Inadequate sanitary, phytosanitary requirements impede Nigeria’s participation in foreign trade – Isegbe

The Director-General, Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS), Dr. Vincent Isegbe, has noted the inability of stakeholders across the value chain to meet the relevant sanitary and phytosanitary requirements applicable in the destination countries as the most serious impediment to Nigeria’s participation in foreign trade. JOHN OBA reports.

The issue of Nigeria not measuring up among its peers with regards to active participation in international trade remains a cause for concern, even as reports have it that Nigeria loses huge revenue because it is servicing narrow export market options.

Quality defects

Speaking at the maiden NAQS media parley with agricultural correspondents in Abuja, recently, Isegbe said his agency, tasked with the promotion of export of agricultural produce, is leading the government’s drive to stem the tide of the rejection of some Nigerian agricultural produce in foreign markets due to quality defects. 

He said many countries prohibit the import of produce with mycotoxin contamination, high pesticide residue, microbial contamination, sloppy packaging and labeling. 

“It is our goal to make Nigerian agricultural produce acceptable everywhere in the world. That way, we will earn more foreign exchange from more destination countries.

“Given the need to empower farmers, off-takers and exporters to comply with the standards of the export market, the Agency is implementing a programme of backward integration for better export products. This intervention code-named ‘’Export Improvement Initiative’’ is tailored to ensure that all relevant activities performed from the fields where the prospective export crops are cultivated up to the point of shipment are consistent with the standard conditions and protocols. As part of this measure, NAQS has been interfacing with stakeholders to educate and train them on export quality criteria for agricultural produce. 

“The highlights of these enlightenment workshops and campaigns are the instruction of stakeholders on Global Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) and the formation of self-regulating associations among the different commodity producer constituencies. Through this strategy, NAQS is addressing the fundamental inhibitors of agricultural export and widening the scope for participation of everyday Nigerians in the export business. 

“I am glad to report that NAQS efforts in mainstreaming best practices are yielding great rewards. Due to increased knowledge and adaptation to guidelines, Nigeria was able to export 1,983 containers of Hibiscus to Mexico, within the first 9 months of 2017. The country earned $35 million in the selfsame period,” he said.

Need to prevent diseases

He said the mandate of NAQS is to prevent the introduction, establishment and outbreak of animal and zoonotic diseases as well as pests of plants and fisheries and their products. 

Adding that the Agency is also responsible for facilitating international trade in Nigerian agricultural resources. It is our duty to ensure that Nigerian food commodities conform to international standards and requirements as laid down by the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC); Office International Des Epizootics (OIE) aka the World Organisation of Animal Health; World Trade Organisation (WTO) Sanitary and Phyto-Sanitary Agreement and Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITIES). 

“Our mission is to catalyze the harnessing of the export potentials of Nigerian agricultural resources. We recently conducted a crop pest survey on pigeon pea, sorghum and groundnut. The result of our pigeon pea survey has paved a way for Nigeria to penetrate the $100 billion worth pigeon pea market of India. In the same vein, our crop pest survey on sorghum has opened the door for Nigeria to export forage sorghum to China. A local company is expected to ship out the first batch of its consignment in the first quarter of this year.

“We are also working assiduously to expand our export frontiers. In addition to the traditional agro-export items, we have identified underutilized but high premium emerging agro-commodities such as sesame, soya bean, cinnamon, pigeon pea, sugar cane, honey and snail that will revolutionize Nigeria’s non-oil export business as we know it. In the next couple of weeks, NAQS will launch ‘’Export Certification Value Chain (ECVC)’’ for Onions, Garlic, Honey, Cow horns/hooves, Sunflower, Nsukka Yellow Pepper, Sesame, Gum Arabic and Tumeric. ECVC details the export eligibility standards for the respective items and outlines the actionable instructions that stakeholders have to adhere to for their produce to pass NAQS inspection and certification tests which are preconditions for issuance of the phytosanitary certificate (i.e export permit). 

“We have gone further to map states with the capacity to produce high export value agro-export commodities on industrial scale. And we will work with the respective State Ministries of Agriculture and Local Government Councils to leverage output from those areas. 

“The exploitation of Nigeria’s comparative advantage in many agricultural commodities will proliferate opportunities for wealth creation. If the country produces as much as she can produce and exports as much as her natural endowment allows, we will create thousands of jobs, improve livelihoods of families and place the foreign revenue from the agriculture sector on the upward trajectory,” he explained.

He said Nigeria has a fair climate, vast arable land and the largest population in Africa.

Agric super-power

According to him, these elements are sufficient to make the country an agricultural superpower. 

“We were actually on the path to becoming one of the great food baskets of the world when the siren voice of crude oil diverted our attention. Today, one of the staple counterfactuals of national discourse is what we might have grown to be as a country and a people if we had kept faith with agriculture. 

“The world is transitioning to a post-oil civilization. Climate change has leapfrogged to the top of national security problems all over the world. Nations are aggressively modernizing their infrastructure to run on renewable energy and reshaping their economy to be competitive in the evolving green economy. Nigeria cannot afford to be behind the curve. There is no future in remaining dependent on a soon-to-be redundant resource. We have to reinvent agriculture as an engine of wealth creation,” he said.

Stimulating export trade growth

Isegbe said further that the Service is committed to stimulating the growth of export of Nigerian agricultural produce. And we are ever ready to assist any Nigerian who is interested in exploring the prospects that abound in the land. 

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