Women tomato farmers in northwest Nigeria

Successful Farming: Reducing Post-Harvest Loss Through Cottage Tomato Processing

In Nigeria, nearly half the tomato harvest is lost before ever reaching consumers. Promoting the domestic cottage processing sector has the potential to significantly decrease post-harvest loss while also improving farmer livelihoods and increasing food security for vulnerable communities.

Women tomato farmers in northwest Nigeria
The YieldWise program is helping tomato farmers in northwest Nigeria improve incomes and reduce post-harvest losses. Photo courtesy of the Rockefeller Foundation.

When Haija Hanifat first started processing tomatoes into puree from her home in northwest Nigeria, she was only producing products for household consumption. Although she was interested in turning her tomato processing into a business, she ran into several problems, particularly low productivity and the high cost of tomatoes during the rainy season. “The price can be as high as $0.62 per kilogram, which is a lot of money for us to spend on tomatoes,” she explains.

In June 2018, Haija learned about the YieldWise program — a partnership between TechnoServe, the Rockefeller Foundation, and Syngenta Foundation. The program works to reduce food post-harvest loss and ultimately improve smallholder farmer livelihoods in Kenya, Nigeria, and Tanzania.

Nigeria produces approximately 1.8 million metric tons of tomatoes per year, but annual demand is 2.3 million metric tons. Historically, the gap has been filled by imports, but there is growing pressure on local producers and processors to meet demand. Because of supply volatility and weak supply chain linkages, approximately 45% of tomato production is lost, on average, before reaching consumers — with implications for food security and producer incomes. In addition to the demand for fresh tomatoes, there is also a demand for tomato puree, which has traditionally been a key ingredient in Nigerian cuisine.

Reducing Food Waste Through Cottage Processing

Cottage processors are individuals or cooperatives that process tomatoes into puree, paste, ketchup, or dried forms on a small scale. One of the key achievements of the YieldWise program has been the promotion of the cottage tomato processing sector to increase the shelf life of tomatoes. TechnoServe is supporting value-addition activities along the tomato value chain, which, together with other project initiatives, will contribute significantly to reducing post-harvest losses, curtail the reliance on imported tomato products, and generate direct and indirect employment.

Through cottage processing, we are able to preserve tomato fruit into a paste during the glut period for consumption during the period of scarcity.”
— Haija Hanifat

Challenges of Cottage Processing

The YieldWise team conducted an assessment that revealed that many cottage processors operate at a low capacity, producing only two to three metric tons annually because of a lack of access to credit to standardize and scale their operations. Most processors require funding to lease or acquire acceptable buildings to operate from. The assessment also revealed weak farmer-to-processor linkages, as most processors were found to source their tomatoes from nearby open markets.

Women cottage tomato processors gather in northwest Nigeria
Women cottage processors in Kaduna state in northwest Nigeria. Photo courtesy of the Rockefeller Foundation.

Optimizing Productivity for Better Incomes

In order to help cottage processors overcome these challenges, the YieldWise team held training sessions to help these small businesses master food safety and hygiene, group dynamics, the economics of cottage processing, input sourcing, and food packaging. The processors who attended the training have gone on to share the information they learned with over 200 other processors. Trained cottage processors have the potential to process an aggregate of 500 to 1,000 metric tons annually – more than most medium-scale industrial processors, which process about 250 metric tons annually.

In addition to the training, TechnoServe has provided matching grants to cottage processors to acquire new equipment to increase productivity. This equipment support will enable select cottage processors to at least double their production capacity and output over the next year, which will also translate to an increased market share for this category of processors, as well as in the number of fresh tomatoes demanded from smallholder farmers, thereby limiting food waste.

In order to promote the standardization of the cottage processors’ products and seamless market access, TechnoServe is also facilitating their certification process. Prior to the YieldWise intervention, many of the processors’ production spaces were not designed in accordance with Nigerian food safety standards. The project is currently advising the processors on the adjustments required for their production sites to meet the food industry standard. In most cases, the processors have had to move from kitchenettes attached to their homes to more appropriate (mostly rented) processing spaces.

I used to process, eat, and give away tomato puree. Now, it is a major source of income for my family.”
— Haija Hanifat

Job Creation and Women’s Economic Empowerment

Cottage processing can not only boost food security, but has great potential to provide good jobs for rural women and youth in Nigeria. Each individual cottage processor employs an average of 10 women during processing activities, and more than 95% of the staff of cooperative-based cottage processors are women.

For Haija, working with TechnoServe has gradually transformed her cottage tomato processing activities into a small, growing business, which she jointly operates with other women in her community. She has since become the leader of the Katsina State Cottage Tomato Processors Group and has helped 280 women improve their livelihoods through cottage tomato processing. “Through cottage processing, we are able to preserve tomato fruit into a paste during the glut period for consumption during the period of scarcity,” she explains.

The average daily wage per employee in the processors’ group ranges from $5.55 to $13.80 per day. Prior to engaging in cottage processing, these people were mostly unemployed, so this new source of income has been life-changing. Many of the processors combine their processing work with other microenterprises, such as trading other locally grown food crops, to supplement their incomes.

For Haija, the training turned what was once a side activity into the basis for greater future opportunities. “I used to process, eat, and give away tomato puree,” she reflects. “But now, it is a major source of income for my family.”

Learn more about TechnoServe’s work in Nigeria.