‘Why Nigerian agric produce are rejected at international market’
Despite the effort of the Federal Government to quickly drive Nigeria out of the current economic recession, activities of corrupt government officials and removal of the Nigerian Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS) from Airport terminals, and relegating the Service to the cargo section in line with the Executive Order on Ease of Doing Business in the country, now pose a huge impediment to foreign exchange earnings from the Agricultural Sector. The Coordinating Director, NAQS, Vincent Isiegbe, in this interview with JOKE FALAJU, explains the implication of the skewed implementation of the Executive Order on Exportation of Agricultural Produce without proper inspection and certification, which may lead to further rejection of Nigerian Agricultural Produce in the International Market.
Going by its mandate to prevent entry and spread of pest, contaminants of animals and their products, aquatic resources and their products, plants and their products, as well as establishment of diseases in Nigeria, the Nigerian Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS) is highly strategic to international trade in the country.
Statutorily, the Service facilitates, inspects and certifies whatever agricultural produce prepared to leave the country in order to gain acceptance in the international market through the World Trade Organization (WTO) protocols on sanitary and phytosanitary measures that must be complied with.
According to Vincent Isiegbe, the agency’s Coordinating Director, “as a signatory to WTO and IPPC, NAQS is the National Planned Protection Organization (NPPO) in Nigeria with the authority to speak on behalf of any plant products in trade initiation and certification. Therefore, commodities leaving the country must be signed and certified by the Service to get the Phytosanitary Certificate. As custodians of rules and regulations concerning plants and products, we have power to exercise our obligations towards all those international protocols.”
He explained that “in international trade, product that fails this certification run the risk of rejection abroad. Recently, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), a federal government agency, certified groundnut, yam and melons for export which were rejected simply because they did not carry a valid certificate that can only be issued by NAQS.”
Isiegbe pointed out that usually, Nigerian products are good but they are considered illegal import once they failed to go through proper inspection and certification. He lamented that those rejections are counting against the country, and therefore advised agencies with no mandate to carry out quarantine functions to desist from causing embarrassment to government.
“We are properly placed as all food items in Nigeria are expected to be inspected and certified by NAQS. If the international community know that food items have been inspected and certified by Quarantine, they will be comfortable to accept them,” he added.
Concerning the acceptability of Nigerian produce at the international market, Isiegbe noted that “the challenge include improper labeling and packaging. For instance, melon is a Nigerian name likely not familiar internationally, therefore, exporters are advised to give it the correct botanical name recognized by the Europeans and others.”
While affirming that most of the illegal packaging did not pass through quarantine so as to be well guided on the best practice, the NAQS boss blamed several government agencies that persuade exporters to collect certificates from them whereby those products are eventually rejected.
He identified adulteration as another issue in product acceptability, and was worried that “items are smuggled in mostly between certification and the point of exit. This is why we are discussing with those handling cargoes on the need to ensure that people do not conceal things in their consignment after it has been certified. Because in international trade, food is not just food, it is food when it is properly labeled and packaged.”
Isiegbe added that rejection can also come through the inability of consignments to meet the correct phytosanitary measure. That is, consignments with doubtful hygienic status which may be due to contamination with micro toxins, fungi growing on it, or when not properly packaged. For these reasons, consignments would be denied entry into European countries.”
Speaking on the ban of Nigerian beans by the European Union (EU), the Quarantine helmsman attributed the incident to export without quarantine inspection and certification. He appealed to government to ensure that NAQS is “strategically positioned at the airports and seaports as a lot of things would pass through without due certification and which is capable of aggravating the problem or lifting of the ban difficult. A good example is the Saudi Arabia bound kolanuts that was intercepted at the airport 12 hours after the implementation of the Executive Order.”
He commended the Federal government for the Executive Order which is needed for the country’s economic growth, but warned that the outcome might pose a huge challenge if not properly implemented. “The officers who are responsible for the implementation at the various levels need to take into cognizance issues of international trade and Nigeria’s obligation in international trade.
