It is the mango season and the fruit is found everywhere and in all shapes, sizes and taste in Benue State, especially in Ushongo Local Government Area which prides itself as the home of fruits. Our correspondent reports that common varieties of mango grown in Benue include Johnbull, Brokin, Peter, Julie, Dawshia, Hindi, Mummy, Tommy, Lick, Palms and Keith.
Sadly, however, most of these mangoes are wasted at the peak of maturity, usually between March and May, as there are no adequate means to preserve them. A Deputy Director of Research and Collaboration at the Centre for Food Technology and Research (CEFTER), African Centre of Excellence for Control of Post-Harvest Losses at the Benue State University (BSU), Makurdi, Dr. Sylvester Adejo, said mango was an excellent source of Vitamin A and flavonoids like beta carotene, beta cryptexanthia, as well as rich in pre-biotic, dietary, fibre, mineral, among others.
Dr. Adejo added that the compounds in the fruit have been known to consist of antioxidant properties and were essential for vision, emphasising that the Vitamin A component helped in maintaining healthy sight, mucous and skin, even as consumption of the fruit (rich in carotene) protected one from lung and cavity cancers. He said mango had been known to protect against colon, breast, blood and prostate cancers and that it was also rich in other vitamins such as Vitamin C, and amino acids, fatty acids, protein, carbohydrate, among others. Dr. Adejo further said mango could be processed into confectionery, chips and that it could be used as an ingredient in brine or vinegar for processing jam, fruit juice concentrate, marmalade, jellies, powder, among others. He said mango also had non-food uses as the peel was used as source of anacardic acid, the bark as a source of tannin for curing of leather and the seed oil used for the production of cosmetics, while the kernels were used for extraction of starch for animal feed. All these qualities and properties of mango are yet to become a reality in Benue so as to curb wastage and enhance its market value which is most times affected if the fruit receives a slight bruise during picking, packaging and while stocking for transportation. To curb the wastage of this wonder fruit, the Managing Director of PE & I Foods Nigeria Limited, producers of Benue Mango Flakes, Gboko, Engr. Isaac Sar, constructed a drier with wood and glass. Engr. Sar came up with the idea of the drier following a workshop he attended where he saw one. Today, his sliced dried mangoes are sold in sachets as snacks at an affordable price of N150. He told Daily Trust on Sunday that, “I decided to attend a workshop here in Gboko on food processing. The workshop was organised by the University of Uyo (Uniuyo). It was meant to prevent post-harvest losses. “In that workshop, they constructed a solar drier with wood and a glass inside and they sliced tomatoes, okra, pepper, mangoes, yams and all kinds of crops that are available here. All these things were dried in two days using that solar drier. So, when I came out of the workshop, I decided to construct a similar drier. “When we did that, we found out that it was good. Our plan initially was to construct the driers and sell to local farmers so that whenever they are not able to sell the fruits they can bring them back and dry them. So, our basic aim is to reduce post-harvest waste.” He said his company had 28 production and four administrative staff and that it dried 2.8 tonnes of mango every year. He added that, “We buy from them (farmers) and process. We have about three varieties that we dry here. We have the common mango, Brokin and Dawshia; these are the three varieties that we dry. There are other varieties, but those ones are watery and so we don’t use them.” Sar said the mango flake business was profitable in many ways such as it gave opportunity to empower people as employed staff, opportunity to empower farmers by buying from them thereby improving on their finances and him making money by processing and selling the products. Although not conversant with the quantity of mango produced in the state yearly, the managing director attested to the fact that his company received from farmers in every season mangoes which currently stood at 10 tonnes per year out of which it took a fraction of what they produced at PE & I Foods Nigeria Limited. “We need more of this kind of facility that we have here in this state to process mangoes. I don’t consider having many investors in one particular area as competition; I look at it as synergy for us to improve our state. In fact, competition is good. When there is competition, it enables everybody to do the right thing. “If we have more of these plants in the state here, that will even improve the economy of the farmers and they will even do it more. So, we are not afraid of competition. In areas like mango, and even yam that we are doing here, competitors are not even much in the country. In fact, we have OlaOla in Lagos, we have Ayoola in Ogun State and we have a pocket of them coming up in other places; these are not much,” he said. Sar said he was worried that despite the availability of mango everywhere in the state, there were problems to surmount because there were no plantations that were specific for varieties and that processing facilities were also lacking, meaning that when the fruits are processed in large quantities, it cannot be exported and as such would not improve on the economy of the state at a maximal level. To this end, he said, “We are thinking that if we have more of the processors, it will be much better for the state. We don’t even need gigantic ones; we can start small and then grow just like we (Benue Mango Flakes) have done here. I started very small and gradually we hope to grow. Despite the initial challenge of marketing which faced Benue Mango Flakes, as it was difficult to sell the product because people did not know about it, the company started creating awareness on social media, and Sar is optimistic that his company will make it big as it is currently looking at how to change the drying system into a heat pump system that will save cost. For now, he said his market was in distant places like Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Warri, stressing that with a production manager who studied food science and was presently attending a masters at CEFTER at the Benue State University, the company was set to change the downward trend of mango value in the state.