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Nigeria: Farmers dry tomatoes to reduce post-harvest losses

It’s almost eight o’clock on a sunny Monday morning and the temperature is 42 degrees. Kulu Abdullah leaves her house and walks quickly towards some tomato farms two kilometres away. She is rushing to dry tomatoes and joins several other young women who are also trekking to the same farms.

Mrs. Abdullah says: “I normally go to one of the tomato farms to either pick or help preserve tomatoes during the hot season. We remove the damaged tomatoes, [and] cut and dry tomatoes under the sun by the roadside to reduce post-harvest losses.”

Mrs. Abdullah hails from Kura village in Nigeria’s Kano state. She is the first wife of her husband, who has been paralyzed for two years. He no longer earns an income because of his condition. So Mrs. Abdullah is responsible for raising money for the family. Among other ways of earning a living, she does piece work drying tomatoes.

She is paid 200 naira ($0.51 US) for every bag she picks, cuts, and sun-dries. She is happy with the piece work because it helps her support her family.

Musa Kalla is one of the farmers who grows the tomatoes that Mrs. Abdullah and the other women dry.

He explains that during the hot season, tomatoes are easily damaged due to the harsh weather. He dries the tomatoes to reduce his financial losses. Mr. Kalla says, “I have been doing this practice of drying tomatoes for more than a decade. We learned this from our parents and grandparents.”

He adds, “Since my childhood, I have been cutting tomatoes into pieces and drying under the sun for a number of days until the tomato gets very dry. I pack it in a sack ready to sell later.”

Mr. Kalla says that if he doesn’t dry the tomatoes on his one-and-a-half-hectare farm, his losses are about 30 per cent during the hot season. Although he must pay the workers who cut and dry his tomatoes, he says it’s worth it to reduce his losses.

He says there are other methods to dry and preserve tomatoes. One involves putting the tomatoes in a pot, adding sand around the pot, and wetting the sand. This cools the pot and increases the shelf life of the tomatoes.

He explains: “The disadvantage of this method is that it does not accommodate a large number of tomatoes in the pot. The best option for preserving tomatoes is cutting them into pieces and drying them under the sun.”

Garzali Ali is a farmer in Kwana Gafan village, in Garun Mallam local government area. He also dries his tomatoes, and believes that drying is the best option to minimize damage and ensure that he can sell the tomatoes later.

Mr. Ali says that although dried tomatoes are not as profitable as fresh ones, it’s better to dry them than allow them to be damaged.

He explains, “Dried tomatoes are sold at 3,000 naira ($7.72 US) per bag, while a crate of fresh tomatoes is sold at 4,500 Naira ($11.58 US).”

Hajiya Karima Sani, who also lives in Kano state, says she prefers to buy dried tomatoes because they are cheaper—and the stews and soups she makes with them last longer without going bad. She explains: “I normally soak the dried tomatoes in hot water for 30 minutes to enable the tomatoes to get softer before grinding them. This helps in removing any possible dirt and killing any germs.”

Auwal Salisu is the Nigerian agricultural coordinator at Pyxera, an international business-oriented NGO. He says the advantage of drying tomatoes is that it helps greatly to reduce post-harvest losses, the major challenge in tomato farming.

Mr. Salisu encourages farmers to dry tomatoes to avoid wastage. He says, however, that farmers need to take care not to dry them on the bare floor and to avoid using dirty bags for packaging. These practices make the dried tomatoes unattractive for both the local and the international market.

He says, “Many technologies have been tried for preserving tomatoes but the simplest and cheapest way is drying the tomatoes under the sun.”