Following the European Union (EU)’s continued ban on some Nigeria’s agricultural produce from entering Europe, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) has been articulating strategies for ensuring a single quality control management system for Nigeria. TAIWO HASSAN writes
You cannot talk about food and health without talking about agriculture. The quality of food begins on the farm. It has to do with the quality of seeds, the quality of soil, the quality of fertilizer and the quality of chemicals.
All of these add up to the output that is delivered for consumption. However, connecting food safety, public health, investment and food trade is a complete value chain on its own, especially when it comes to agricultural development in all its ramifications. And this is what the present administration stands for in its policy and strategy document called the “Green Alternative.”
FMARD’s food sensitisation
Within this context, especially as regards food safety and public health, the Nigeria’s agric ministry embarked on a number of programmes and activities on public awareness for acceptance of agricultural commodities, total inclusion of private sector and financial institutions, especially those with bias for agriculture across the 36 states in the country.
Speaking on lender’s high interest rate in Abuja, Agric Minister, Chief Audu Ogbeh said: “We have problems with financial institutions on good agricultural practices.
We still have trouble finding lenders to farmers. The banking sector still considers agriculture a zone of high danger. So, the small farmer, the big farmer has immense difficulty accessing credit.
And so, the farmer in Nigeria finds it extremely difficult to farm like other farmers do elsewhere. “Interest rates across the globe average 3 per cent.
Here, in Nigeria, it still stands at 25 per cent and above. That kind of interest rate may be good for producing ‘cocaine’, but certainly not for okro, rice and beans, yam and cassava. So, we can’t do it right. And, if we can’t do it right, the problem begins from the farm gate.”
Farm zero rejects initiative
One of the major actions that took place in FMARD was the setting up of a standing Inter-Ministerial Technical Committee on the zero reject of agricultural commodities and produce of non-oil exports from Nigeria.
Particularly, the committee was co-chaired by the agric minister and the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Dr. Okey Enelamah in Abuja.
Exactly two months and two weeks ago, stakeholders from across the nation gathered at the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and validated the Nigerian articulated strategy for ensuring a single quality control management system for Nigeria as regards global acceptance and zero reject of Nigeria’s agricultural commodities and produce.
According to Ogbeh, the Inter- Ministerial Technical Committee developed two documents, one of them called the methodology of conduit of excellence, quality and safety rules for Nigeria and standard operating procedure manual for zero reject for non-oil exports from Nigeria.
All of these, the minister said, are with the support of the European Union and UNIDO.
Farm produce certification
Besides, the agric minister explained that Nigeria’s exporters of manufactured agricultural farm produce are finding it difficult to get all the requirements needed in food export and these challenges are causing the country to lose huge foreign exchange because of rejection of farm produce.
He said : “But one problem we’ve had in this country, which the Ghanaians have solved, is that they have managed to acquire certification for their own produce in foreign countries.
We haven’t done so yet. “The process of certification is lengthy and rigorous. One of the major ingredients is what they call traceability: where is this product coming from?
From what farm? And how are the crops grown? What kind of fertilizer has been applied? What kinds of chemicals? If there should be any problem with the crops, we like to find out why?
That we haven’t done. But, you find that the Ghanaians export yams to Europe or the United States. And one-and-a-half kilo piece of yam in the United States sells for as much as $15.
“With all due respect, Ghana does not produce half of the yam produced from Nassarawa or Benue State.
But they export on Nigeria’s behalf, because Nigeria’s exporters can’t export the yams. For instance, Nigeria export beans to Europe.
“The beans are rejected because, sometimes, in our hurry to deliver these things to the European markets, we forget that the Europeans are very strict about standards, because they want to protect the health of their people.”
Reasons for beans rejection
The minister noted that occasionally, a package of beans is found to have a dead rat or rat faeces or to be heavily contaminated with chemicals. Consequently, he said the importers have no choice than to reject the beans or throw them into the sea.
“And sometimes we react very angrily, and we say it is prejudice. It is not prejudice because there is only one standard now: the universal standard. So we mustn’t have Nigerian standard or American standard.”
He acknowledged that the journey is not going to be very easy because FMARD and others have to educate everyone: the farmer, the processor, the packaging group, the exporter, and so on.
Ogbeh added: “If you notice, too many young people are falling sick of liver and kidney problems in this country.
We see them in hospitals appealing for help, for N10 million to go to India, and so on. And you wonder why, how a young person at the age of 15 has a kidney or liver problem. And this person may not be an alcoholic. So, what is the problem?”
FMARD, Ministry of Health collaborate
Ogeh said the agric ministry is collaborating with its counterpart in Ministry of Health on food consumption, safety and preservation to ensure good health among Nigerians.
He said: “We are getting very anxious at the level of the ministry because health in food has to do with how we eat. Food can either be a medicine or a poison. We share this anxiety with the ministry of health and every other agency concerned with the health of our people.
