The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) has identified the criteria surrounding the cultivation, harvesting, storage and preservation of agro-produce, which disqualify them for exports. The body said, the inability to know how to produce untainted agro produce and the attempts to export foods that do not meet international standards have hampered the growth of agro exports from Nigeria.
In the bid to find out reasons behind the unimpressive performance of the country in the aspect of cargo business development, the Aviacargo Roadmap Committee, set up by the Managing Director of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Captain Rabiu Yadudu, recently went on a facility tour of some laboratories where ago-produce for export are examined. The committee was set up with the objectives to review the process of exports, remove impediments and boost export of produce and products in Nigeria by air, with the target to move Nigeria from current number five to number one among African countries that export farm produce overseas.
The committee’s chairman, Ambassador Ikechi Uko, stated that it was important to examine the agricultural products that Nigeria exports and determine why some of these products are turned away while those from the country’s neighbours, such as Ghana, Cameroon, Mali, and others, are accepted. He also emphasised that Nigeria was no longer the top exporter of oil and that the demand for oil on the global market was declining, hence why Nigeria needs to have an alternative to oil export because it has the potential to be the top exporter of agricultural products in Africa.
Stating how Nigeria loses over US$1 billion to failed agro exports annually, Uko also pointed out that the Federal Government plans to grow cashew export from US$252 million to US$500 million for 2023, but non-compliance of farmers to internationally and domestically-accepted standards and other issues already enumerated had impeded this. He said for this to improve, agricultural exports from Nigeria must start from a farm certified by the Nigerian Agricultural Quarantine Services (NAQS) or a global Good Agricultural Practices-registered farm through a secured cargo pathway. He called for enhanced certification of farms and operators in the value chain, adding them to insist on the traceability of all exportable produce and tackle the mayhem at the export cargo terminals.
Meanwhile, the committee visited laboratories that specialise in certifying produce for export, NAFDAC and NAQS, to find out standards that Nigerian produce must meet in order for them to be accepted overseas. Addressing the committee, the officer-in-charge of NAFDAC Central Laboratory in Lagos, Dr. Charles Nwachukwu, explained that the reason why Nigerian commodities were taken to Ghana is for them not to be labeled Nigerian products because exporters from Nigeria ought to know what is required from the country of destination and make sure it is met. He advised that Nigerians should learn to follow due process, as they would make more money, and the country’s name would be restored.
Stating how that Nigeria loses over US$1 billion to failed agro exports annually, Uko also pointed out that the Federal Government had planned to grow cashew export from US$252 million to US$500 million for 2023, but that non-compliance of farmers to internationally and domestically-accepted standards and other issues. According to Nwachukwu, “If you are exporting maize, and the aflatoxin level of maize required in Europe is 0.4ppm, the agricultural extension workers can assist the farmers to know when to harvest and the appropriate storage process. The quality of the produce coming out of our farms lies in the hands of extension workers in the federal, state and local government levels.
“Another issue arises from preservation. In the bid to protect their investments, some use pesticides and other chemicals which is wrong, causing rejections. We have been sensitising our people on the implication of this action, and we will continue to do so. Sometimes, they use preservatives higher than what is required and that is the cause of the rejection. It has been pesticide residue and mycotoxin level mainly that has been causing the rejections. There is nowhere in the world where they will reject the certificate issued by NAFDAC. There was no time this happened, because we have one of the best labs in Africa. NAFDAC has about seven labs and five of them are concerned with food. The Oshodi Lab is the centre of excellence. We have some of the best facilities when we talk about lab quality and we are improving on the equipment that are available.
“This agency offers lab services for export of agricultural produce free-of-charge, if it passes through the proper channel and process, which is the export desk of the Port Inspection Directorate (PID)”, Nwachukwu added. The Chief Executive Officer of an independent lab, known as Katchey, Mrs. Kate Isa, told the committee that there was need to have standard labs like Katchey that has international recognition and certification so that whenever Nigerian agro produce are examined and certified by such labs, the farm produce would be accepted by the Western nations that the commodities are exported to.
“November last year, when Fidelity Bank Plc took a team out to try and find export market for Nigeria, I talked to Winas; the biggest supplier of supermarket chain in the United Kingdom and they told me that they used to import a lot of things from Nigeria. They would pay the exporter, the supplier, carry containers get to the port in London, and it would be held there, no matter what certificate you brought it with. It would be held there until they run their own test and if it passes, they let it go. They pay demurrage; they pay for the test they ran. So, because of this problem, they stopped coming to Nigeria to buy anything, they go to Ghana, they go to Benin Republic, they go to those other parts of Africa where things work to buy African products because African market is booming in the UK and New York as well. Now when they heard about Katchey, they were excited and they now refer the people they want to buy from”, she said.
NAFDAC further revealed to the committee that some of the foods consumed by Nigerians could give rise to cancer because of the way they are preserved and processed. Cautioning consumers, he said; “Lessons from our visit to NAFDAC could be summarised thus: we need to export proper food but we’re free to kill ourselves. Nigeria has fantastic professionals constrained by bureaucracy. Ignorance is a killer, and is the best characterisation of our society. Professionals are willing to help, but they are prevented by the process and those unwilling to do the work”. Warning, he continued; “Our food is killing us. The ignorance and backwardness of producers is causing the problem. Avoid ponmo, it’s mostly cooked with rubber (tyres), which could cause cancer and cancer is the leading killer in Nigeria.
“Diligent scientists know what to do, but the system is preventing them from doing the job. Farmers use dangerous pesticides that enter the food chain and yet, there are better ways. Don’t eat dry fish unless you know how it was prepared, if it was done over open fire and wood, it will ultimately kill you. Look for oven dried fish. Neither eat anything cooked with charcoal with wood of unknown source. Vegetables without holes means insects have been repelled, you too should run, as chemicals are used to repel the insects. If you see meat in the open market that flies are running from, run too; it is contaminated with insecticides. Be careful with all grains for traders want to maximise the lifespan and prevent infestation using dangerous chemical”.