For exporters, rich harvest imminent as Mexico lifts ban on Hibiscus flower
Four years after its ban, there seems to be hope in sight for Hibiscus flower exporters to resume direct export to Mexico, following the renewal of economic ties between the two countries.
Hibiscus, also known as zobo leaves, adjudged Nigeria’s biggest export market was banned by the Mexican government sometime in 2018, following pest infestation in some of the consignment shipped from the country. The ban had left many exporters technically out of business, causing job losses in the agriculture value chain.
Since the ban took effect, the country has lost significant revenue, as many exporters suffered heavy financial losses because of the number of rejected exports from Nigeria.
Hibiscus flower in export markets holds great promise, especially for an economy that seeks to diversify from oil.
According to industry players, hibiscus is a major income earner for the country, with Mexico importing about 85 per cent of Nigeria hibiscus.
Despite its many uses and potentials, many do not know much about it. Dry hibiscus flower is one of the key raw materials in the global confectioneries industry. Aside from the Zoborodo (Zobo) drink – a local drink for which it is commonly used locally, hibiscus can be served as a hot and cold herbal beverage. It can also be processed into jellies and edibles, among others.
The extracts from hibiscus flowers and leaves have many uses and benefits, either medically or in industrial production. Medical experts said consumption of Zobo made from the leaves aids detoxification. It could lower blood pressure, cholesterol level, prevents liver damage, reduces weight and treats flu. It is also used as an anti-depressant, as well as reduces blood sugar levels. It also helps in darkening hair color and slows aging, due to its anti-aging properties.
Stakeholders claimed that the country has lost revenue in the region of over $140m since the ban took-off. In 2017 alone, Nigeria exported 1,983 containers of the hibiscus, and earned $35m within the space of nine months.
Though several efforts were made in the past to ensure that the ban is lifted, the recent visit of a delegation led by the new Mexican Ambassador to Nigeria, Alfredo Miranda, to the office of the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Mohammad Mahmood Abubakar, did not only renew the economic tie between the two countries, it also brought an end to the ban.
During the visit, Abubakar, who regretted that the suspension lasted longer than expected, which slowed down the momentum of export activities around hibiscus, noted that the period was used to decisively overcome the proximate cause of the suspension of export, assuring that days of khapra beetle infestation of some of the hibiscus consignments are gone.
He pledged that the ministry would work closely with off-takers and exporters through the Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS) to facilitate the building of chambers dedicated to methyl bromide fumigation of hibiscus.
In his remarks, the Mexican Ambassador, Miranda, who said his country is deeply involved in strengthening the capacity of the agricultural produce, added that hibiscus value was worth more than $600m, expressing his delight to do business with the country through the ministry.
Prior to the visit, on several occasions, it was erroneously reported in some dailies that the Mexican government had lifted the ban, a rumour that the hibiscus flower exporters had always debunked.
It was gathered from the experts that the country did not stop exportation since the suspension took effect as widely believed, but has been exporting through China, which acts as off-taker because of her straight link to Mexico.
Director, Laboratory Management Services, NAQS, Ebenezer Idachaba, who confirmed the development to The Guardian on phone, said Nigeria has made reasonable progress to resume exporting of the produce.
He revealed that during the visit of the Mexican Ambassador, some grey areas that are still pending were extensively discussed. “We actually arrived at a very good conclusion, which had to do with an agreement to get the work done… The grey areas were addressed and we have to look at that work plan, what is needed now is to get the work plan done and once it is done, we’ll commence exporting.”
Idachaba, who revealed that by October or November this year the country would commence export fully, said, “Once we have the instrument of authority to go ahead, which will be issued by the ministry of foreign affairs, we’ll just go ahead. We are looking at October or November to resume. There is hope in sight.”
One of the exporters, Adedoyin Adesanya, who is the Director, Operations, AgroEknor – a hibiscus-processing factory in Kano, who described the news as a good development, said it’s going to actually boost the industry in a very significant way.
Adesanya revealed that the bone of contention has been around the issue of fumigation chamber. “We discussed fumigation chamber that any product going to Mexico, especially hibiscus flower must be fumigated. Now that they have lifted the ban, they now allow exporters to move the product directly to Mexico; it’s going to actually boost the industry in a very significant way.
“You shouldn’t forget that China actually frustrated business for this people because we are routing through China and China takes it to Mexico, China has now decided to be importing from Nigeria in order to supply to Mexico directly, instead of one-link trade, it is two-link trade.
“With this fumigation chamber in place, it will be very easy for everybody to export, but there’ll be need to get permission from Mexico. If you want to actually export, they’ll come and inspect your facility because there are stages you are going to pass through, for the product to be accepted in Mexico, so that’s the bottleneck there.”
Adesanya disclosed that setting up a fumigation chamber would cost between N50m to N60m, making it a difficult task. “So, how can a Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) be able to engage in that? So, it’s for the big boys. That’s just the challenge we are having.
“The NAQS is making one available in Kano at the Free Trade Zone, but you know how government policies are, it will be for the highest bidder, the issue of corruption cannot be ruled out too. Though they claimed it’s a government/private joint sector thing, then, they need to make it more accessible to the SMEs, and let it be regulated for everybody to be a partaker.”
The Executive Secretary of the Agricultural Fresh Produce Growers and Exporters Association of Nigeria (AFGEAN), Mr. Akin Sawyerr, also thumbs-up the development, noting that it will create more gainful employment, brings in more forex for the country and most importantly grow into something much bigger.
Said he, “The global economic climate right now is challenging. More and more countries need to get more and more trade. Nigeria is no exception. This ban suspension augurs well for Nigeria. It will create more gainful employment, brings in more forex and most importantly can grow into something much bigger.”