Nigeria Lacks Post-Harvest Technology, Management And Packaging – Animashaun | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Nigeria Lacks Post-Harvest Technology, Management And Packaging – Animashaun

Posted: Jul 8, 2016 at 3:00 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

Dr. Mufutau Animashaun is a consultant on post-harvest horticulturist. He is a former Commissioner for Agriculture in Lagos state and also a Deputy Rector Lagos State Polytechnics, Director, School of Agriculture, Ikorodu. In this chat with Seyi Taiwo-Oguntuase, he speaks on the tomato Tuta Absoluta among other issues. Excerpt:

Presently fruits and vegetable farms in Nigeria have the challenge of holocaust of tuta-absoluta. Can you explain in a simple language what tuta absoluta is, how it attacks vegetables and precautionary measures needed to stop its spread before the solution arrives?

Tuta Absoluta is an intelligent insect that has a distinctive survival instinct. It is a pest that destroys tomato crops and it has been prevalent in this country for 50 years, but which was just discovered a few years back. The attention is just coming up now because of the intensity of the attack that is being experienced. It is a soil born pest and is considered as one of the most devastating pest that feeds on tomatoes, garden egg, aubergine, potatoes, and tobacco plants.

Tuta absoluta pest spreads very quickly because it has a high reproductive potential and a life cycle that can take between 24 to 76 days, depending on the environmental conditions. Their activity is concentrated in the early morning and dusk; during the rest of the day they remain hidden among the leaves. Adult lifespan ranges between 10 and 15 days for females and 6–7 days for males. The female lays the eggs mainly on the leaves, although they can also be found on stems and sepals.

The number of eggs per female is usually between 40 and 50 and may reach 260. This is just a nominal description of Tuta absoluta and I think we need to deploy different approaches to solving the problem. First is the approach of attacking the insects itself at the reproduction stages from the egg to adult. It’s not about attacking at the point of attack, but killing the egg before hatching – that is completely wiping it off from our farm land nationwide. We need an Entomologist report to identify the specie of the pest, because it’s possible that the specie that can survive in Kano and Kaduna might not survive in Jos and Yola because of the varied temperature. That means we have to develop many strategies and approaches.

Another approach is to identify which stage of the lifecycle that attacks and infects the fruits either the larva, pupa or the adult state. Because I know that it’s a moth that reproduces twelve times a year and it can be terminated before it matures to age that attacks the fruit.

The third is the pesticide method: though some experts have suggested the use of pesticides, we have to be very careful, some pesticides are systemic, you intend to control the insects but the tomatoes can take it up and when eaten fresh can be carcinogenic and cause harm to the human body.

What do you mean by carcinogenic?

It means cancer; it causes cancer in the body- so we have to be very careful. An expert from the ministry of agriculture suggested that they use the protocol of insecticide, which means once you use one insecticide today, tomorrow you use another one. This is dangerous because it means the insect is developing a resistance to that protocol. Another approach is the biological approach – that is finding parasites that feeds on the insects. We have to have a different approach to this rather than the normal insecticide approach.

What in your view should the government do to have an all-encompassing proactive approach to protecting our food and crops?

One thing we lack most in crop harvest in this country is post-harvest technology, management and packaging. These are very essential and important in any nation’s agricultural growth. It is what gives the developed economy edge over us. They believe in technology a lot and they spend money on research. You cannot import a technology that was designed for a country with a different climate to a country that has a very strong climate. I am an ardent preacher of environmental reality. Any problem in this country has its own solution here and not a borrowed solution. Borrowed solutions might only solve the problem temporarily.

What do you mean?

I am unequivocally saying that I can solve this Ebola tomatoes outbreak locally. This I can do in synergy with other indigenous plant protection experts. I did my Doctorate degree thesis on this post-harvest pathology. I spent every day of my life for six years doing research on different fruits and vegetables pathology. I don’t need to go to heaven with dollars or pounds to solve these outbreaks. We are blessed in this country with world class brains.

So, why should a foreigner import his country technology that has zero percent of my country’s environmental component? It cannot work. I think we should look at the post management of these crops, study the physiology of the crops and know when it is mature. Our own culture here is that we eat ripened products. The right practice is to harvest the crop that is physiologically matured and subsequently transferred to a cold room with a specific temperature suitable for the crop.

At what stage should that be?

For example, the tomato has six stages. It is harvested in the second stage, which is the green crop stage. Then it is put in the cold room at a temperature not more than 13 degrees centigrade or else the crop would have chilling damage. Every fruit contains a gas called endogenousethylene, (ethanol), which is injected too: it hastens ripeness in tomatoes and gives you a very good fresh tomato. Ethylene is a hydro carbon compound obtained from butane and or propane.

Does this ethylene have no side effects on humans?

No, it doesn’t. It is a gas and is used for ripening process. It also increases the shelf life of fruits.

Can you eradicate this menace totally?

I read that the minister of Agriculture said that they have contacted Agronet over the issue and that they are going to provide chemicals to combat it. The long term approach is what I stated earlier – study the life cycle in all the entomologists. That is the long term plan to eradicate it totally. The immediate control is the use of chemicals, which I said is not a sure bet.

You said your grand mission is to develop a value chain system for horticultural crops, fruits and vegetables in Nigeria. I believe it is important for our local food security. How do you intend to achieve this in this system?

We have a collaborative arrangement with a sister institution in the UK. We have a post-harvest unit that is very involved in researches and tests for most fruits and vegetables for supermarkets in the UK. These include Tessco, Sainsbury, Waitrose, Marks and Spencer and other major big supermarkets. We carry out the palatability test, aroma, flavor and acceptability by consumers of all these products that come to UK and we send our analyses and results to them. However, I am now back to establish a similar thing in Nigeria where we have post harvest unit in some of our institutions. In Lagos state especially where we have land constraint, there are areas where we can locate containerized cold rooms and offer post-harvest management and packaging of these crops. This will help them to retain their original freshness and increase their shelf lives and that is why we have the value chain from the farm to the table you have it fresh.

How can peasant farmers who are the major producers of tomatoes afford the cold room facility?

They can form a co-operative society and have a common cold room where companies can buy from there and do all the marketing and other necessary things like post-harvest treatment on their own. The farmers would bring their products; at that stage we call them contract farmers. You give specifications, at this stage you plant and harvest and you bring them to the warehouse not far from the farm.

Most Nigerian farmers are peasant farmers. What do you think should be done given our low technological level?

We have got to a situation where the world is now a global village. Now we practice rain-fed agriculture as well as open field crop production. Horticulture is not like that. You have greenhouses protecting horticultural products. For example, you can have three tomatoes growing under green houses.

So how can you develop these protective technologies?

You have some companies that have greenhouses of short span. You can even drip-feed them by using drip irrigation technology and putting the right amount of fertilizers in the solution with the right amount of water. Consequently, you get good yield from the crop.