The Director-General, Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS), Dr Vincent Isegbe, has said that Nigeria must restore conventional export control measures at all ports of entry to optimise its comparative advantage in agricultural commodities and diversify the economy.
Dr Isegbe made this known in Abuja at the inauguration of the members of the Standing Committee on the Agro Zero Initiative.
While speaking on the status of NAQS efforts towards lifting the EU’s suspension of the import of Nigerian dried beans, Dr Isegbe said that Nigeria was the largest producer of dried cowpea in the world, accounting for almost half of the global production.
He noted, however, that Nigeria was not among the top 10 leading exporters of dried cowpea in the world.
He pointed out that this sad paradox was essentially due to the absence of proper gatekeeping to ensure that commodities passed for export meet pesticide residue standards and other phytosanitary requirements.
He explained that lack of export quality guarantees and the resultant off-and-on pattern of the export traffic of Nigerian dried beans was costing the country $362.5 in foreign revenue annually.
Speaking on the weak link in the bean value chain, Dr Isegbe said that the ban was occasioned by an export control gap that allowed the shipping of dried beans with pesticide residues higher than the permissible threshold.
He mentioned that the results of the extensive fieldwork and laboratory analyses done by NAQS showed that the challenge of high pesticide residue in Nigerian beans was not nested on the farm.
He reported that the bean samples collected from the farms had low pesticide residues –beneath the maximum residue level (MRL) of Nigeria’s trading partners –while bean samples collected from the warehouses had high pesticide residues, above the MRL.
According to him, this wide differential indicates that high pesticide use is traceable to the bulk buyers, aggregators, and exporters.
In an attempt to protect their stock against weevils and other storage pests, these set of actors usually lace their beans with pesticides liberally; thereby, raising the pesticide residues in the commodity above the MRL and unwittingly rendering them ineligible for export.
He remarked that NAQS was carrying out an intensive public awareness on the dangers of indiscriminate use of pesticides.
He said that the agency’s message on integrated pest management, the proper use of pesticides, and good agricultural practices (GAP) is breaking through to farmers, off-takers, warehouse owners, and exporters in the beans producing belt and across the country.
He expressed hope that a shift away from synthetic pesticides to biopesticides and organic agriculture among agricultural value chain players will bring the country closer to the point when Nigeria can dominate the global cowpea market and other markets where the nation can assert its comparative advantage.