Time Nigeria’s investigation revealed how a desperate move to strengthen a weak economy get knocks. SAMUEL OYEJOLA writes
When the Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh told the world that Africa has no excuse for not being able to feed herself, most Nigerians waved it as rhetoric of an eloquent politician.
The minister appears to walk the talk. On June 29, Nigeria reached a milestone by exporting 72 metric tons of yams to China, Britain and the United States.
Nigeria, according to the Food and Agricultural Organisation is the largest producer of Yam in the world, amounting to close to 60% of the world production. Yet this potential was untapped until few months ago.
Had Nigeria exported half of its yam production in 2008 alone, the country would have realized over $2billons. That the country slides into recession most Nigerians lay the blame on previous administrations’ negligence.
An electronic media organization (Africa Independent Television) had reported that yams exported to Britain and the United States were rejected due to its poor state upon arrival to the countries. The medium concluded that poor inter-agency collaboration resulted in the rejection.
While the television station had reported rotten yams, other platforms also had a field day based on the report.
To Audu Ogbeh, the launch of yam exportation to the world is far from mere political jamboree but a celebration of the country‘s claim to explore its potential in yam production.
Investigation by Time Nigeria reveled that yams exported to the United States were delivered, inspected by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the off taker claimed the products.
FDA exclusively revealed to Time Nigeria that within July and September 2017 Nigeria’s exports to the US had 24 rejections.
Further analysis revealed that four products were rejected in July. Yam was not one of the rejected products.
In August ten products were rejected by the FDA. Food rejected in August were smoked fish, custard, mix, soda water carbonated, soft drinks other fruit flavoured carbonated, mint candy, hard, without nuts and fruit (without chocolate) , pharmaceutical products, miscellaneous patent medicines, snails terrestrial and other aquatic species. It must be noted that all products rejected in August were within 4th and the 31st.
In September the FDA rejected only pharmaceutical products and some cash crops within 1st of September and20th of same month.
“There have never been any report of yam rejection we exported anywhere,” Wan- Nyyikwagh Farms Nig. Ltd had told Time Nigeria in a telephone chat.
According to a Press release from the ministry signed by the Special Adviser to the Minister on Media and Communication, Olukayode Oyeleye, made available to Time Nigeria, the minister said that his ministry would restore the value chain in yam exportation.
“Nigeria must export” as the “country’s economy is increasing, and in ten years’ time, oil and gas is going to drop. Then we may have nothing to earn foreign exchange except we begin to diversify our export base now,” Audu Ogbeh said.
He vowed to push for more agricultural export to the outside world. “We’re not going to stop because this is not enough to demoralize us. We have food to export. Never mind what so-called critics are doing.”
That yams from Nigeria are making it to the international market is one big step in the actualization of the Ministry’s vision for the country. With resourceful native knowledge combined with strong collaboration with international organization, global best practices would be achieved in yam production.
Having learned from the three year ban on Nigerian beans by the European Food Safety Authority, Audu Ogbeh promised to liaise with the port authority on the provision of cooling trucks to preserve all perishable exports.
“We’re going to talk to the port authority on cooling vans for vegetables and fresh produce so that exporters don’t lose money and we don’t lose face. We should begin to build cold trucks that are temperature-controlled to keep the yams till the time they have to go. We should invest in special containers for their storage.”
“If other countries are doing it, we too can do it. We’re trying to take over the market. We’ve come to nearly 70 per cent of raw output of yams. Why can’t Nigerians in Texas, Canada, London and Germany have access to the yams?” He wondered.