By Steve Agbota
On June 29, Nigeria began to export yams to Europe and the United States, as part of moves to diversify its oil-dependent economy and earn the much-needed foreign exchange.
The initial purpose of the yam programme was to earn foreign exchange in the region of $10.0 billion annually over the next four (4) years.
The excitement of the yam adventure came as the country struggles to shrug off the European Union (EU) ban on Nigeria beans which is yet to be lifted. But just recently, reports had it that sixty-seven processed and semi-processed food products of Nigeria origin exported to the EU were rejected in 2015 and 2016.
The rejected food items include brown and white beans, melon seeds, palm oil, mushrooms, bitter leaf, ugu leaves, shelled groundnut, smoked catfish and crayfish.
Beyond all these arguements, nothing can be more embarrassing than hearing the 72 tonnes of yam that left the shore of Nigeria through Apapa port to United States in June were also rejected. Despite the euphoria that greeted the historic export that was officially flagged off by the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo in Lagos, the yams were found to be rotten upon arrival in the US.
However, in an attempt to get to the root cause of this national embarrassment, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mr Audu Ogbeh, has said the Federal Government would investigate the poor quality of consignment of yams exported from Nigeria to the United States, saying the ministry is not an exporter, the exporters are private people.
Investigation revealed that both local and international exporters involved in the yam export programme include Messrs Wan-Nyikwagh Farms Nig. Ltd, Gboko, Nigeria and Oklanbest Limited, Ibadan, Nigeria; off-takers including Messrs ADES African Foods and Drinks, United Kingdom, Horizon Beeps Associates Ltd., Texas, USA, Glorious Expression, Georgia, USA, Vine Global Import & Export, Georgia, USA, Zuka Trading and Distribution Co Inc., California, USA.
Stakeholders said that the Federal Government, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development should take the blame not the private exporters.
Daily Sun learnt that Ghana yam export trade employs over 1 million workforce with the country currently accounting for 94 per cent of the total yam exports in West Africa and covering markets in USA, Canada, UK and Europe.
Between 2005 and 2010, yam production in Ghana contributed about 16 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The Government of Ghana has also developed the National Yam Development Strategy and Yam Export Strategy aimed at increasing export volumes from the current 35,000 metric tonnes to as high as 400,000 metric tonnes with expected revenue of about $5 billion by 2018.
Speaking with Daily Sun, the Chief Executive Officer of Starlink Global and Ideal Limited, Adeyemi Adeniji, said: “we should cover our face in shame; this is something that is very normal with Ghana and other countries. The rejection is a disaster for this country. You see every other nation thinks that nothing good can come out of Nigeria and we are proving it to them. One of the major reasons you would see is because of this port issue. If your port is not programme well to make export seamless, we are going to get the same problem that we are having because there is no quality assurance. They don’t really take the quality of the yam before it left the shore of Nigeria.
“How many days did they take before it gets to US? If you want to do something, the first thing is the knowledge. If you don’t have knowledge about it, you don’t need to go into it. Those that did it don’t have the knowledge. We have the Customs at the port, the guarantine and all the Nigerian uniform men in that place, what are they doing? Who give them the certificate of quality? Then they don’t really know how it takes to transport yams from Nigeria to US? What was the transit period? Those are the questions you should ask the appropriate authorities.”
He said that Nigeria has produce officers from the Ministry of Trade that are still using 1959 ordinance, which is the constitution they still follow to grade whatever export from Nigeria. Adding that nobody should be blamed except the government.
To prevent further recurrence, he said Nigeria needs the knowledge and the government needs to be sincere. He urged government to scrap corruption and NPA and give it to people that understand what they are doing.
However, the Deputy Managing Director of Peniel Gerar International Limited, Ojiefoh Enahoro Martins, said that today, Nigeria’s agricultural sector are championed by carcass of outdated individuals that lack agricultural hygiene but insular of themselves.
He hinted: “the comments of the Minister, were very disappointing when he said that the exporters are private people. The Ministry should equally take responsibility and be accountable because it has failed in its responsibility of coming up with an effective policy framework that will ensure that good quality yams are exported.”
He added: “It could have been a surprise to me if the yam was not rejected because my report last time clearly states the result before the baseless and epileptic success praises by the ministry. IITA over the years has done a good job on yam quality improvement but our government refused to learn what works. The minister and the various outdated agricultural agencies involved should be retrained and re-educated because this failure is directly proportional to their poor freakish knowledge on agro commodity export dynamics.
“For the Minister to shift blame to the exporter tells us about his unformed nature to head the ministry. He celebrated the pregnancy then he must celebrate the fruitless delivery. We know that this failure is another avenue for some people in the various agencies to loot money through setting up acrobatic committee in the name of quality control that will not yield result.”
Citing Ghana as a good example, he said yam export regulation in Ghana is designed specifically to protect Ghanaian farmers and exporters; generate export revenues because they set up improved quality control agencies, stabilise prices; develop and grow markets for major products.
He said under the Ghanaian new guidelines for yam export; exporters would receive full payments up front in US dollars and all yams will now pass through a ‘single-corridor’ pack house ensuring adequate quality control by way of cleaning, packaging, sealing and labeling with bar code, and electronic scanning to prevent the use of yam exports as a conduit for nefarious activities.
He said there is need for Nigeria to adopt a quality management system approach towards improving the quality of our agricultural produce exports, hence, Nigeria will not be seen by the international community to be serious about agricultural produce exports.
According to him, in other countries that export their agricultural products, there is a system that ensures quality control board to design quality control unit across regions to monitor from seed to harvest process before export.