Chinedu Eze discusses some of the barriers to the speedy export of perishable and agro-allied produce from Nigeria
Last month, precisely on June 3, the Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service had issued a directive to exporters of Snail to suspend without delay, exportation of live snails from the country.
The directive issued via a letter, titled: “Export of Live Snail”, partly read: “Consequent on the Border Alert Rejection Notification CVEDP.GB. 2016.0019522, from the European Commission (copy attached), I am directed to inform you to suspend the export of live snails going out of the country forthwith.
“Henceforth, all exporters of live snails are to show the import requirements of the importing country and evidence of meeting the requirement before they are allowed to export them out of the country and clearance must be sought from the Director of Animal Quarantine Department, Abuja for further necessary action.”
The directive was in reaction to a notification from the European Commission, which detained and destroyed a consignment of Snails exported from Nigeria, which the Commission described as unfit for human consumption.
Since 2014 when the prices of crude oil nosedived in the international market, Nigeria has been searching for alternative sources of foreign exchange. This informed why President Muhammadu Buhari, who took over in 2015, made agriculture top priority of his administration, emphasising government’s support for exports, especially agro-allied produce.
There are indications that government is giving as much support as it can, but those who have ventured into the export of perishable farm produce expect government to do more; especially removal of all hindrances to the movement of produce. In recognition of the importance of foreign exchange earnings from alternative sources, government has removed charges on agro produce meant for export.
However, the challenge now is how to meet the quality and health standard of the receiving countries largely in Europe, the Middle East and the US. These countries have set high standard on the quality of foods that could be allowed to come into their countries and when the standard is not met, the produce would be destroyed and the exporter suffers huge losses. Recently the European Commission banned the importation of beans from Nigeria until the importers were able to meet the given standard and quality of the produce.
The CEO of Aglow Limited, Tayo Ojuri explained to THISDAY that poor quality of the produce is what is currently discouraging export of perishable agricultural produce from Nigeria.
According to him, the serious exporters first go to the country of intended export, look at the standard of what they expect to have and train the farmers on how to produce the farm item to meet the expected standard.
“Because of the agriculture policy of the federal government, many people have started going into export of farm produce and many of them are not careful in preparing these crops to meet the standard it is expected over there and the packaging is not very good sometimes,” Ojuri said.
He noted that another challenge is how to sustain the supply, knowing that most farm produce are seasonal, so how to sustain the produce remains a challenge.
Ojuri also remarked that the exporter must ensure that there is aircraft on ground to airlift the produce before bringinng it to the airport; so ensuring the availability of the equipment is another hurdle the exporters must cross.
“To overcome the scarcity of the produce the exporters sign contract agreement which assures the farmer that whatever he produces would be bought by the exporter. There are some of the exporters that airlift farm produce to Dubai; they always make sure there is ready flight to take the farm produce to its destination,” he said.
Earlier this year, the Anambra state government and its partner, ABX World, a Nigerian based courier/cargo company in collaboration with Arik Air and Skyway Aviation Handling Company (SAHCOL) commenced agro-allied export to the European countries.
The Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, ABX World, Captain John Okakpu, who has spearheaded the export of perishable agro-allied produce, said when fully developed, Nigerian could earn over $52 billion annually.
Okakpu said many state governments are interested in exploiting agricultural produce for export in order to create employment.
“A lot of state governments are interested, but one state is already in it. Anambra State is far ahead of these states. We are already in agreement with them. They have about 1,400 Corporative Societies and they have gone to the extent of setting up a training programme for most of the farmers and also the certification of the corporative societies and also looking at the geo-mapping of the areas in terms of putting them on a one-state for people to be easily identified. They are already far ahead of a lot of people and they are very adaptable. Why are they doing this? From my interaction with the state government in Anambra, the Governor wants to be independent. He wants to improve the state’s internally generated revenue (IGR) so that he will not wholly depend on federal government. And how do you do that? You create security, you create good road network, and you create nightlife. These are things that will get people involved, bring in investors and tourism,” Okakpu said.
He said the promotion of agriculture produce has become imperative in the face of current slump in the prices of crude oil in the international market, adding that current global realities have made it important for government to be more creative in exploring other sources of revenues than depending on crude oil.
“In Africa today, Kenya is leading in a network called Global GAP; which involves all the supermarkets in Europe and North America. Unfortunately, neither the federal government, state, local nor community in Nigeria has Global Gap certification, which is one of the reasons we can’t even sell our agro-allied produce directly to Shoprite.
“How do we put our products to the world? Kenya is leading the African continent; it has 1,879, certifications; South Africa has 1,797; Egypt has 671, Ghana has over 200 certifications, and others, while Nigeria is zero. Agriculture is private sector driven. What is expected of the government is to provide policy direction and structures in place to empower subsistence farmers also, not just commercial farmers only,” Okakpu added.
To ensure quality export the countries where the farm produce is consumed determine the type of fertilizer that should be used in cultivating the crops, how they are processed and how they are packaged. For pumpkin leaves (ugu), which is attracting high patronage overseas, the export is packed on perforated boxes and as Ojuri pointed out, the aircraft that would take it must be at the tarmac before it is brought to the airport.
“Ugu is usually taken early in the morning before the sun comes out; they sort them and put them in perforated boxes and the aircraft that will airlift it will be waiting,” Ojuri explained.
The ABX World boss said packaging of the produce makes the difference, noting that the country should have agro-allied terminals and processing facilities for the country to really make money from the agricultural exports.
“Today, Nigeria is so behind that if I start expressing how behind we are in agro-allied business you will be shocked that a nation as big as Nigeria is behind Rwanda that just launched its own agro-allied terminal. We have approached the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to establish a warehouse-processing and packing warehouse in Nigeria. It is non-existing here. You have it in Ghana, you have it in Nairobi, in South Africa, you have it in Johannesburg Cape Town, Durban. It is almost in the big cities of Africa. Coming to Nigeria we don’t have even one. Unfortunately, nobody has even thought of it. I have engaged FAAN in terms of establishing one and the warehouse; the processing unit is a facility you have to put at the airside, landside to have an access to the terminal. That is why we call it airside/landside and by mere doing so it will involve not only the export but also the import,” he said.
But SAHCOL has provided perishable goods storage and processing section in its new warehouse in Lagos but obviously more would be needed as the volume of produce exports increase.
“A processing warehouse will take care of a lot of things. Checking the quality of what comes in and out of Nigeria. We need storage and processing package like what is obtained overseas. Most of these supply chain in Europe and around the world will bring in their packaging material and it will end in such facility.
That is where they now will package their stuff ready for the supermarkets and other outlets around the world.
“You just bring in the product whether “ugu”, tomato, ginger and the rest; it goes to the section they package it, straight back into the aeroplane after certification by the quarantine, NAFDAC and all related government agencies, all in one building. But getting the facility ready depends on the readiness of the federal government through FAAN. To be honest, they have to change their mentality about certain projects. Nigeria can be great again,” Okakpu said.
Nigeria has the land, the diverse crops, vegetables and fruits for export and only requires the facilities and airport terminals to join the multibillion dollars perishable agro-allied exports from Africa.