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Can rail transport save Nigeria’s high post harvest losses?

In recent years, Nigeria may have been committing more resources to increase food production, however, the challenge of post harvest losses remains a nagging reality. For some experts, it has been suggested this is properly addressed by using rail transport to address the enormous wastages that occur while moving commodities from rural areas to the urban centres.

The Agriculture Promotion Policy of the federal ministry of Agriculture highlighted that current post-harvest loss rates are as high as 60% for perishable crops. In Tomato for instance, out of an annual demand of 2.2 million metric tonnes, the country’s actual production is 1.5 million tons but 0.7M ton (almost half) is lost post-harvest.

There was a short-lived ray of hope in 2017, when a tomato shipment from Kano, arrived Lagos by train for the first time in 58 years.

For those in the value chain, however, more still needs to be done to address postharvest losses by using trains, particularly refrigerated carriages to freight more commodities across the country.

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Emmanuel Ijewere, Vice president, Nigeria AgriBusiness Group (NABG) said at the time that “the biggest problem we have right now is preservation. Immediately our crops are harvested we need to cool down the temperature which extends the shelf life for a very long time.”

Sustaining this earlier preservation only becomes achievable when the transportation to different urban centres is retained sustained in temperature controlled environments. The best bet in view of the condition of Nigeria’s road networks remains rail transport for now.

“Post-harvest losses are recorded at various stages and the transportation stage is the most notorious of all the stages. The freighting of tomatoes (for instance) by rail will attack the transportation stage loss,” Ijewere said.

He noted in 2017 that the train which departed Kano for Lagos was delayed 7 hours as a result of teething problems with the rail tracts along the corridor (which or may no longer be existent). Till today, however, post harvest losses remain a problem that cost farmers multibillion naira losses, impedes food security, and has a solution beyond the purview of agriculture; transportation.

The American Association of Railroads in a publication on “The Environmental Benefits of Moving Freight by Rail” noted that; Railroads are the most environmentally sound way to move freight over land. On average, trains are four times more fuel efficient than trucks. They also reduce highway gridlock, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and reduce pollution.

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