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How effective food legislations, reform will tackle produce export ban

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There are growing concerns over billions of naira worth of foreign exchange, being lost by the country to the incessant rejection of its agro produce internationally. The rejection has been largely on safety and quality grounds.

In the last eight years, for instance, the country has lost about $2.9b to the ban on the export of dried beans, by the European Union (EU).  

The European Union, in January 2013, placed a temporary suspension of the importation of dried beans from Nigeria for one year, due to the excessive use of chemicals by farmers to control Maruca vitrata, a pest, which damages crops on the field.

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The ban was later extended to 2022.

Also, the country lost over N20b to the ban on the exportation of catfish placed by the United States of America (USA). This forced many farmers and investors to abandon the industry.

On March 1, 2018, the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) placed a ban on the export of siluriformes and fish products from Nigeria, as a result of the country’s failure to fully address information requested in the self-reporting tool (SRT) before the due date.

A handful of other produce have also been suspended in the international community due to the non-challant attitude of the Federal Government and regulatory agencies.

To address this challenge considered by experts as a national embarrassment, there have been agitations for effective food legislations, and institutional reform to match up with national and international obligations.

This gave rise to a bill for the establishment of the National Food Safety and Quality Council, and the National Food Safety Management Committee, which is currently on the floor of the National Assembly.

The bill titled: National Food Safety & Quality Council Bill 2021 (SB589), and sponsored by the senator representing Borno North Senatorial District in Borno State, Abubakar Shaib Kyari, has scaled through the second reading.

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The bill will address issues surrounding the control of food and feed safety; obligation of food and feed business operators, and will also define the functions and powers of institutions of government with the objective of ensuring that food and feed safety risks are effectively managed.

Kyari, who said that the ineffective management of food has resulted to different kinds of sickness and diseases in the country, added that European countries and other countries of the world were losing confidence in food and other products from Nigeria.

A cashew exporter based in the Papalanto area of Ogun State, Jelili Onilude, who decried the embarrassment suffered by the country, pointed out that the ineffective laws guiding export of agro commodities has not only caused loss of revenue, but has also contributed immensely to food-borne diseases.

While quoting the Nigerian Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response report, he said in 2014, there were 1, 049, 550 recorded cases of diarrhoea alone in the country with 1, 164 deaths.

He lamented that if the government was carrying out its oversight functions effectively, there should not be cases of Nigeria’s agro produce being rejected abroad on safety and quality grounds.

The National President, Fisheries Cooperative Federation of Nigeria (FCFN), the apex body of fisheries cooperative societies, unions and federation in states, Evangelist Anthony A. Ashagye, who lauded moves to establish the National Food Safety and Quality Council, and the National Food Safety Management Committee, as a step in the right direction, said if it comes to fruition was capable of addressing the challenges of agro export.

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“Our major problem is that we are not meeting the required certification standard for the export of catfish and other fishery products. The way we handle our fish, process and market them falls short of current international standards. Many countries no longer want Nigerian fishes, but this albatross will be addressed with this bill, which will also help the country to overcome sundry challenges and make our produce accepted across the globe.

“We are not relenting and we will not relent. The ban cannot be lifted except all the challenges are addressed,” Ashagye said.

A senior official of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD), who doesn’t want his name mentioned, said the existing food control and safety system in the country is ineffective, noting that aside its ineffectiveness, it is also obsolete.

He said that food legislations and institutional components require immediate reform to enable them meet national and international obligations, stressing that Nigeria currently operates a multi-agency food safety governance system, where food safety control is fragmented among the various Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), and the different tiers of government.

“The consequence of this arrangement is the attendant challenge of overlapping functions, multi-jurisdictions, lack of coordination and general ineffectiveness. This scenario has led to Nigerian consumers being exposed to risks of health hazards arising from the consumption of contaminated and unwholesome locally produced and imported foods.”

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