FG okays 2nd consignment of yam export to UK, U.S. By Jide Ayobolu

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Nigerian yam exporters are set to export second consignment of yams to the United Kingdom and United States of America this year. Prof. Simon Irtwang, Chairman, Technical Committee on Yam Export inaugurated by the Federal Government, disclosed this in Abuja. The move, according to the committee, would eclipsed the 72 tonnes of yam that left the shore of Nigeria through the Apapa port to the U.S. and UK in June last year, which was widely reported as being rejected because it did not meet international specifications.

The chairman said that the committee had embarked on a tour of major markets, particularly those in the South-West, to ascertain the quality of the yams at hand.

According to him, the Federal Government is doing everything possible to ensure that yam rejection is not associated with the second phase during the export of the commodity. “Not all species of yam are good for export. So, yam farmers and traders need to know the species that are good for export.

They also need to know how to select, store and preserve them to increase their freshness and ability to stay long without decaying. We also have to let yam farmers know the seed yams they will plant that will be good for export,” Irtwang told newsmen in Abuja, recently.

He revealed that there would be no publicity for the second export as the flag-off had already been done last July by the Federal Government. He said that yam exports would be done without much publicity until the National Assembly repealed the Export Prohibition Act. Irtwang said there was constant communication between the committee and companies involved in the production of cartons for yams packaging as well as those receiving them abroad.

He noted that with the lessons from the first export, the second export would not witness any challenges. However, some stakeholders believe that the Federal Government’s move to commence second phase of yam export in the country will trigger outrageous price of yam and scarcity in the marketplace.

The federal government is set to achieve a milestone in the effort to restore Nigeria into the agro-commodities export market by exporting its first consignment of certified yams to the United Kingdom and the United States on June 29. The feat is government’s deliberate attempt to rebound into the export market after several decades of lost grounds arising from poor quality control and subsequent rejection of its agricultural exports. Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Chief Audu Ogbeh disclosed recently that government had instituted a number of initiatives and interventions that would enable this happen. He noted that the Presidential Committee on ‘Ease of Doing Business’ would complement this arrangement by dedicating ports solely for agro exports and reinforce checks on the quality of produce from the country for foreign exchange earnings.

The ministry has engaged the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) to maximize the utility of facilities at the Ikorodu terminal for that purpose. Ogbeh said the Nigerian Agricultural Quarantine Services (NAQS) has been empowered to make it more responsive to issues of safety and phyto-sanitary standards in food exports, so that its reports will be acceptable globally.

According to him, this would forestall the national embarrassments arising from the rejection of food exports on account of quality deficiency. Government has also set up a standing committee backed by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and consisting of membership from critical and relevant agencies of the federal government. The agencies are NPA, Nigerian Customs Service, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON), Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC), Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), National Agricultural Seed Council (NASC), among others.

They will collaborate with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment (FMITI) and the Federal Ministry of Finance, which have commenced work on an export control plan to target beans rejection and develop HS codes for other exportable commodities from Nigeria.

“The commitment of government to end the embarrassing rejection of Nigerian commodity and produce at the international market is irrevocable. The health of Nigerians is also paramount and the populace needs good quality food as well. There is nothing like Nigerian or local standards, but international standards to which we cannot but adhere in our local handling of food, consumption and export drive. This necessitated the establishment of the high-level standing inter-ministerial technical committee on zero reject of agricultural produce, co-chaired by me and my counterpart in the ministry of industry, trade and investment, “ Ogbeh said.

He reiterated his commitment to improved exports through expert handling of fresh produce, cold storage and post-harvest loss management, adding the on-going efforts on the ‘conduits of excellence’ is expected to culminate in the development and validation of Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) at a high level specifically for dried beans and other commodities.

He added the ministry will in July-August embark on a nationwide advocacy and sensitization on quality control and standardization of agro-commodities by supporting selected small holder farmers in furtherance of efforts to develop the “culture of quality” in Nigeria.

The commencement of yam export from Nigeria will not result in the depletion of the commodity domestically, the Federal Government has said. Recently, the government announced that a consignment of 72 metric tonnes of yam would leave Nigeria for Europe and the United States of America on Thursday, June 29, 2017. The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, had stated that the export programme would set the stage for the country’s return to the global yam value chain as a dominant player. Reacting to concerns that the move might affect the availability of yam locally, Ogbeh stated recently that there was no reason to be anxious by the populace.

The minister, who disclosed this in a statement issued by his Media and Communications Adviser, Dr. Olukayode Oyeleye, stated that those who were apprehensive about the possible non-availability of yams for local consumption as a result of the export programme needed not be. According to him, Nigeria has consistently been reckoned with globally as the largest producer of yam at various times, accounting for anything between 65 and 76 per cent of the total world production. The statement noted that the Food and Agriculture Organization reported in 1985 that Nigeria produced 18.3 million tonnes of yam from 1.5 million hectares, representing 73.8 per cent of the total yam production in Africa. It stated that yam was being grown in vast areas of the country, covering many agro-ecological zones, from the coastal region in rain forests, wood savannah to southern savannah habitats, spreading over 27 out of the 36 states, in addition to the Federal Capital Territory. “There are therefore more reasons to be optimistic about the prospects,” it added.

