Article written by OLANREWAJU RUKAYAT IFEDAPO
A walk around a Nigerian market is proof of the extent of food wastage in this country. Truckloads of perishable food items and farm produce wasting even before they are offloaded from the transporting vehicle is a common sight in our major markets. Basketful of wasted tomatoes are left rotting and are eventually thrown away on daily basis.
Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) is a common vegetable/fruit that forms a decent percentage of the staple meal in most homes in Nigeria and Africa. This succulent and juicy fruit is a must in most homes, a typical Nigerian meal is not complete without tomatoes. Despite the high rate of consumption, there is massive wastage of tomatoes in Nigeria; a visit to the tomato section in every market is an evidence of the extent of tomato wastage. Tomatoes being a very perishable crop has a short shelf life due to its high moisture content, this makes it very susceptible to wastage from rot, bruises, squashing etc
Source: Nature and nurture
Nigeria is the 16th largest producer of tomatoes. Despite this, we still import tonnes of tomato paste to meet our tomato consumption needs. The national demand for tomatoes is about 2-3million tonnes every year but Nigeria lose about 65% of its tomato production to wastage and spoilage on the farm, during transportation, at the market and stores, and even in the household.
Poor packaging and transportation technique is one of the major contributors to tomato wastage in Nigeria. During transportation to the market the tomatoes are usually;
Source: Guardian Newspaper Tomato wastage in markets
Prevention and reduction of wastage in tomato value chain starts from the harvest point to consumption point. Adopting a good and efficient harvesting technique, post-harvest handling practices, transportation and also preservation techniques will make significant difference in the level of tomato wastage in Nigeria.
Harvesting and Post-harvest handling practices to reduce wastage and spoilage
Tomatoes can be harvested either in matured green, partially ripe or ripe state. If you are targeting distant markets, it is advisable to harvest your tomatoes while still in the matured green stage to give ample time for the preparation of the fruit for market and also prevent injury during harvesting because fully ripe tomatoes are susceptible to mechanical injury resulting in rapid spoilage. Be careful when harvesting ripe tomatoes and avoid the use of sharp edged harvesting and packaging containers to prevent bruising and puncturing of the fruit. It is also advisable to harvest in the morning or evening to reduce excessive heat generation.
Pre-cooling and disinfection
Precooling is simply the reduction of excessive field heat. During pre-cooling the harvested fruits are dipped in cold water mixed with disinfectant such as thiabendazole or sodium hypochlorite. Pre-cooling minimizes the effect of microbial activities, ripening rate, water loss and invariably decay thus preserving the quality and increasing the shelf life of the tomatoes. The disinfection of tomatoes at the point of harvest reduces microbial load and also post-harvest and food borne diseases in fruits.
Source: Agriculture Nigeria (Sorting and grading)
Sorting is the removal of rotten, damaged, or diseased tomatoes from the healthy good ones and grading is the process of separating fruits on the basis of colour, size, and/or degree of ripening.
During grading of tomatoes, damaged, cracked and rotten fruits are removed. It is very important to sort your tomatoes because:
Packaging for transportation
Source: Focused Collection
One of the major causes of damages to tomatoes in Nigeria is inappropriate packaging and bad roads. In order to prevent such damages, sharp edged containers (baskets, crates,and bowls) should be avoided; containers with depth should be replaced with shallow ones to reduce damages from compression during transportation. Also, tomatoes should be immobilized by proper packaging and stacking to avoid excessive movement and vibrations. Plastic crates with air space should be used for packaging of tomatoes to local market; crates can be staked conveniently on each other without the compression of the fruits and the air space allows air circulation. You can also use dry grasses, leaves, sawdust, paper shreds to cushion your tomatoes during packaging for transportation in other to reduce excessive movement and vibrations. Also, during sales at the market, small plastic baskets or crates should be used to display tomatoes to reduce unnecessary damage to the tomatoes.
The use of polystyrene boxes is another cheap and effective way of transporting tomatoes.
There is a high rate of post-market tomato spoilage and wastage most especially in the household. However, this fruit can be preserved to reduce spoilage and invariably wastage. Ripe tomatoes have a short shelf-life; it can be stored in well aerated containers for about 48hours in room temperature but this can be increased through freezing, drying and canning. Well packaged dried tomatoes can be stored for about a year without losing flavor and taste, and if frozen, it can last longer.
Adopting these post-harvest handling practices and taking necessary precaution when handling tomatoes will contribute immensely to reduction of spoilage and wastage of the fruit thus increasing your productivity and income. It will also increase income for other stakeholders in the tomato supply chain in Nigeria, improve the quality and quantity of tomatoes that gets to our table for consumption and ensure that a high percentage of our national tomato production is consumed. Also, with the proper grading, sorting and treatment, tomatoes produced in Nigeria will meet international standard thereby creating exportation opportunities for tomato farmers.
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“Good step with good prospect towards food safety”. Agriculture Nigeria. https://agriculturenigeria.com/research/research-updates/tomato-project (September 18, 2018)
“Wisconsin 55 Tomato” Nature and Nuture Seeds. https://natureandnutureseeds.com/products/wisconsin-55 (September 19, 2018)
Arah I.K., G. K. Ahorbo, and E. K. Anku, et. al. (2016). Postharvest Handling Practices and Treatment Methods for Tomato Handlers in Developing Countries: A Mini Review. Advances in Agriculture Vol. 2016, Article ID 6436945, 8 pages http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2016/6436945
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Parnell T.L., T.V. Suslow and L.J. Harris (2004). Tomatoes: Safe methods to store, preserve and enjoy. ANR Publication 8116. 15pgs.