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.