The NAFDAC initiative in agro export drive
IMAGINE Nigeria suffused with petro and agro dollars earned from exported sweet crude and agricultural products. The path to her much vaunted economic development would have been well paved; and her dream membership of the club of the world’s most developed economies would have become a reality.
Her abundant fossil resources that could have propelled the uncommon development drive have become a curse, perhaps an unwarranted distraction. Agriculture that used to be the mainstay of the country from the immediate post independence era to early 1970s was relegated and ignored by successive governments. However, with the effects of mono-cultural economy ravaging the nation, instability of the global oil market becoming obvious and the developed countries’ drive for alternative to fossil fuel being stepped up, creative thinking by the nation’s political leadership and policy makers has recommended governance paradigm shift with emphasis on development of the agricultural potentials of the country, both for food security and as a complementary foreign exchange earner.
The new agricultural development template established on private initiative is heavy on government support. Agricultural universities and research institutes have been established; agencies like National Agricultural and Land Development Authority (NALDA) and River Basin Development Authorities (RBDA) founded; actions on Accelerated Food Production Programmes, a national programme of Food for All and FADAMA project stepped up.
The mobilization of peasant farmers has been underscored and recognised as the appropriate approach for realistic agrarian revolution in Nigeria. The extant food crisis emanates from the weak agricultural base despite the efforts of the aforementioned agencies and the financial provision of the Nigerian Agricultural and Co-operative Bank (NACB) for agricultural production within the country. The Federal Government has also put in place mechanisms for funding and insurance. They include the Agricultural Credit Guarantee Scheme; the Nigerian Agricultural Insurance Company (NAIC), and Commercial Agricultural Credit Scheme (CACS). The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in conjunction with the Bankers’ Committee has had to increase lending to the agricultural sector from 1 to 5%.
By these measures, who would not be excited that a solid foundation for agricultural revolution in Nigeria has been laid. And why would Nigeria not reap bountifully from her massive agricultural potentials? The answer is that the optimization of the nation’s agro potentials was dampened by the placement of a one-year embargo (July 2015 –June 2016) on some of its agricultural products by the European Food Safety Authority. The affected agro products included beans, sesame seeds, melon seeds, dried fish, meat, peanut chips and palm oil. While the melon seeds were said to have been contaminated with aflatoxin, others were said to contain high levels of injurious and deadly contaminants such as mycotoxins, pesticide residues as well as abnormal level of dichlorvos pesticides (in the case of beans). The development, which sent shock waves through both government and business circles, especially coming at a time of renewed drive to diversify the nation’s economy to wean it from oil dependency, has unarguably set the nation many years backward.
The unsavoury development has compelled the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to initiate professionalised strategies to tackle the ugly situation. Consequently, NAFDAC has unfolded series of agro export redemption packages in an attempt to shore up Nigeria’s reputation and competitiveness in global non-oil export markets. Reeling out the scientific based solutions recently in Abuja, the Agency’s Director General Dr. Paul B. Orhii, said the orchestrated ban on Nigeria’s agro products by the EU was bad news he has been challenged to redress.
The Agency, Dr. Orhii said, would rely on ultra-modern cutting-edge technologies to address all the issues that gave vent to the EU ban to avoid further extension beyond the June 2016 timeline. NAFDAC is expected to deploy massive mobile motorised testing laboratories to all nooks and crannies of the nation including remote farms, agro products export processing centres, produce market centres, sea and air ports, as well as land border stations. The Agency’s personnel are said to be set for this all important national assignment.
Intensive training/supervision of farmers, produce marketers and other stakeholders in agro export business is also on the card. The success of export trade depends seriously on consistent production of quality goods and services, which meet established quality and safety standards, through the Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and hygienic practices. The NAFDAC has developed competencies on all of these areas. It has in place sanitary and phytosanitary measures, and possesses a very active website displaying its export guidelines. Serious minded agro exporters must comply with the rules of the game – meeting global standard specifications. They would be adequately provided with the required know-how on food storage, ideal packaging practices and other relevant quality control measures in which NAFDAC is their ally in this regard.
The Presidency, National Assembly, as well as the nation’s economic managers must rise to this historic call to rescue the nation from the self-inflicted doom by rallying round NAFDAC’s well conceived initiative as “it will be improper for us to go to sleep while our roofs are on fire.”
• Ikhilae, a Lagos-based public affairs analyst, wrote via email@example.com