“So, we have to embark on public awareness, campaign and strategic communication on food poisoning and what I consider self-poisoning.
“We will be changing the mind set of our people, even the drying of grains and produce, the grinding machine we use for grinding tomato, onion and pepper in the market. A few weeks ago, a young Nigerian from Ibadan came to our office to display the machinery I requested that he should produce.
The grinding mill in the market is made of raw steel. And, as it grinds, there is friction and pieces of metals wear into the tomato, onion or the beans that we eat.
The minister of health will tell you that metal poisoning is quite deadly.” Talking about the need to develop new grinding machines for Nigerians, the minister pointed said that the government is committed to subsidise these grinding machines, he described as food-grade stainless steel, for Nigerians to avoid food poison.
He said: “Have we paid attention to this in the past? We haven’t. What we need is food-grade stainless steel. But food-grade stainless steel is very expensive.
For our government, we have no choice but to produce these machines on a scale as large as possible and subsidise them to protect our people from poisoning, which they do not even suspect.
Eating much is not the same as eating well. From now on, the aim of this country, and all of us, should be to eat well. So Nigerians need to change their culture of foods intake to stay healthy.
GMO: Who blinks first – NBMA or HOMEF?
Efforts to establish Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in Nigeria are currently enmeshed in controversy as two key agencies- National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) and Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) accuse each other of sabotaging the nation’s food security. Taiwo Hassan reports
Indeed, Nigeria is one of the luckiest countries in the world that is blessed with large span of arable lands for planting of crops to ensure food productivity and security.
But in spite of the oil, which currently account for 90 per cent of Nigeria’s revenue and foreign Exchange earnings, agriculture remains the base of the nation’s economy, providing the main source of livelihood for most Nigerians. The sector, no doubt, faces many challenges such as outdated land tenure system that constrains access to land (1.8 ha/farming household), a very low level of irrigation development (less than 1 percent of cropped land under irrigation), limited adoption of research findings and technologies, high cost of farm inputs and poor access to credit. Also included are inefficient fertilizer procurement and distribution, inadequate storage facilities and poor access to markets, which have all combined to keep agricultural productivity low (average of 1.2 metric tons of cereals/ha) with high post-harvest losses and wastes..
Despite these challenges, agriculture still remains the largest sector of the Nigerian economy -employing two-thirds of the entire labour force.
Over the past three decades, value-added per capita in agriculture has risen by less than one percent annually. It is estimated that Nigeria has lost $15 billion in annual export opportunity from groundnut, palm oil, cocoa and cotton alone due to continuous decline in the production of those commodities. Food (crop) production increases have not kept pace with population growth, resulting in rising food imports and declining levels of national food self-sufficiency.
The main factors undermining production include reliance on rainfed agriculture, smallholder land holding, and low productivity due to poor planting material, low fertilizer application, and a weak agricultural extension system amongst others
Introduction of GMOs
Meanwhile, the introduction of GMOs into the country’s agriculture may not have gone down well with many Nigerians over lack of empirical evidence to ascertain and certify
them safe for human consumption, even though the country is facing challenges in meeting food production for its teeming huge population.
Indeed, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that food production will need to double in some parts of the world by 2050 and this translates to the need for more land for cultivation, which will not be readily available. Hence, the introduction of GMO crops to make enough nutritious food available with limited land, water and other resources was one of the reasons GMO was approved to compliment food security in the world.
The Nigerian authorities had given legislative approval (‘junk science’) to the NBMA.
Those in support of GMOs said population growth will necessitate the need for more food production.
But this may not be suitable yet for Nigerians who are yet get acquainted to GMO products locally except the foreign nationalities living in Nigeria.
Besides, findings have shown that GMO crops are reportedly resistant to droughts, pests and crop diseases, while some are purported to be packed with extra vitamins, minerals and other health benefits.
However, in order to buttress its stance on aggressively developing of GMOs in Nigeria, the NBMA accused an advocacy group- HOMEF for opposing GMOs empirical test and alleged that it was trying to sabotaging Federal Government’s efforts at moving Nigeria towards food security through the application of technology in food production.
The NBMA in a statement, said it was not established to halt the use of GMOs, but to ensure the safety of GMOs on human health, plants, animals and the environment.
The agency said: “The agency has no intention and will never verbally engage HOMEF, but these statements made against the agency are not only incisive but negate the efforts of the Federal Government to ensure safety in the application of the technologies that assure Nigerians of food security and food safety.”
NBMA accused HOMEF of being unpatriotic, noting that it had never breached the law in the discharge of its duties.
“The attention of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) has been drawn to a series of incisive and unpatriotic statements peddled by the Health for Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) about the agency and its activities,” said the agency in a statement..
