Mile 12 Market… The Story Of Food Waste


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It was a shouting match between a trader and three men identified as truck driver and motor-boys, which attracted hundreds of onlookers at the popular Mile 12 International Market, Lagos recently. While much of the argument was in gibberish English and Hausa language, it was not difficult ascertaining the cause of the disagreement – a truck fully loaded with carrots.

The congregation of onlookers could only stand and stare at the ensuing melee between the two parties shouting themselves hoarse to be understood. The exasperated trader was refusing to receive his consignment, which arrived late, after a few days delay on the road.

To the bystanders, it was a common sight seeing truckload of perishable food items and farm produce waste even before they are offloaded. After much debate, the driver was paid fully and asked to do whatever he wanted with the spoilt carrots.

This happened on the day Ogun State government officials, in company of representatives from the World Bank, Bank of Industry, Central Bank of Nigeria, and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), visited the market.

They were on a fact-finding mission to access the market, establish a replica in Ogun State and more importantly, address the problem of food wastage by establishing the proposed market closer to food processing companies, interested in preserving many of the farm produce.

Food waste or food loss is food that is discarded or lost uneaten. As of 2011, 1.3 billion tons of food, about one third of the global food production, are lost or wasted annually. Loss and wastage occurs on all steps in the food supply chain, and in developing countries, most loss occurs during production.

Mile 12 Market in the Agoyi-Ketu Local Government Area of Lagos State, is known for selling assorted fruits like orange, banana, cucumber, pineapple, garden egg, watermelon, pawpaw and foodstuffs at wholesale price. The market also acts as assembly point for foodstuffs “shipped” into Lagos from other states and outside the country.

Regular visitors to the market know two things are just as important as money: a pair of robber boots to protect their feet and shoes from getting soiled, and a handkerchief to reduce the assault of human and material waste on their sense of smell.












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How Weather, Bad Roads Affect Food Prices

Alhaji Abdul Mohammed, General Secretary of the market, said the lack of storage facilities and food preservatives is the major cause of food waste in Mile 12.

“Presently, the price of food in the market is high due to the rainy season. We lack the facility to store and preserve our farm produce. Also, most of our farmers still use the old methods of storage and preservation, which do not last long. It is time they began to employ modern ways of preserving foods, which are beyond what farmers can do on their own.”

A few metres from the building serving as secretariat of the traders’ union is parked a truck loaded with onions. Passersby could barely walk past without holding their breath, due to the stench of decaying onions.

“That truck is still in the line queuing to be offloaded and half of the onions are already spoilt. I learnt Borno State bought the onions from the farmers through their agriculture project. Imagine if this was not a government scheme, the loss would have been borne by the farmers,” Mohammed said.

According to him, agriculture business is rewarding but greatly unpredictable. “One of the factors causing food wastage is weather. Whether it is potato, tomato, or onion, fruits cannot be preserved for long. Secondly, transport problem adds to about 30 percent of food spoilage,” he said.

“In the past, tomatoes were not transported in trucks; they were transported in trains and coaches. With modern trains, you can spend not more than five hours from Kano to Lagos, but spending a whole day on the road is not the best way to transport perishable goods.

“The problem of transportation is compounded by bad roads. Each time trucks jump into the thousands of potholes on the roads, it causes more damage to the goods. Sometimes, trucks fall over and waste thousands of tons of food.”







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Bad Food Has Its Fans

Mohammed added that it is difficult to estimate the amount lost to food loss, because there are buyers for every good, whether good or bad. “There are those who specifically shop for spoilt or damaged goods because it is cheaper,” he said.

A trader at the market, Ibrahim Musa, wants government to take the transport sector seriously, if it is interested in developing the agriculture sector. “Nigeria is so blessed, we do not have food crisis. What we produce is enough to feed the whole of West Africa, but much of this is lost because of the failure of rail transportation,” he said.

“At times, after bringing the goods here, what is left to be sold does not even cover transport cost. For instance, it will cost you N200,000 to transport goods in a 9/11 truck from Benue to Lagos. The day they arrive here does not matter to the transporter because he has to be fully paid before leaving the farm. Yet, we are the ones who will bear the loss if the goods arrive late.

“If government subsidises distribution of farm produce, it will be more beneficial to every Nigerian than the trillions of Naira government is wasting on fuel subsidy.”

On whether decentralising Mile 12 Market will reduce food wastage as a result of congestion, Musa said it still would not solve the problem. “The proliferation of markets would mean there will be price difference and people will naturally gravitate towards where the prices of goods are cheaper,” he said.

“And there is no way we can fix price because it is determined by unpredictable factors. For instance, a basket of tomatoes here is N15,000, which is costly. It is because of the rainy season in the North. If tomatoes flood this market today, it will go for as low as N5,000. So, it is not a matter of decentralising the market because it is too congested.”









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Dissecting Food Problems At Conference

Grappling with higher food prices and falling consumption the world over, as the strains of the economic crisis make it more important than ever for consumers from all countries and walks of life to have access to high-quality, nutritious foods that are cost-effective; a seminar was hosted recently by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Lagos.

The event, held under the Global Broad-based Initiative (GBI) of the USDA, sought to showcase several farm produce and how it could be preserved.

According to the facilitator of the event, Programme Director of Development Communications Network, Akin Jimoh, “the conference was organised for us to learn from those who have done it better like the United States in terms of food supply, nutrition, food consumption and export.

“It is painful that over 50 percent of food produced is lost. Why can’t we export most of those foods that get destroyed at the farms and markets? If government develops the rural areas, our farmers can become richer and the price of food would drastically reduce. There won’t be too much migration to the urban cities and jobs would be created because food is the only thing we cannot do without.

“Government needs to rechannel its efforts to develop our rural areas and not concentrate all its activities at the state capitals. Gradually, the cities would be decongested and people in their prime can be encouraged to go back home and work, instead of leaving the aged alone to carry on farming,” he said.

Stakeholders raised the dire need of ingredient technology to boost the food industry. National President of Nutrition Society of Nigeria (NSN), Prof. Ignatius Onimawo, said the problem is the transfer of knowledge from the various research institutes and universities of agriculture into the market.

“A lot of our research bodies have done excellent work on procedures and preservation of our foods, but they end up in the shelves. Reason is because the Nigerian food industry is more interested in importing tested food formulas into the country rather than develop the local market,” he said.

Onimawo blamed the food wastage on problem of transportation. “What spoils food are micro organisms, which are found in the foods. When you transport these products under heat, the microorganisms tend to multiply faster due to the temperature, which end up destroying the food. But if these foods are transported in cold condition with rails that have air-conditioned coaches, we would tackle wastages of food,” he said.

“Recently, the management of DHL were in discussion with us on how they can help export some of our farm produce but there was no concrete arrangement reached because they don’t have the infrastructure for food storage.

“DHL flies aircraft loaded with goods into the country six times a week and returns empty. So, they were interested in our food export, but without proper storage, it could not be utilised. Most of our goods are wanted in the international market but because we have not organised ourselves, we can’t tap into this goldmine,” he said.

From left: Dr. J.O Onuora, President of the Nigerian Institute of Food Science and Technology; Olotu Ibru, Corporate Affairs Manager, UTC Nigeria Plc; Prof. Isaac Olaoluwa Akinyele Head, Department of Human Nutrition, University of Ibadan; Dr. Omo Ohiokpehai, Independent Agric-Nutrition Consultant; and Prof. Ignatius Onimawo, National President, Nutrition Society of Nigeria.



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