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Improve on Nigeria’s food exports to earn revenue

The routine rejection of Nigeria’s food export items in American, European and Asian markets has remained a challenge which the federal government has failed to…

The routine rejection of Nigeria’s food export items in American, European and Asian markets has remained a challenge which the federal government has failed to resolve successfully in spite of several attempts to do so. The sad situation was revisited recently by the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, at the opening of a six-day training for members of the National Codex Committee (NCC) on Food Safety Risk Analysis and the revised NCC procedural manual, organised in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). According to him, the rejection is adversely affecting the country economically through diminished generation of foreign exchange and related incomes for Nigeria export-oriented farmers.

Ehanire also blamed the situation on lack of adherence to quality standards, and which is not giving the country a good image. “It is affecting us economically, tourism-wise and in every other aspect,” he observed. In empirical terms, it manifests as a significant measure of trade imbalance. For instance, Nigeria imported N1.7 trillion of food items in 2020 and exported a paltry N321.5 billion worth of food items.

Seen in perspective, Ehanire’s take has remained a lingering challenge to the federal government as it reportedly has been seeking a solution to the rejection of Nigerian export products, especially the agro products in the international market. Interestingly, it was also in respect of this challenge that the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Otunba Adeniyi Adebayo, in May 2022, inaugurated a committee to look into the issue, and proffer sustainable remedies to the problem.

The minister had also blamed the problem on quality, standard, certification and appropriate packaging for made-in-Nigeria products for export as recurring issues that justified the setting up of the technical committee. The terms of reference of the committee included the identification of the major causes for the export reject of Nigerian agro commodities, as well as determine the roles played by exporters or institutional infractions that tend to promote export reject of Nigerian agro commodities.

Against the backdrop of the country’s present economic challenges, at no other time than now is the problem of rejection of Nigeria’s food exports most acute. With the challenges associated with diminishing revenue from the oil sector, courtesy of unprecedented levels of oil theft, beyond the vast revenue losses associated with the dispensation, are the other challenges of diminished access to Nigerian foods by Nigerians living abroad, as well as foreigners who are interested in the vast array of Nigerian foods. The image factor which borders on projecting the country as a source of sub-standard food exports, is also an issue. Hence the setting up of the committee to address the issue of rejection of Nigeria’s food exports is a step in the right direction even as the dividends of the exercise are yet to manifest significantly. And the country continues to suffer avoidably.

Ordinarily, Nigerian exports are in two categories; namely the oil and non-oil, with the former dominating the export mix. However, with the country featuring a primarily agrarian economy, the rejection of its food export items constitute  a major obstacle to  its aspirations to boost its non-oil export category and develop the agricultural sector further.  This is why the present state of affairs remains unacceptable and needs to be redressed with dispatch. The situation calls for a renewed effort at resolving the problem in order to give the country the opportunity to harness its full potentials in the global export market.

 Presently, the country’s non-oil exports mix features basically a preponderance of raw materials which serve as mere feedstock to foreign based industries, and provide limited added value to Nigerian farmers and food processors. Such feedstock comprises Sesame oil (which is the leader), cocoa, cassava derived food items like garri, cassava flour, ginger, soya, coconuts and flowers.

Among the immediate implications is that it constitutes a tacit indictment on the various government agencies involved in the management of the country’s agricultural value and which constitutes the driver for generating agricultural produce and related export items. The situation can and should be resolved through a renewed commitment by the relevant agencies of government with the responsibility of promoting exports, in particular food items.

In this respect remains the need for a revisit of whatever collaboration between the   ministries of Agriculture, Trade and Industry as well as Health towards providing a lasting solution to the lingering challenge of rejection of Nigerian food exports. Considering that the issue borders on the failure of government officials to enforce global export market standards on local exporters, the situation is a matter of administrative restructuring. It simply remains a matter of implementing established standards as obtained across the world.

Furthermore, we will not fail to mention that there are international policies that also hamper export of our food items, whereby some countries deliberately prevent import of items from some countries, including Nigeria. We, therefore, call on the government to explore all avenues to address that to ensure collaborations.

There are vast opportunities in global markets where the country’s products can penetrate with significant spin-offs for the economy. Such should not be lost to the country for whatever reason.