Every year, onions, one of the cooking condiments for many households in Nigeria, have been facing price instability and availability, especially during off-season production circle. Experts have attributed this to the absence of storage facilities.
The demand for onions continues to increase due to its importance as vegetable and spice. Apart from being used as seasoning in food preparation, onions, according to health experts, have significant health benefits, including reducing the risk of cancer, managing blood sugar levels and boosting immunity.
Statistics have shown that Nigeria is the third largest producer of onions in Africa, after Egypt and Tanzania. Similarly, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Nigeria is the seventh largest producer in the world, accounting for about 10 per cent of global production. As such, onion farming is a profitable agribusiness in Nigeria, contributing significantly to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country.
The national president of the National Onion Producers, Processors and Marketers Association of Nigeria (NOPPMAN), Alhaji Aliyu Maitasamu Isah, said Nigeria could generate as much as $420 million annually from exportation of onions if there was value addition.
According to the FAO, Nigeria produced about 1.4 million metric tonnes of onions in 2019, making it the second largest producer in Africa after Egypt for that year.
The onion farming industry in Nigeria thus has a vast potential for exportation, particularly to the European Union and the United States. This is in addition to local consumption through supply from the North to other parts of the country.
However, despite all these potentials associated with onion farming, processing and marketing industry, the value chain is experiencing a regular challenge every year, top of which is poor storage facilities, which creates scarcity and price hike that further affects the general public and render stakeholders hopeless. This includes farmers who invest heavily to farm the produce but most times end up running at a loss.
Although the scarcity of the produce during off-season usually leads to price hike, giving opportunities for higher profits, it also drops at a time farmers are harvesting, thereby leaving them with struggles to recover their capital without thinking of profit.
“To some extent, instead of counting profit or getting back our capital, we end up running at a loss, especially smallholder farmers. We sell our produce immediately after harvest, so they buy at a cheaper rate. This year, I sold a sack (100kg) of onions at N4,000, the worst I have ever witnessed. Now that it is about to go higher, we don’t have it because we lack storage facilities. When we keep them at home or in our stores, it will rot,” one of the farmers in Kura in Kano State, Iliyasu Muhammad, said.
During a visit to Karfi Yan Albasa market, which is said to be the major onion market in not only Kano, but the entire country, marketers lamented over the fluctuating price of the produce, saying it had forced them to incur losses every year. They said the lack of improved and modern storage facilities, cost of transportation and cost of farm inputs had been the biggest challenges they faced in the business.
Speaking to Daily Trust on Sunday, one of the major dealers who has spent over two decades in the business, Muntari Isa Gamadan, said it was a large industry that accommodates thousands of people, including the elderly, youth and women. He said that in their market alone, over 5,000 people earned a living on a daily basis.
He explained that the price of the commodity was determined by availability. He further said the lowest amount of a sack of onions was N4,000 but at its peak when the price goes up, it usually rises to up N75,000.
“Now is the season of onions. Last month, it was N6,000, but now, we are selling between N8,000 and N10,000 per sack.
“Presently, we are in harvest period, not only in Kano. As a result of the number of goods that are coming from different places, we are now having them in bulk, as you can see yourself. We are loading some from the farm, bagging them and reloading for transportation to the South.
“In the South, the market will receive the goods, but because they are too much there and still have more here, the price will crash as it is now. That is why the market is not moving,” he explained.
Speaking on the number of trailers that go to the South and other parts of the state and the North, one of the leaders in the market, Alhaji Abdulhamid Umar Karfi, said that in a day they used to load at least 15 trailers, amounting to millions of naira, for onward transportation to the South. And each of the trailers carries 400 pieces of 50kg sacks.
This, he said, was aside the small trucks and trailers transporting the commodity to neighbouring markets within Kano and other states in the North.
“During this period, in a single day we can take onions of at least N60 million to the South. That is if a sack is sold at N10,000. A trailer carries 400 sacks,” he added.
Lamenting on the challenges they are facing, the market leader, who is also one of the biggest onion farmers in the state, said the instability in the price is the most worrying part of the business, as in a day, they can lose over 50 per cent if the goods are too much. He added that when the goods are scarce they go higher and they get very few to sell.
He said the situation was attributed to lack of modern storage facilities within the markets and farms in the state, lamenting that it has forced farmers and marketers to sell their onions at any price.
He said a store where 50 bags of grains would be stored could not store 10 sacks of onion. And it cannot stay for more than three months without rotting. “That is why it needs a place where there is ventilation,” he said.
He also said they were ready to accept any policy from the federal government that would help in boosting both farming and marketing of onions, adding that modern storage facility is the most efficient intervention they need.
Adopt locally improved storage – Expert
Speaking on the possible ways out of the problem, the Director of the Agricultural Extension Department of the Kano State Agricultural and Rural Development Authority (KNARDA), Gambo Isa Garko, said the best way was to adopt a storage process that would make onions survive all-year-round.
“The crop is largely farmed during the rainy season, but that is not as strong as dry season onions. This is because of much water. So, even in storage, the rainy one will not last as long as that of dry season,” he explained.
According to him, research shows that in every 100 onions stored, 30 are always found rotten, leaving the owner with 70 pieces, a situation that reduces his profit or even capital.”
Garko advised that farmers and marketers should adopt a locally improved storage that would allow the commodity stay up to five months.
“This is by constructing a bed in the store so that onions will not be on the ground directly. It will be receiving ventilation from the top and ground.
“Government should also strive to provide improved storage for onions. However, it has started in Danbatta, where there is a storage facility called Artificial Onion Storage Crate Store by the APPEALS programme. But the best way is to adopt a system where government will buy from farmers and store until it goes year round,” he added.
He also said there was the need for farmers to embrace new varieties that are resistant to excess water and can avert anything that may lead to rot easily. He advised them to seek advice at every stage of their farming process.
Processing plant births in Sokoto
The first onion and garlic flakes processing plant has been commissioned in Sokoto State.
Speaking at the ceremony, the national president, National Onion Producers, Processors and Marketers Association of Nigeria (NOPPMAN), Aliyu Isa Maitasamu, said the plant would reduce N300 billion post-harvest losses to the barest minimum.
He said Nigeria produced two million metric tonnes of onions worth N700 billion, but about 40 per cent of them, amounting to N300billion, perished due to lack of modern storage facilities and processing plants.
Maitasamu added that Sokoto alone produced 800,000 metric tonnes.
“We thank Onion and Garlic Processing Partnership Limited (O&G company) for coming to our rescue by establishing this processing plant,” he said.
Commissioning the plant, the director-general of the Raw Materials Research and Development, Professor Hussaini Ibrahim, described the project as an important milestone for the manufacturing industry in the country.
He said the plant was designed and fabricated by Nigerian engineers following the call by the council to reduce the perennial post-harvest wastages associated with onions and garlic.
“The council, in collaboration with Afri-Generoc Synergy Farms, Chimbilco Technical and Sokoto Investment and Property Company, had worked assiduously to achieve objective of processing onions and garlic into flakes on industrial scale following successful research and development by the council’s in-house research team,” he said.
Represented by one of the directors of the council, Ibrahim commended the partners and investors who made the project a reality.
The Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, who was represented by the district head of Sokoto North, Alhaji Malami Sheikh, disclosed that the sultanate council was working with the Central Bank of Nigeria to provide loans to farmers and entrepreneurs in the state.
The chairman of the company, Dr Saleh Ibrahim, said the idea was conceived by the educated elite to rescue onion and garlic farmers from perennial post-harvest losses. He said processed onion and garlic flakes would soon flood the markets.