“While the agency does not want to banter with HOMEF or any of its kind, it is important to state here that NBMA is a government agency established by law as a regulatory agency to ensure the safe handling and use of modern biotechnology and its products, which includes Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).”
It will be recalled that HOMEF and its partners had last September criticised the approval by the NBMA for the confined field tests of genetically modified cassava in Ibadan, Oyo State – a move they said was designed to flood the country with genetically modified foods.
But the agency in the statement defended its approval of the field tests of some genetically modified crops, stating that the approval followed due process.
Director of HOMEF, Nnimmo Bassey, accused the NBMA of abandoning its regulatory mandate.
“The NBMA are not the federal government, they are just an agency of the government and they are the ones that are inciting Nigerians because when they say that GMOs are safe and their job ought to stop GMOs but they are bringing GMOs. It’s completely what a regulatory agency should not be doing,” Bassey said.
Despite the controversy trailing GMO crops in the country, the multimillion dollar questions anti-GMO campaigners are asking is the safety of the environment and food
FG okays 2nd consignment of yam export to UK, U.S.
Nigerian yam exporters are set to export second consignment of yams to the United Kingdom and United States of America in the first quarter of 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, last Tuesday.
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.
Farmers’ strike: Implications for Nigeria’s cocoa exports
Recently, cocoa farmers threatened to embark on a nationwide strike over the sector’s neglect by the Federal Government. Taiwo Hassan looks at consequences of the industrial action on Nigeria’s cocoa exports
Indeed, this is not the best of time for the country’s cocoa industry despite the role being played by the Federal Government to promote the development of the nation’s non-oil sector after the slump in the price of crude oil at the international market.
Despite the challenges facing the sector, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) has been at the vanguard of repositioning the country’s cocoa industry. But these efforts have not yielded the desired results needed to turnaround the fortunes of the sector under the present administration of Muhammadu Buhari.
Looming industrial strike
Following the instability in the cocoa industry, aggrieved farmers operating in the sector under the aegis of the National Executive Council of the Cocoa Farmers Association of Nigeria (CFAN) a few days ago, insisted that they would embark on a national strike to protest the abnormalities in the sector.
This strike, if allowed, could spell doom for Nigeria’s cocoa production and decline in revenue accruing to the Federal Government from the sale of the commodity at the International market.
The association, in a communiqué after a meeting in Akure, Ondo State, recently, alleged that government procured substandard agro inputs for the sector, which is hampering productivity and consequently decline in profits by its members.
They expressed concern that this was happening, despite the diversification policy of the Federal Government into agriculture.
The farmers vowed to stage a mega protest across the cocoa producing states in the country, including Abuja and Lagos, to make their stance known to the general public on the happenings in the country’s cocoa industry.
They indicted FMARD for the sector’s woes, which is not in tandem with the current realities in the industry.
According to them, they have made several demands, especially in the area of procuring inputs for cocoa farmers, to the agric ministry without positive response and accused government of not carrying them along in its diversification programme.
However, the National President, Raimi Adeniji, the National Secretary, Adeola Adegoke and representatives of 14 states, signed the communiqué on behalf of the association at the meeting.
They said the development negates the Federal Government’s vision to develop the cocoa sector now that the price of the commodity is soaring at the international market.
Indeed, the association condemned the manner of procuring fake and sub-standard inputs for cocoa farmers, which they said, served as wastes and destroys the cocoa trees.
The association said: “CFAN reiterated our earlier call on Mr. President to re-organise procurement process in the cocoa value chain to give room for our contribution.
“Almost a quarter of Nigeria cocoa plantations were destroyed by fire during last year’s dry season without any support from the Federal Government, despite our complaints.”
They appealed to President Buhari to develop the cocoa industry as he promised during his campaigns.
“CFAN appeals to Buhari to intervene urgently to save the livelihood and future of cocoa farmers, considering the diversification campaign of the present administration,” the statement added.
Besides, the association identified economic woes orchestrated by Federal Government’s monetary policy and other farm droughts as the major reasons for the country’s relegation to the seventh position among cocoa producers in the world.
According to the association, the drought, which occurred last year also led to reduction in production of cocoa in the country.
Similarly, the fire outbreak that gutted almost a quarter of Nigeria cocoa plantations during last year’s dry season was a major factor.
They, however, said that lack of synergy between the public and private sector is another reason why Nigeria slipped to the seventh position as against the second or third position, which the country is expected to be.
They explained that this trend has affected the country in a major way while cocoa producers are still getting a little premium on their produce.
The association added that cocoa producers have been affected in terms of collaboration with the government and international cocoa agencies in grants that should come into the sector.
The threat to embark on industrial action by the cocoa farmers would not be in the best interest of everybody as it would further expose the lacuna in this present administration’s diversification programme to revitalise the country’s agric sector optimally.
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