this interview, the Group Head, Kads Fruits and Vegetables, Ken Ogiamien, pointed out that post-harvest loss remains a major challenge to vegetable and fruit production in Nigeria and other issues affecting food sustainability.

Excerpts:

Can you tell us about your company and the journey so far?

KADS has been in existence for over two decades. And so far, the journey has been interesting, challenging and rewarding.

The KADS Capital houses other companies mostly in the Agricultural sector of the Nigerian economy. KADS Fruits and Vegetables is one of these. Our broad objective is to bridge the supply deficit of premium agric produce and products.

Note the word premium. We want to show that with careful planning and astute management, Nigeria can be home to agricultural produce comparable to any globally in terms of quality. This is a key driver for us.

Being a major player in vegetable production, what has been your experience in the business environment in Nigeria?

Nigeria’s business environment for the vegetable producer is currently witnessing a lot of activities, thanks in part to such organisations as National Agricultural Seed Council, NASC, but more importantly, the doggedness of the producers themselves. We face many of the same challenges businesses in Nigeria face. Funding, investment, staffing and infrastructure deficit.

However, chief of these to us will be the high waste of produce when in season. This single activity has multiplier effects on the sector. Because most products are seasonal and because we have a barely developed post-harvest industry, a large percentage of our harvest goes to waste.

To remedy this, we need to invest urgently in what I call the agricultural upstream market through the creation of value-adding products and brands.

For instance, won’t it be nice if we can have ready-to-eat ewedu? That way, we would not only have the product all year round, we can also be earning foreign exchange through export of same. Replicate this simplified approach on many of our products and you can begin to imagine the prospect in this sector.

Why do you choose to operate in Nigeria’s agribusiness space?

First of all, we are mostly Nigerians in KADS and proud of it. We’re trying to naturalise our partners from the US, Europe, South Africa and Asia.

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More importantly, despite all the negatives one can count, Nigeria’s potentials for growth is phenomenal. All we need is to carefully negotiate our tough bends on the road to nationhood, then we should truly become the giant we have always called ourselves.

Finally, agriculture holds a special place in the development of any nation. Check all through history, nations who can feed themselves outlast nations of warmongers.

One of the reasons nations and tribes go to war is to gain control of fertile lands and productive rivers. On that score, Nigeria has what other countries would wish to have, arable land, fish in our rivers and sea as well as a sizable workforce.

Is Nigeria self-sufficient in vegetable production and consumption?

Not yet. Vegetable production is still predominantly done by smallholder farmers. This has made statistics a bit befuddling. Still, a cursory study will show we don’t have an all-year-round supply of produce. And we hardly have any for export or consistent industrial use. The bottom line is, we have a huge room for improvement in the sector.

How has your organisation fared so far amid the COVID-19 pandemic?

We were as affected as the entire society. Production came to a standstill, or almost. Lockdown affected especially corporate level business plans including travels and critical investment meetings.

However, there are positives. We have improved our capabilities for the virtual transaction and creating safe production bubbles for key staff. So, you see we are adapting and evolving solutions.

What kind of government interventions has your organisation received so far?

Government plays an important role in our sector. From land, to finance, to equipment and even seed, government policies are key drivers. As to what we have received as a company, I’d say we want significantly more. Not handouts as much as the enabling environment for businesses to thrive.

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One area we applaud the government is in the role of NASC. A constant and consistent interface between us can only help the sector grow. We appreciate this.

Yet, we have to move from policy pronouncement to implementation and sustainability. We should avoid knee jerk policy capitulation and support only positive flexibility.

Do you believe that the vegetable seed market is one of the least regulated sectors in Nigeria?

Let me qualify my response a bit. Government intervention and regulation are a necessary part of doing business. Yet, we must be careful not to overregulate to the point of stifling business initiatives. The challenge is finding the right balance.

In this light, we need to encourage conversation and engagements between stakeholders. Also, the vegetable producers and the value chain businesses must present an articulate front for our common development.

Here is an example of regulation comes to the fore. The industry must lead in self-regulation and work with appropriate government agencies. There must be strict control to ensure that only seeds suitable for our purposes are allowed in the sector.

We must also increase capacities to develop seeds internally and for global markets. In this area, KADS is already engaging partners across the world for strategic alliances.

How prepared is the vegetable industry with Nigeria being a signatory of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area?

The sector can do with more enlightenment and continuous upscaling of key participants. Yes, we are ready to exploit any positive development such as provided by ACfTA.

What are your concerns about the seed sector?

It will be grossly unfortunate if we can’t harness the potentials of this sector because of issues of overbearing officials and multi-agency interference, especially at our ports. I use this as an example of challenges that can defeat the genuine efforts of producers and related businesses in the sector.

Vanguard News Nigeria

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