Maximising Nigeria’s Opportunities for Agricultural Exports

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Gilbert Ekugbe in this piece tasked the federal government to urgently address challenges fuelling the low level of exports of agricultural goods relative to total exports.

There is no gain saying that Nigeria’s agriculture sector, which used to be the mainstay of the Nigerian economy still has the potential to change the country’s narrative as an import dependent economy to one that could serve as a food basket to Africa.

In 2020, Nigeria recorded a total of N321 billion of agricultural export. The agricultural sector contribution to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew to 23.78 per cent in Q2 from 22.35 per cent in Q1 2021. The figure also goes to say that Nigeria is yet to scratch the surface of the sector’s potentials.

According to data from the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Nigeria’s top agro export crops include sesame seed, which has continued to be Nigeria’s agricultural export biggest earner for some years.

During the period under review, Nigeria made the sum of N112.8 billion from the export of the product and this accounted for 38.9 per cent of the top 10 agricultural products. Top destinations for the product include Japan, China, Turkey, India, and Vietnam, while cocoa exportation is Nigeria’s second largest agricultural export.

During the period under review, cocoa export was estimated to be N109.6 billion, accounting for 37.8 per cent of the top agricultural exports. The top destinations for the product were Germany, Netherlands, Spain, Indonesia, Belgium, Malaysia and Estonia.

Cashew nuts were Nigeria’s third biggest agricultural export product during the period. A total of N38.2 billion was recorded from export of cashew nuts in 2020 and the top destination countries were Vietnam, India, USA, Russia and the Netherlands.

Frozen foods such as shrimps and prawns accounted for 3.4 per cent representing the biggest export in Nigeria estimated at N9.85 billion in 2020. The Netherlands, Belgium, France, Vietnam, and the USA are top destinations for the export of the products.

Although, there are renewed efforts by the federal government to diversify the economy away from hydrocarbon resources, but these efforts leaves much to be desired as the agriculture sector is still beset with myriad of challenges hindering the sector’s ability to take Nigeria out economic doldrums.
Challenges of agricultural export

The Nigeria Export Promotion Council (NEPC) said that Nigeria has been unable to convert its enormous comparative advantage in the production of several agricultural primary produce to competitive advantage in the global market as a result of supply chain constraints.

Some of the challenges identified by the council include poor packaging, labelling, poor storage facilities and preservatives and the likes. The Chief Executive Officer, NEPC, Mr. Olusegun Awolowo, said it was as a result of this that the council proposed to establish the Domestic Export Warehouse (DEW), a one-stop facility and terminal for storage of products, packaging and labeling, pre-shipment inspection and fumigation of export designated goods in preparation for ultimate transportation to the ports.

Awolowo said that the DEW once operational, would increase the global market share for Nigerian exportable agricultural products, help in the diversification of the economy, attract investors to the non-oil sectors and provide a platform for interface between export-related agencies and export practitioners.

He also included poor logistics and documentation among the challenges hindering Nigeria’s export market, adding that these challenges could make or mar export transactions.

According to a PwC’s survey that was conducted in 2018, Nigeria loses about $10 billion on non-oil exports due to gridlock at the nation’s major two seaports, the Apapa and Tin Can Ports. These ports were responsible for processing the bulk of Nigeria’s export trade activities.

The survey said that infrastructure and logistics challenges have continued to impact export, as well as import activities.

Low value addition

Lack of value addition to the nation’s agricultural products has resulted to significant losses in earnings accountable to the country over the years. Agriculture is a worthwhile investment that could generate higher returns, allow penetration of a new potentially high-value market, extend the production season, create a brand identity and develop brand loyalty.

In simple terms, value addition would allow the farmer to focus on the consumer while producing and thoroughly meeting consumers’ expectations. This way, a farmer could create a loyal market around the product. As farmers struggle to find ways to increase farm income, the potentials in adding value to raw agricultural products have to be understudied as the value of farm products could be increased in endless ways.

The Registrar of the Nigerian Institute of Animal Science (NIAS), Mr. Eustace Iyayi, identified poor value addition as a major problem bedeviling the agricultural sector.

Iyayi stressed that product differentiation as a value addition strategy is easier for goods that have been processed, transformed, packaged and labeled.

He underscored that there is a need for the federal government to add value to agriculture produce in order to galvanise export earnings.

Poor quality products

Due to poor handling of agricultural products (post and pre-harvest seasons) diseases and pests attack as well as excessive use of pesticides for preservation purposes are also some of the major issues hindering agriculture export.

Recently, the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) alerted members of the public about some vendors applying poisonous chemicals to preserve their food to the detriment of the health of Nigerians. Little wonder most of Nigerian agro commodities are being rejected at the global scene.

The Director General of NAFDAC, Mrs. Mojisola Adeyeye, said over 76 per cent of Nigeria’s exported agricultural commodities are often rejected by the European Union for not meeting required standards.

The Associate Director and Head of Agribusiness, PwC, Mr. Taiwo Oyaniran, said that with growing globalisation and increasing emphasis on quality agricultural products, which is benchmarked on international food safety standards, it has become imperative for the Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Services (NAQS) to put in place appropriate risk management measures and provide required guarantees on agricultural products leaving the shores of the country so as to prevent sour relationship with its trading partners.

Agric stakeholders’ recommendation

An agribusiness expert and Director General of Premier Agribusiness Academy, Mr, Toromade Francis, in a chat with THISDAY, called for the institutionalisation of in Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), saying that it is not enough to grow cocoa in Nigeria but meeting global best practices to prevent the high level of rejection currently being faced by Nigeria’s agro commodities.

Francis said: “There are procedures and documentation for anything that you will send abroad. These things have to be enforced by government, but the challenge we have is that we do not even have enough to feed ourselves not to even talk of export. What you export is excess. We need to follow up on the yield per hectare for us to be self-sufficient. If we are not self-sufficient, exporting would be counterproductive.

“Our food production rate is not matching our population growth rate. Left for me, export is tertiary not even secondary. We should work on how we can feed ourselves first. Export is good but we do not need it now. What we need is self-sufficiency. People are crying of hunger. Let also try to talk about standards first. We should be in line with international best practices in whatever we are doing and until we do that nothing can be exported out of this country,” he said.

On his part, the National president, Agricultural Produce Sellers Association of Nigeria (APSAN), Mr. Aloys Akortsaha, said that Nigeria must redeem its image at the international scene to boost export of its agro commodities

Akortsaha advised that products leaving the shores of the country for export must be in line with global best practices.

He said: “If our products are produced taking cognizance of global best practices, the issue of rejection would be reduced to the barest minimum. My advice is that there must be an agency and there is an agency we are proposing called the Nigeria Agricultural Produce Quality Control Corps (NAPQCC). If this is signed into law it will help Nigeria’s quest to push its agro commodity to the world. I am calling on the Senate to take a look at this bill with all seriousness,.”

He also called on the need to strengthen the regulatory agencies saddled with the responsibilities of ensuring quality control, saying that the collaborations need to be improved upon.