Tomato farmers in northern Nigeria are losing over 40 percent of their yield due to poor storage and processing facilities. Most use traditional methods of drying the fruits.
Nigeria is the largest producer of tomatoes in sub-Saharan Africa with an annual yield of 1.8 million metric tonnes, mostly produced in the north. Tomato farmers in Katsina State are angry at the lack of preservation technology for their produce. Their method of storing the perishable fruit out in the open exposes the produce to wind, flies and other natural threats.
Idris Garba, a tomato farmer in Kokami village in Katsina State, says there are advantages to sun drying his crop.
"We do this whenever we face a shortage of buyers. If you don't preserve [the tomatoes], they will get rotten easily but if we dry them here, they become dried tomatoes and can last for one to two years," Garba said.
Sun drying involves spreading tomatoes on bare ground for about eight days. There is no means of protecting the fruit from wind, rain or animals. As a result, many farmers incur huge losses.
Chasing goats and cows
Dahiru Mohammed lost about 450 baskets of tomatoes when the rains came. "We didn't think there would be rain. We spread the tomatoes on the ground and the rain destroyed them. I lost it all," he told DW.
For 50-year-old Salisu Jibrin, rain is not the only problem. "I have to chase animals that come here to eat my tomatoes. Despite my age, I have to chase goats and cows because this is my source of living," he said.
Farmer Idris Umar pays young villagers about 30,000 Naira ($83.3, €73.8) to dry 300 baskets of tomatoes. He said that if there was an alternative way of storing tomatoes, he would use the money to expand his farm and take care of his family.
While farmers like Umar are not happy with the current situation, others like 35-year-old Malam Abdullahi are quite happy with things as they are. Sun drying tomatoes is his main source of income. He works for other famers, filling the baskets with tomatoes to be dried.
"On a good day I cut five baskets of tomatoes or more and go back home with about 750 Naira," Abdullahi said.
With its annual production of 1.8 million metric tonnes of tomatoes Nigeria falls short of domestic demand for 2.4 million metric tonnes per annum. Some private companies have started setting up tomato processing plants, but they have yet to make any real impact.
Yakubu Abba Abdullahi is the special adviser to the Katsina state governor on agriculture. He says the government is working on modalities to come to the aid of local farmers. "We introduced some plastic crates that will replace the vegetable crates they use," he told DW. The advantage of this is that plastic crates provide ventilation on all sides, which keeps the tomatoes fresh for longer. They also reduce the number of tomatoes that get crushed because the crates are shallower than the traditional baskets and there is less weight on the tomatoes at the bottom. Using crates also means there is a standard measure for the produce as the crates are weighed whereas baskets are simply filled.
Abdallahi told DW a tomato processing factory at Kokami is due to be completed later this year. Local farmers are sceptical, saying that they have heard many such promises but are still waiting to see tangible results.