The government listed the yam-producing states to include Abia, Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bayelsa, Benue, Cross River, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Ekiti, Enugu, Imo, Kaduna, Kogi, Kwara and Lagos. Others are Nasarawa, Niger, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Oyo, Plateau, Rivers and Taraba states. According to the government, all the states have responsibilities to support production and post-production activities of yam, including trade and generation of on-field and off-field data.

Benue State will begin the processing, marketing and packaging of yam for export in June this year, the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC) said in Makurdi. Emmanuel Etim, Head of NEPC Export Assistance Office in Benue, disclosed this during a two-day stakeholders training and awareness for Nigerian Yam Export Programme.

The theme of the forum is “Developing Nigerian Yam for Export.” He said that the Minister of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Chief Audu Ogbeh, would inaugurate the first batch of packaged Nigerian yam for export at Lagos port on June 26. Etim said the programme was aimed at placing Nigeria as a key player in global market through strategic yam export development programmes. According to him, the programme is also committed to creating adequate export awareness of the potentials of Nigeria yam.

Etim said the NEPC would transform Nigeria’s yam production, processing, packaging and warehousing to meet international standards, drawing from other countries’ yam export experiences. In his speech, the minister said yam production in Benue could generate huge foreign exchange earnings if properly harnessed through aggressive export. Ogbeh also said that it could also create employment opportunities, generate global esteem and grow the nation’s GDP. According to him, aggressive national yam export development programme could help revamp the nation’s economy from its current recession. Stakeholders at the forum undertook study tour of yam production centres in Benue. Highlights of the forum included technical sessions on yam flour and yam chips processing and marketing, prospect and marketing standard requirements and take-off perspectives.

Nigeria still imports about $3 billion to $5 billion worth of food annually and earns paltry foreign exchange from agriculture which used to be the mainstay of its economy. The sector, even with the multiplier effects and value chain on food production, job creation and foreign exchange earnings, has been neglected by previous administrations. In view of the crash in global oil prices and the present administration’s efforts to diversify the economy, agriculture has been put in the front burner. The latest data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) shows that export earnings from agricultural goods are hefty. With the flagging off of yam exports by the Federal Government on June 29, agriculture export earnings will rise significantly. The Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbe, stated that the country targeted about $8 billion as annual foreign exchange from the export. Nigeria is by far the world’s largest producer of yams, accounting for 61 per cent of all production. Nigeria produces 21 million tonnes of yams from the 3,837 hectares under cultivation. Many states in Nigeria engage in yam production but Benue tops the list. Nigeria’s yam is in global demand because of its taste. Unfortunately, we cannot consume all that we produce, leading to wastage. With the kicking off of the first phase of yam export in the country, which will see 72 tonnes of processed yams land in the United States, United Kingdom and China, the Federal Government should be commended. This breakthrough will restore the lost glory of agriculture and motivate the farmers to produce more.

Recalled that, President Buhari noted recently at an economic retreat that, agriculture has been neglected over the years, and veritable government intervention is required in the crucial sector, that if carefully managed, can lead to self-sufficiency in food production, solve the problem of mass unemployment, increase the country’s foreign earnings, and grow our per capita income. In his words, he stated that, “for too long government policies on agriculture have been half-hearted, suffering from inconsistencies. Yet our real wealth is in farming, livestock, hatcheries, fishery, horticulture and forestry”. He further explained the some of the challenges in the sector, such as rising cost of food, lack of agricultural inputs at affordable prices, high cost of fertilizers, pesticides and labour compound the problem of extension services, import of food items that can be easily produced locally, wastages because of the absence of adequate storage facilities as well as lack of feeder rods to transport foods produced in rural areas to urban centres, just to mention but a few of the difficulties encountered in the sector. He also said that, in solving the problem the public must be carried along and educated about the plans of government so that, they can key into it and benefit maximally from it, in addition, he reasoned that, there must be close working relationship between the federal government and the state governments, to really boost agriculture and solve some of the problems in the sector, for example, the massive availability of feeder roads to make transportation of food from the country-sides to the city centers less cumbersome, there should also be the availability of soft loans to farmers with the CBN bearing some of the risk as well as the exigent need intermittent stakeholders meeting on how to move the sector forward. Agriculture in Nigeria is one area that can turn the fortunes, destiny, direction and dynamics of this great country around for the very best with the shortest space of time.

Agriculture plays a very important role in the development of any country, a country that cannot produce what she consumes but depends on importation of food for local consumption cannot be said to be developed, in time past, agriculture played very significant role in the growth of the country, however with the discovery of oil in 1956, it was relegated to the background, people left their farms for jobs in city centres where they could earn quick money, and the deleterious consequence for the country is that, it became food dependent, as food items of all were imported from different parts of the globe, leading to huge revenue losses and capital fight. But the President Mahammadu Buhari’s administration is determined to make Nigeria self-reliant and self-sufficient in food production for local consumption and export.

 Ayobolu, a public affairs analyst contributed this piece from Lagos State

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