Benue State produces over one million metric tonnes of citrus fruits per annum. About 60 percent of that figure is wasted yearly.
AUN Class of 2011 alumna Aver Ugoh’s doctoral research work at the University of Nottingham in the UK investigates this anomaly.
Benue - Food Basket of the Nation - with its fertile soil yields in agricultural produce has its overall food security threatened by pastoral conflicts, unwholesome farming practices, and lack of market access and storage methods.
In trying to understand the cause of the citrus loss/food wastage in Benue, Aver spent six months interviewing farmers, middlemen, and traders, digging deep into the impacts of such losses on the livelihoods of the chain actors. Shockingly, she witnessed first-hand the dire poverty woven deeply in rural Benue where 80 percent of the population is made up of farmers.
Aver’s doctoral thesis focuses on “Post-harvest losses along the citrus value chain in Nigeria: A case study of Benue State.
For the recent Ph.D. graduate of Environmental Geography, this experience challenged her perception of poverty, exploitation, and how government policies indirectly affect small farmers.
“When you decide to do a Ph.D., you are not quite sure what you are up against and then somewhere along the line, you realize that you have decided to dedicate a significant part of your life to research an area of interest.”
In the course of her research, it was clearer why farmers remained poor despite toiling day and night. Small-scale farmers make up more than 80 percent of the Benue population and they have little access to good road network for transporting their goods from their farmlands to the market. Hence, perishable goods waste in the farms. The farmers were grateful that someone cared enough to study their plight and explore the impacts and opportunities.
For Aver, this was the confirmation she needed to ascertain why she took the long road in applying for a Ph.D. program as a self-funded student. Today, her research work has been well-received at various international conferences in the US, Israel, and Italy.
A particular conference experience close to heart was a presentation in Rome, where she was the introductory speaker. Filled with anxiety and stage fright, Aver found courage in her reflection of her undergraduate days at AUN.
“As students, we were taught to conduct quality research and exposed to class presentations. The access to a functional library and resource materials ensured that we conformed to academic best practices.
I cannot tell you how fast 25 minutes went by, but all I remember is that the feedback was excellent. It was an opportunity to converse with the experts in my field and improve on my research.”
Aver is sure she wants to leap into the development sector where she can engage directly with local partners on food security and improved livelihood. She is canvassing for improved market access for these farmers to deliver their goods thereby boycotting the use of intermediaries in the chain supply and provision of adequate storage facilities for post-harvest.
She works with a local non-profit called Benue State Community Link and Human Empowerment Initiative as a Humanitarian Officer. “As a Ph.D. graduate, the ideal thing is to stay in academia. There is so much I have to accomplish, with the edge I have in my research, I desire to use my knowledge to address developmental problems in my community.”
Reported by Nelly Ating