Repositioning agro commodities for export

Nigeria has a comparative advantage in many agro commodities, but low food quality and safety issues have been a barrier to greater competitiveness in the international market.

Despite the steady growth in the value of Nigeria’s agriculture exports over the years, the country’s agriculture exports to total exports remained below two per cent. Consequently, oil revenue continues to account for more than 80% of total value of annual exports. This is due to the constant rejection of Nigeria’s agro-export commodities in international market.

The reason for the rejection according to stakeholders is the non-adherence to sanitary and phyto-sanitary measures among others.

According to report by CEIC Data, Nigeria’s total exports recorded $3.2 billion in October 2020, while total imports recorded $4.4billion in October 2020, which registered a decrease of 3.3% year on year.

The report further noted that Nigeria’s trade balance recorded a deficit of $2.2 billion in September 2020.

According to Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Sabo Nanono, it is embarrassing to have agricultural products from Nigeria rejected in the international markets due to some unwholesome practices at the processing stage.

Nanono reiterated the need to strengthen the nation’s regulatory authority for agricultural exportation in order to curb rejection of country’s agro-products in international markets.

“It has become necessary to ensure that our production that our production, comprising our commodities with comparative advantages/export potentials and emerging ones, is demand-driven and targeted towards meeting the food safety standards of our intending markets with the assistance of experts in the sector,” he said.

Reasons for rejection of Nigeria’s agro-export commodities
Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC) Executive Director/CEO Olusegun Awolowo lamented that Nigeria’s agricultural produce exports have been encountering challenges of rejection in the international markets.

Awolowo highlighted the reasons for the rejection to include, non-compliance to administrative procedures such as non-compliance to documentation import/export requirements.

He also stated that poor packaging, labelling and insufficient information on the nutritional content contribute to the challenges.

He lamented that the European Union recently extended the ban placed on import of Nigerian dried beans till 2022 because of the non-implementation of the developed action plan, particularly, the Integrated Export Control Plan developed under the National Quality Infrastructure Project (NQIP).

Furthermore, Director General of the Nigerian Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS), Dr Vincent Isegbe, said Nigeria must restore conventional export control measures at all ports of entry to optimise its comparative advantage in agricultural commodities and diversify the economy.

While speaking on the status of NAQS efforts towards lifting the EU’s suspension of the import of Nigerian dried beans, he said that Nigeria was the largest producer of dried cowpea in the world, accounting for almost half of the global production.

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 which allowed the shipping of dried beans with pesticide residues higher than the permissible threshold.

“There are no export control measures put in place as required in the EU regulation,” he said.

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 in the farm.

He said 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.

“The control of agro-pesticide still resides with National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) instead of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, thereby inhibiting a direct link with the end-users,” he added.

Control measures
Explaining that agriculture policy roadmap speaks directly to the fact that agriculture remains a major option to diversifying the nation’s economy, the minister of agriculture said it has been relegated to the background due to years of neglect.

While inaugurating the Standing Inter-Ministerial Technical Committee on Zero Reject of Agricultural Commodities and Produce/Non-Oil Exports in Abuja, Naono said the ministry in collaboration with relevant stakeholders, is committed not only to food security but wholesome foods of high quality acceptable for local consumption and export.

The minister said the standing inter-ministerial technical committee on zero reject initiative will develop strategies against rejection of commodities and produce of Nigerian origin.

He added that the committee will design an implementable five-year action plan and develop a single-window platform for all regulatory and certification bodies.

He said: “This administration is committed to harnessing the natural resources we are blessed with to feed ourselves, but this cannot be achieved if what we are producing as a nation cannot meet international food certification standards.”

The NEPC Executive Director while noting that the recently FEC approved National Quality Policy offers a good opportunity to mainstream the developed export control plan and commence its implementation urged the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment to provide strong leadership by driving the process and ensuring implementation.

Awolowo said a collaborative effort by all stakeholders, public and private with the key competent authorities playing an active role is necessary to ensure the implementation of the developed action plan.

“The Council is more than ready to be at the forefront of the efforts to achieve zero rejects for exportable agricultural products and will be willing to support series of activities like technical sessions and provision of intervention materials,” he added.

Speaking further on the control measures, the NAQS DG reiterated the need for government to institute effective export control measures as required on the EU regulation.

He said the NAQS should be responsible for inspecting and certifying agro product at the seaports and airports.

Isegbe however said the National Strategic Grain Reserve should designate specific silos for export.

“The government should increase the sensitisation on the wrongful application of agro-pesticide and support the bean export certification value chain.”

Commenting on the importance of the standing inter-ministerial technical committee on zero reject the initiative, the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Dr. Ernest Afolabi Umakhihe, said it would facilitate regional and international trades, promote wholesome agricultural commodities for local consumption as well as enhancing market access within Africa and internationally to support the import substitution drive.

Source: The Nation