COLLINS NNABUIFE in this interview spoke with the Coordinating Director of Nigerian Quarantine Service (NAQS), Dr Vincent Isegbe, who explained, among other issues, reasons many potential exporters fail to realise the economic fortunes hidden in the exportation of honey.
Why were those containers carrying snakes and other animals intercepted?
Snakes are wild animals and it is proper that we preserve them, because in the wild their survival rates are very low; as they are being given birth to, some animals become predators to them just as they are predators to other animals. So there is something called internationally, Sites. This is a commission on trade of endangered species, whereby some animals are not allowed to be sold internationally, because if you do so, it means they will not be able to replicate naturally enough to fill the virtual ecosystem. So those which are endangered, the movement of such is restricted and snakes fall into that category. Others include lion, tiger, giraffe because they don’t reproduce that fast. So for you to move them from one place another, you need to take what is called Sites certificate from the Federal Ministry of Environment because they are in charge of forestry. If you get the Sites certificate, then you come back to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture if it is an animal, to get the export and import permit. When the import permit is collected, then the Nigerian Quarantine Service will ensure that the importer has all the necessary documents before the animals are allowed into the country.
If we find out that the Sites is fake or it is not properly documented or the import permit is not in proper order or what is in the import permit is at variance with what you have on ground at the point of inspection, then we will take the necessary action.
Also, what happened in the case of the snakes was that they had neither the Sites or the import permit; so when they came into the country they were intercepted and handed over to NAQS.
Does the importation of these animals into the country have anything to do with the absence of NAQS officials at the ports and borders?
Yes, you could see that the first people that intercepted it was the Nigerian Customs. By the Executive Order, NAQS are to wait until they are called; that is the current standing of the circular. So it was the Customs that intercepted the container and invited the Quarantine service.
But it is not supposed to be the case anyway because, like I keep saying, Customs duties and Quarantine duties are parallel. Customs are there to collect revenue for the Federal Government, while Quarantine is there to ensure the sanitary and phyto-sanitary aspect of international trade. That is to say that animals that are coming in or agricultural produce generally that are coming in or going out should be safe. If they are coming in, we ensure their safety for Nigerians, and if they are going out, we have the mandate to ensure that they safe to leave Nigeria to another country.
Nigeria is a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), so having signed that protocol on trade, it is our duty to ensure that we export safe and wholesome food to wherever these agricultural products are going to. They too have the duty to ensure that as their products are coming into Nigeria, they do the same thing for us.
What is the role of NAQS in the Zero Reject programme of the Federal Government?
We are a member of the technical committee on Zero Reject. What the Federal Government did was to expand the scope and bring in more stakeholders so that everyone in that Committee who has a mandate one way or the other in the advocacy, examination or promotion and certification of agricultural produce, bring their experience to the table. Those who promote and encourage trade are there, those who certify processed food are there, the NAQS who does the inspection and certification of agricultural produce is a member of the Committee. The idea is to pool our resources and mandates together so that at a point if they are infractions each organisation will report to one central place for effective cooperation. That does not remove the mandate of individual MDAs that make up that committee.
What is going on in the recently flagged off yam export?
Export of yam is still going on. The second batch of yam has been exported three weeks ago by the same exporter. So, it is a continuous thing. We are still doing inspection and certification and consignments are still going out.
What is NAQS doing to assist farmers to produce standard products for export?
Quarantine considers honey, snails, and some of these spices that we are encouraging farmers to produce. We consider them as some of the emerging commodities apart from the traditional export commodities like rice, maize, guineacorn and others. We want to focus and encourage people to know that a little quantity of the produce can fetch them a lot of money in the international market.
A litre of fuel is N145 but 200ml of honey can fetch between N900 to N1,000. These are high networth agricultural products, so people can go into this kind of venture. If you have good quality honey, it should be organic: no use of antibiotics, allow it to grow in its own natural condition and then you harvest.
So, if Nigeria is able to do that, you can imagine that we will have enough. Don’t forget that our temperature is very okay for honey production, we don’t have any winter season or any scary season that will not allow the honey to be produced all year round. We have the best of weather to encourage it, we have the best of vegetation where the bees can go and do their bee hives.
Because honey is ready to eat, the certification processes are much more detailed. When we started this about four years ago in NAQS, the first two persons that came for the certification did not complete the process and they abandoned it. They were at category 2 and they left, we told them that honey is not parboiled or washed before consuming, so the processes are very stringent such that contamination is something that should not go near honey.
So I want to encourage farmers to be patient and go through the details, because once you are certified to export honey, you have hit a goldmine.
What are the major constraints of NAQS in discharging its duties?
One constraint is that our bill is yet to be signed into law, so the legal framework and support is not there. The National Assembly has passed it, we are waiting for the Presidential assent that will give us the legal standing.
Secondly, NAQS is an agency of government that is proactive. We don’t wait for things to happen. we prevent things from happening, so that the consequences of controlling and management will be eliminated, and by so doing, we have a reputation that other countries can depend upon us to make the supplies. When countries begin to know that you have too many diseases, nobody will want to buy from you. Just a hearsay that you have this kind of situation in your country will place trade on hold until you confirm, that is not good in business.
We are into checking mycotoxins and we got some equipment. We are sensitising, we are collecting samples nationally. We have been able to know what is the level of mycotoxins in each of those grains in their respective localities.
News Credit: Tribune Newspaper