As part of efforts to address the challenges of Postharvest losses in the country through the use of Returnable Plastic Creates (RPCs), the Postharvest Loss Alliance for Nutrition (PLAN) Nigeria, an initiative of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), has organised a Crating Workshop at Protea Hotel, Ikeja Lagos.

In collaboration with Rockefeller Foundation, Yieldwise Program-Pyxera Global and GEMS4 Project-USAID, the workshop aims to proffer solutions to the agribusiness sector, to enhance the business opportunities for interested individuals along the fresh fruits and vegetable value chain, and to deliberate on how to enlighten stakeholders on the benefits of using RPCs for the transportation of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Speaking on the essence of the workshop, the Senior Project Manager, PLAN Nigeria, Dr. Augustine Okoruwa, said the overall objective of the workshop was designed to discover new models of cutting down on postharvest losses using RPCs.

“The workshop was organised to explore the business opportunities involved in the use of Returnable Plastic Crates for the transporting of fresh fruits and vegetables, and how it will impact the current makers of basket and dealers, to reduce postharvest losses and improve nutrition through proper packaging of these goods.”

In an interview with AgroNigeria, the Group intervention Manager Agribusiness, GEMs4 Project, Richard Ogundele, who delivered a presentation on the “Cost Analysis of RPCs vs Raffia Baskets in Handling Fresh Fruits and Vegetables in Nigeria”, acknowledged the high cost of using these crates, but said efforts are in place to promote the use of RPCs.

 “For now we have just five manufacturers of these crates. So it is more or less like a monopoly. That is why we are trying to promote it vigorously among the dealers and operators. But if we have a policy that talks about food safety and standard, then there will be need for everybody to adopt the use of plastic crates”, he said.

The thematic group discussions at the workshop hinged on market penetration, challenges, capacity and pricing of the RPCs manufacturing terrain; the availability of innovative finance and insurance packages for agribusiness; policy, standards and food safety issues in the ownership, leasing, renting and handling of RPCs and the potential socio-economic impact of the promotion and adoption of RPCs on raffia basket makers and traders in Nigeria.

Commenting on the alternative means of funding for RPCs, the President, Cornergate Group, Dave Enejoh, said finance is not the biggest challenge but capacity building. He added that there are investors willing to provide the funds but they are seeking workable business models from agribusiness owners.

Further speaking on the cost of acquiring these plastic crates, the CEO, Cold Hubs, Ikegwuonu Nnemeka, said “Plastic crates are not cheap, but in the same vein, raffia baskets are not cheap too. So what we need is to fine tune the relationship we have with the banks, so they can uptake those who want to produce, distribute or lease these plastic crates to make access to them easy.”

Speaking on the role of the Bank of Agriculture (BoI) in supporting RPCs, the Head of Agribusiness, Investment and Trust Company Limited, Victoria Madedor, said they were looking at ways of partnering with plastic manufacturers on how to reduce the cost of producing these crates so as to make it cheaper for agribusinesses.

She said “When it comes to the cost of production, everything boils down to the manufacturer. Most times the money gotten from banks are too expensive which are factored into the selling price of these crates. So what we at BoI can do is to fund the manufacturers of these plastic crates to make it cheaper for agribusinesses.”

A lecturer and Postharvest Specialist at the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), Dr. Olubukola Odeyemi, intimated that insights gained from the workshop will benefit the upcoming generation.

“Am happy am part of this workshop, most especially because my students will benefit from the insights I have gained here about the use of plastic crates which is a very good means of cutting down on postharvest losses.”

Given the effectiveness of using RPCs for the transportation of fresh fruits and vegetables, manufacturers of Raffia baskets, the most widely used means of packaging and transporting theses goods, are apprehensive of the fact that it might affect their business, but they also see it as a positive development.

“Plastic crates will definitely affect our business negatively. But since we are talking about reducing postharvest losses, the use of RPCs is a welcome development. Besides there are other ways of using the raffia basket”, said Ezekwem Henry, a raffia basket manufacturer.

The workshop was well attended by stakeholders in the transportation industry, market and financial professionals, representatives from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON), private sector, amongst others.