Nigerian sorghum farmers devise coping strategies for post-harvest losses

Sorghum, a principal source of energy, protein, vitamins and minerals in Nigeria, rarely gets the desired attention from the government, leading many farmers to devise their coping strategies to mitigate post-harvest losses.

This crop which grows tall like corn in the tropics is used for a lot more than just meal for humans. It serves as feed also for livestock and can be processed as ethanol.

Post-harvest losses, which comes in the form of degradation in the quality and quantity of the crop, has become a big problem for sorghum farmers for several years. With the lack of investment in this area of agriculture, the farmers are left to their own devices.

Atrogor Ijeh, the founder of Latent Farms in Cross River State, explained how farmers of sorghum have been managing to remain in business.

“Initially, we had challenges of rodents and weevils, but with the cluster of farmers in the association, the market is now created for us. There is usually an off-taker for the produce. So, as soon as we harvest, which starts from November, the harvest is normally taken by the cluster head or a local government coordinator to the aggregation centre where it is aggregated and bagged, kept in large numbers ready for the off-taker to carry. In that respect, we are not having many losses,” he said.

Mr Ijeh said they were initially threshing manually from the farm gate, and in the course of doing that, a lot of the product would be a loss. But he said the association has now introduced threshing machines to clusters of sorghum farmers which makes it easy. He said with the intervention of the association, the loss is being minimised to a reasonable extent.

Another sorghum farmer, Goni Adam, who is the Borno State chairman of the National Association of Sorghum Producers Processors and Marketers of Nigeria (NASPPAM), said despite the insurgency and the challenge it poses on food production, they have not witnessed much of post-harvest losses in the state.

He said in the 27 local government areas of Borno State, the association has a warehouse in each of the local government, thereby making it easy for the farmers to store their produce and mitigate post-harvest losses.

Ibrahim Yusuf, a sorghum farmer and founder of Auwzak Farms with over 30 years of experience, said due to the lack of modern technology to preserve the product, he usually complements it by grinding the stalk so it can be used for animal feeds.

The national president of the National Association of Sorghum Producers Processors and Marketers of Nigeria (NASPPAM), Muhammad Maina, said the association is working hard to reduce post-harvest losses of sorghum farmers.

“We are taking measures for it. We had trained our farmers on post-harvest losses with the Agriculture Research institute on how to preserve sorghum using chemicals that are not harmful to human beings. With the ministry of agriculture, we get some silos to keep it, so we don’t lose the quality of the sorghum,” he said.

Mr Babayo said the opportunities of Sorghum are enormous from producers, processors, and marketers.

“It can be used for flour, malt, and confectioneries. In northern Nigeria, most households depend on Sorghum. It is been used for donkey years. The market for sorghum is very huge. We export our sorghum to Niger and Mali, and we have plans to export to other countries who will need sorghum because it has so many values,” he said.

Sikiru Bello, founder of Agroparagon Farms in Oyo State, said with the help of the commodity association and through the anchor borrowers programme, the post-harvest loss is being reduced drastically because extension services are also being provided.

“After harvest, sacks are provided for the bagging and kept in the warehouse. Guinness is our major off-taker, and they also take it to Sub-Saharan Africa,” he said.

Composite Flour
A legislation for a mandatory 20 per cent inclusion of high-quality cassava flour or sorghum to wheat flour and its derivatives in Nigeria has remained unapproved at the National Assembly years after it was introduced.

Part of the draft bill says, “As from the commencement of this bill (Act, if passed into law), it shall be mandatory for all makers of edible flour in Nigeria to ensure the 20 per cent inclusion of the high-quality cassava flour in wheat flour produced in the country or imported.”

Mr Babayo said composite flour for sorghum will boost its market, because of how the sorghum flour is welcome in the market for its high nutritional value.

Mr Ijeh stressed that if the bill on composite flour for sorghum is passed it will increase the local consumption of the product in the market, and would go along way to make a tremendous impact in the local and even international market.

“In fact, in 2020 some percentage of sorghum was milled into flour, package and was tested in the open market, and it had so much reception by the consumers as there was so much demand,” Mr Ijeh said.

Mr Ibrahim was of the view that the bill on composite flour for sorghum if passed will bring more nutritional flour, especially for diabetes patients.

Government support
Mr Babayo said through the anchor borrowers programme, farmers benefited in 2019, but due to COVID-19, they were unable to access the funds. He said now that about 60 per cent of loans are paid and recovered, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture is also taking up reservation tools and that if this is improved, it would help tremendously.

Mr Ijeh noted that at the moment, the government is doing its best.

“Unlike before, accessing funding for sorghum farmers used to be difficult but with the anchor borrowers programme and the association which is championed by the CBN, only your BVN is your collateral, with the help of the insurance cover, inputs and extension service is given. These have helped a lot of farmers to adopt best agronomic practices,” he said.

Mr Ijeh appealed to the government to look inward at making access to funding easy for rural dwellers as some do not have access to banks, talk less of BVN.

Mr Ibrahim said for farmers to get the best market for their sorghum they need to shift to organic farming.

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