Over the years, farmers in Benue State suffered post-harvest losses of nearly all the food crops they produced such that many of them became poorer and unable to generate income to sustain their families.
The worrying trend, perhaps, motivated the Governing Council of the Benue State University (BSU), Makurdi, to, in June 2014, approve the establishment of the Centre for Food Technology and Research, African Centre (CEFTER) for control of post-harvest losses.
Though the aim for the centre, among other things, is to empower African researchers to identify technologies that will reduce post-harvest losses, the host state will benefit immensely from the institution to enable it retain its rider as the “Food Basket of the Nation.”
Consequently, CEFTER, in the past three years has organised Food Week and Exhibition at the university campus in Makurdi to showcase the development of technologies through applied research for reducing post-harvest losses and engagement with communities, farmers and industries in the dissemination of these technologies.
This year, the centre ventured into commercial research development of home-grown food products such as cassava, yam, rice, pepper, soybean, beniseed, fish, watermelon, orange, tomato, corn and sweet potato.
Head of the center, Prof. Daniel Adezwa, noted that the products exhibited last year surpassed that of 2016 which consisted of 77 food products.
Prof. Adezwa explained that the food varieties were produced using crops by students of different departments at the centre, adding that the Food Week was a students’ activity allied at exposing them to practical problem solving targeting development of products from common crops.
“In the 2017 outing, 139 PGD, MSc and PhD students were grouped into 10 and assigned food crops to study and develop products that will add value and reduce post-harvest losses. It is expected that most of the adopted techniques can be extended to farmers and food handlers for use to enhance their output,” Adezwa added.
At the 2018 exhibition held at the weekend, Deputy Leader of the Centre (Operations), Dr. Barnabas Ikyo, remarked that this year’s event was slightly different from what was done in the past two years.
Dr. Ikyo emphasised that the products met international best standards just as the centre continued to pursue the development of a critical mass of well-trained Africans that would be able to implement the post-harvest control agenda in the region, covering selected agricultural extension services and food sciences.
He said, “we took a step further on how sustainable, reliable and valuable the food process could be. We will ensure we have capacity for mass production of the food products exhibited today.”
The centre, in 2017, exhibited 140 products from different varieties of crops grown in the state and the items were displayed on the university campus as part of activities to mark the Food Week and Exhibition.
In the 2018 outing, 137 PGD, MSc and PhD students were grouped into 12 and assigned food crops to study and develop products that would add value and reduce post-harvest losses.
The Manager of the Technology Incubation Centre (TIC), Makurdi, Terseer Uke, said the university needed to partner with TIC to help the centre make further progress for commercial purpose as the products would focus on food incubators.
He stressed that the food products displayed could be used for the home-grown school feeding programme in Benue at a reduced cost to save the government more money.
The food groups displayed their star products and other derivatives.
Example, the pepper group displayed pepper jam, cookies, ketchup, pepper spray (used to make tear gas), pepper paste, pepper balm, among others, while the yam group displayed yam fruit cake as its star product with other products from yam such as yam chips and yam cakes.
The rice group displayed doughnut, masa, yoghurt, noodles and flour, while the soybean group presented spaghetti, yoghurt, oil, cake, milk, cookies, spices and mayonnaise.
The fish group displayed fish barbecue, fish spices, fish oil, cookies, crispy butter and cakes and the beniseed group displayed candy, oil, mayonnaise, yoghurt, chin-chin, among others.
Earlier, BSU Vice Chancellor, Prof. Msugh Kembe, commended the centre for putting the university on the global map, noting that the value addition to crops would reduce to the barest minimum post-harvest losses and therefore called on NAFDAC to facilitate the process of registering the products.
Meanwhile, other speakers from the Export Council, the Bank of Industry and the Social Investment Programme praised the ability of the students to produce varieties of food items using just one crop.