“If we had not been diligent in our duties, the Saudi Arabia-bound kolanuts saga would have had a negative consequence. We had to go back to the aircraft to retrieve the bags that had supposedly passed through inspection albeit with no quarantine officers. This is not proper for an agricultural nation like Nigeria. The system should ensure that NAQS carry out its duty of inspecting those things or be allowed to screen the consignments before they leave the shores of the country to avoid national embarrassment.”
He disclosed that the agency had already made suggestions that “passengers should come to the airport early to declare whatever produce they are carrying, then Quarantine officers would conduct inspection or airline ticketing officers should attach a notice on the tickets for passengers to declare their agricultural produce and clear with Quarantine. Nigerians travel a lot with local food. At Lagos Airport alone, during the first quarter of this year, people travelled with 9.44 metric tons of food items.”
Through actions or inactions of human beings traveling from one country to another, pests and diseases find their way into different countries. Although, it is cheaper to prevent diseases from entry than containment, NAQS has the equipment to certify and inspect produce depending on the pathogen involved up to the laboratory for proper analysis if there is heavy presence of mycotoxin.
Isiegbe said, “globally, quarantine officers stay at border posts and seaports inspecting ships. Even ships without agricultural produce as cargoes, have people onboard with food wastages that must be properly disposed by professionals to avoid trans-boundary diseases capable of devastating plantations, especially diseases from kolanut, maize, cotton, cassava, and banana. NAQS’ duty is to disallow entry of these farm produce from elsewhere into the country to avoid diseases.”
He submitted that “all agencies of government are aware of the agricultural production policy to increase exportation of agricultural produce and earn more foreign exchange. To this end, we have streamlined our activities to encourage exportation without causing delays in flights. We need to reach an agreement with FAAN, NAQS, NPA on how to carry out our operations, seamlessly, and we are already consulting with the Office of the Vice President on how these things can be achieved and safeguard international mess.”
He stated further, “in financial terms, NAQS has done a lot concerning the quality of exported items. Basically, apart from the conventional food items like grains, rice, and palm oil, NAQS has continued to draw the attention of farmers and exporters to other high net-worth agricultural produce like honey, snails, and even herbs that can fetch big money without necessarily carrying a ton. We are encouraging Nigerians to go into common produce such as sugarcane and mangoes most especially northern governors need to sensitize their people on the need to grow more of these produce for exportation.”
He said that it is possible to package farm produce and export them fresh to reach a number of countries between six to eight hours of harvest, Isiegbe sought maximum cooperation from government for a speedy turnaround of the nation’s economy.
On the modalities for yam export, he urged farmers to engage in good agricultural practices for quality yam. He stressed the “need to take note of application of chemicals in yam cultivation, harvest and storage. For preservation, yams are to be stored in a refrigerated place with very low temperature to prevent damage. That is, from the point of production and transportation to the warehouse, Quarantine service is needed for inspection and certification.”
He noted, “there are criteria to meet for specific markets. For instance, insect burrowing into yams for export or outgrowth from the heads are not allowed. Importantly, yam tubers should be of uniform size, light skin or white. These are the United Kingdom (UK) specifications, whilst the Chinese market prefers yellowish or reddish tubers. Generally, moderate sizes are required, and must be in a carton like 20 kilogrammes. Foreign markets deal with weights and Nigerian farmers should be aware of this information and be mindful of uniform weight and size.”
Isiegbe concluded, “NAQS usually pass information to extension agents who eventually pass it to the farmers, we keep a check to ensure compliance with the required standard for international market. Therefore, we are intensifying our publicity and enlightenment in this regard, especially in the broadcast media to present samples to viewers. Also, we have produced pamphlets in various languages to encourage more Nigerians to export sugarcane, okro, pepper, cabbage, carrot and other food items.”