From: Azeez Ibrahim, Abuja
Agriculture has from the inception of the present administration been recognised as a viable sector that can do the magic in its diversification drive. This is visible in the adequate attention given to the agricultural sector in form of the Agriculture Promotion Policy (APP) being embarked on by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.
This led to reduction in the importation of Rice and high production of the commodity across the country. Also better yield in the poultry sector, fishery and other agricultural products, thereby opening opportunities for exportation of agricultural products such as Yam, cashew, beans to mention a few.
But in 2016 the European Union banned the importation of dried beans from Nigeria into its member nations owing to low quality standard.
This unfortunately, put so much pressure on the economic diversification drive of the current administration. It slowed government’s resolve to change the country’s economy from a mono economy that it had been in the past.
The ban by the EU, however necessitated need to address issue of quality. This led to the constitution of an inter-ministerial committee on Zero-Reject. This committee is made up of members from stakeholder agencies and ministries working in collaboration with the UNIDO. These are deliberate efforts to find lasting solutions, and get EU to lift its trade ban on Nigeria.
On noticing the efforts of the Nigerian government to meet required international standard, the EU last week disclosed that it will commence a five years long program to support Nigeria in the competitiveness of exportation of more agricultural products.
EU Head of Trade and Economic sector, Filippo Amato, while presenting the UNIDO-NQIP Assisted Control Plan to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh in Abuja, said the EU will in March launch a 5-year long program aimed at supporting Nigeria’s competitiveness in the exportation of tomato, pepper and ginger.
Filippo expressed his satisfaction in the level of work done so far by the inter-ministerial committee on Zero reject, noting that if Nigeria can meet the necessary requirements the ban will be lifted in no distant time.
He applauded the FG’s diversification drive which is progressive, urging the government to see the issue at hand as that of as not just that of exportation but that which concerns the health of consumers, hence the need for assurance of safety and quality of the products.
The EU Head of Trade urged Nigeria to address all highlighted issues that poses problems for the exportation of both oil and non oil products, such as the sanitary and competitiveness issues, noting that the EU remains the largest receiver of both categories of Nigerian export.
He encouraged the government and the private sector to take advantage of the enormous agricultural needs of EU by increasing the choice of products to be exported in order to generate better fiscal revenue and achieving the diversification goals of the government.
According to Filippo: “The infrastructural program is ongoing, unfortunately it will end tomorrow, good news is that the EU will continue in other project to support in the competitiveness of certain selected agricultural products. This is for the next five years, the program is going to be launched probably march or April. We have consulted a number of stakeholders, the selected value chains are tomato, pepper and ginger, there is also textile. These are basically the value chain. This will be another program which will go all the way to support the competitiveness for Nigeria export of agricultural commodities.
“I very am pleased to say a lot of work have been done and there is already the first lap which is going to be implemented in March, of the Export Control plan, this is of course well expected, it will be my colleagues at the Directorate of Food and Safety that will decide whether the conditions are met to lift the ban. But from what i have heard today, if all goes in the right direction of course, if the pilot is started with the first implementation and then soonest my colleagues will receive the plan then will be able to take the decision.
“The effort of the government is making progress in the issue of quality safety of agricultural commodities produced in Nigeria, as you all know this is not only the issue of export, it is first of all an issue of health of Nigerian consumers, this is key in view of the strong commitment of the government to diversify its economy.
“The European commercial regulation that suspends the import in the in the EU of dry beans in Nigeria clearly stated that Nigeria employs appropriate risk management measures and provide and provide required guarantees and as you know the EU through the national infrastructure program implemented by UNIDO as reported the process since 2016 partnered by representative of the committee.
“Let me add the last remark, as you know the EU is the main oil and non oil export destination of Nigeria however sanitary issues as well as problems of competitiveness which have lean on one end on the high cost of production, but also on other elements like for instance the existence of import duties. These entire elements still affects the exports of non oil products to Europe.
“The latest statistics of the National Bureau of Statistics reported that out of quarter 3 of 2017 only 3.5% of Nigerian Export to the EU were non oil products, so there is still a lot of work to be done to the rest of the export because after all the diversification Nigeria needs is not only the economy but all that represent the percentage of the GDP. The diversification is to be done on fiscal revenue.
“The opportunities for Nigeria to export agric business products to the EU and to improve cooperation sanitary methods will dramatically increase if the economic partnership agreement between West Africa and EU enters in to force, therefore I encourage all stake holders and in particular the private sector to continue consultation on a possible way forward on such an important agreement.” He added.
Co-chairman of the inter-ministerial committee on Zero reject and Minister of Agriculture and Rural Developement Audu Ogbeh, who received the UNIDO-NQIP assisted control Plan, acknowledged the issues raised.
He said they are mainly about the health and survival of consumers.
Ogbeh however commended the role of the private sector to ensure Nigeria adhere to the best international requirements and partnership between the private sector and experts in that field.
The minister, who urged the committee not to give up until Nigeria meets the required international market quality also condemned the activities of smugglers who tarnish the image of the country by exporting substandard products.
He reiterated the availability of huge business opportunity with the EU citing the present generation of meagre 15 million pounds as inefficient in the UK food market that is worth 30 billion pounds.
In respect to EU complain on the usage of poly-poplin bags for grains, Ogbeh disclosed that a shipment of machines for the production of juke sacks will arrive by July.
He urged farmers to go into farming of jukes as over 400 million sacks will be needed annually which, hence provides more jobs.
He said: “This assignment is far more serious than just targeting export, it is about survival and living well as a people, so I can’t thank you enough.
“Here is Prof. Morris Iwu, a renowned pharmacist; he has been working on this thing all by himself for a very long time. I really must commend you for the efforts you’ve made, because the country is driven not necessarily by the ministry, but the private sector in partnership with experts who are committed to what the country has to do. We are very proud of you.
“I want to say please don’t give up until you attain the standards that the world requires which is the international standard, sometimes we are in a hurry. Some people will smuggle products abroad because they hear that they are buying it in good price and when they are found and thrown out they’ve done damage to the image and name of this country.
“Sometimes other officers don’t allow quarantine offices to come close.
“The department of trade in UK said the food market in the UK is worth 30 billion pounds and they asked me what are we doing making only 15 millon pounds of that when we are the closest to them by air than South America where they buy avocados and bananas. But if we must, the quality has to be right.
“The other thing is packaging, the EU has warned us that we should not continue to package our produce using polythene bags, and they are not really healthy, good news is that we were in India few months ago and machineries will arrive here before the end of July, for producing Juke bags.
“It includes the sewing machines and cutting, and then teaches our farmers to grow the jukes. We will need about 400 million bags per annum to package the grains. I don’t see anything wrong in 2/3million farmer planting jukes. We can use the core of the juke to take care of oil spillage in the Niger-Delta.
“What we are doing now will open up the economy. By the time we first test export, if everything goes well, we must stand by the oath we took that we will never again ship substandard produce to the world.“ he added
It is quit visible that agriculture is the way to go owing to the opportunities available to both the public and private sector in the agricultural value chain.