Nigeria: Transporting tomatoes in plastic crates improves shelf life—and farmer income

| March 29, 2020

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When Hajiya Tabawa Hamza harvests her tomatoes, she loads them into plastic crates rather than the traditional raffia baskets. Although the crates are smaller, she prefers them to traditional baskets because fewer tomatoes are damaged in transport. This means fewer losses. As a result, she sells more tomatoes and her income is five times greater. Many tomato farmers in Nigeria’s Kano State are using plastic crates instead of baskets. Now, fewer tomatoes—and people—are injured during transport.

It’s Friday around six o’clock in the morning and Hajiya Tabawa Hamza has just finished harvesting tomatoes. The middle-aged widow loudly calls her eldest daughter, asking her to quickly help carry the plastic crates of tomatoes to the market.

Mrs. Hamza lives in Bunkure Local Government Area in the southern part of Nigeria’s Kano State. She grows tomatoes on a 100-square-metre farm that she inherited from her late husband.

Mrs. Hamza uses plastic crates to transport tomatoes to market because she says they improve the tomatoes’ shelf life. She places the harvested tomatoes in plastic crates and transports them to cities such as Lagos. The crates protect the tomatoes from being bruised, crushed, or otherwise damaged during transport and handling.

She used to transport her tomatoes in woven raffia baskets made from palm leaves and branches, but now prefers the crates.

Mrs. Hamza explains: “A few years back, I could hardly sell one or two baskets a day due to damages while transporting tomatoes with raffia baskets … Most people passing by are from the city and they prefer fresh tomatoes. I usually recorded losses.”

She’s been using plastic crates since 2018 and doesn’t face the problem of damaged tomatoes. Mrs. Hamza says her daily sales volume has increased from one or two raffia baskets to 10 or 12 plastic crates. This has helped increase her daily income from 6,000 Nigerian naira ($16 US) to 30,000 Nigerian naira ($81 US).

A plastic crate of tomatoes weighs about 22 kilograms. One raffia basket of tomatoes weighs about 60 kilograms, so contains enough tomatoes for a little more than two and a half plastic crates.

Mahmuda Dahiru is the leader of the farmers’ association in Kwanar Gafan, in Bunkure Local Government Area, and he also switched from raffia baskets to plastic crates. As a result, the 57 year-old says, “My daily sales income from tomatoes has increased from 33,000 Nigerian naira ($89 US) to 44,000 Nigerian naira ($119 US).”

Al Hassan Shugaba is a farmer in Kura Local Government Area in Kano State. He has been farming for 25 years and supplies tomatoes to Lagos and other distant places in Nigeria. He also prefers using plastic crates to transport his tomatoes.

He says that when he used to transport 100 raffia baskets of tomatoes to the market from his farm, he lost the equivalent of 10 to 20 baskets because of damages. With the plastic crates, almost all the tomatoes arrive at the final destination undamaged.

Mr. Shugaba says another disadvantage of raffia baskets is injuries to the people who use them. He says that one time, one of the people he engaged to transport his tomatoes injured his hand so badly that he needed to go to hospital for loss of blood.

Mal Auwal Salisu is the market linkage and logistics coordinator at Pyxera Global, which distributes plastic crates to farmers’ associations. He says that using crates to transport tomatoes is safe and cheap and helps farmers make more profit because of the increased shelf life and the minimal number of tomatoes that are damaged.

This resource was produced with support from The Rockefeller Foundation through its YieldWise initiative.