How Nigerian farmers can make money from exporting vegetables —DG NAQS
Director General of the Nigerian Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS), Dr Vincent Isigbe, in this interview with COLLINS NNABUIFE, highlights the benefits of exporting agricultural products, especially vegetables. He also speaks on the plans of the NAQS in assisting farmers in exporting agricultural products.
What are the plans for this year in terms of exportation of agricultural produce?
The plan is still on, like we said earlier, we selected 10 commodities now, last year we did first 10 export certification value chain out of which we did the Improvement Initiative of 3, that is vegetable, Sesame and Hibiscus, this time we are doing another 10, and from that 10 we will eventually choose about 4 or 5 to do the export improvement initiative, the essence of this is to focus on some commodities, bring out the highlights, areas where either the farmer or the exporter of the financial consultant will have an in depth as to the profitability of going into the production and export of those commodities. Some of them are readily available in the country, but probably there is no organized market for it, by the time it is highlighted, you will see what the commodity stands in the world market production level, and if he has an organized structure, he can approach the Nexim Bank to look for facilities that will help him, Nexim Bank too have their conditions.
So all these opportunities that are available in the financial sector should be made accessible to the farmers to go into very serious business. An Army General has just established a farm and already he is doing the third export (vegetable) to UK, so the market is limitless and Nigerians needs to know what they should do to be able to access those individual markets and it is our responsibility to expose them to the need for them to do these things properly, so that’s where we are, we are bringing in some unconventional agricultural commodities and we want to introduce them to those areas. And we my new appointment now, we have just created one additional zone in the South East to cover the South Eastern farmers, formally, they used to be under the South Zone, but we have aligned them with the 6 geopolitical zones in the country now, so that the specific needs of the farmers in the South East zone can be taken into a special consideration, we are aware also that the farmers in the South East have been doing a lot of export initiative especially Enugu and Anambra, so we want to be there to encourage them so that they do these things properly.
How are you managing the fact that vegetables being a perishable commodity gets to its destination in good shape?
That’s part of our job as Quarantine officers, we are there at the farm to even tell you how to farm the vegetables, what chemicals to apply, when to harvest based on your flight schedule, we tell you to have a pack farm within hour house which is like the dressing room on the farm. So vegetable are harvested, we tell you how to harvest them and how to put them in pack houses and how to treat them and we will also encourage you to get a cold van to Transport them from the farm to the airport so that the shelf life and the rate of wilting is reduced to the barest minimum, and we will let your shipping agent know the importance of putting these things in place, the airline of course know that they should have refrigerated cabins to carry the vegetable. So it is a chain that we maintain from the farmer who is producing through the transporter to either the warehouse manager or product handling companies to the airline operators and eventually to the destination, so each and every of those persons have been properly briefed by Quarantine to know what they should do, so for perishable products like vegetable, that’s what we do.
Some like snail could be in frozen State, the follow the same format that the handling companies should provide refrigeration, if it frozen, it has to be below zero degree centigrade, but if it’s like vegetables, if you freeze vegetables, by the time you defrost it will wilt completely, so depending on the State we are carrying it will determine an advice on what temperature it should be carried so that it can get to the destination in good condition. So all the vegetables from Abuja have been entering U.K. in good conditions.
How are we planning to carry along the farmers who does not have money to acquire some equipment that to enhance shipping of their products, but they want to participate?
That again is why Quarantine is involved, each business has its own rules and conditions, if it is not convenient for you to farm and export a commodity, even if you want to do it, we will let you know because at the end of the day, the cost of production will be very high.
Now, it will not be easy for an average farmer probably from the far hunter land to say he want to do vegetable farming for export, he has to be close to an airport city because there are requirements for those trade and that’s why Quarantine takes time to let each farmer know.
The hinterland can farm for its vicinity, supposing he has land in the hinterland, then he must have a cold van to transport the commodity, so all those things will have to be discussed not everybody can be an exporter just like not everybody can be a farmer, that’s why the value chain is so important, you have somebody producing, you have somebody selling agriculture chemical, you have someone that his own business is just warehousing, he doesn’t own a farmer, but he has a lot of warehouse where farmers can come and keep their commodities before exporters can come and buy or wholesale buyers will come and buy, then you have the cold van operators, who will go and pick a particular consignment from the farm, straight to the airport, that is his business, then you have the handling companies who are processors that process the commodity between the exporter and the airline, they have the facilities, they are registered under the aviation regulations to collect the consignment from the exporter of the agent and hand it over to the airline, and of course you have the airline who just flies it to the point of reception of course that too has its own rules and regulations, before any airline takes an plant material they will demand for phyto-certificate, so if you have your commodity and you don’t have the phyto-certificate the airline will reject it and the phyto-certificate is issued by NAQS, so each and everyone of the value chain operators have a specific role, and rules and regulations guiding that function, so you are a farmer, and you want to export, then I will most likely advice that jet you farm be located close to the airport, if it is not close to the airport, then you may need to serve the local market or any specialized market of your choice.
What is the status of EU’s ban on our beans?
The ban will expire by June this year, it started in 2016, it’s a 3 year suspension, and we are working round the clock, both the NAQS, the farmers, the exporters and the marketing Associations, we are doing a lot of sampling too so that we can find the trend, and so far the trend is reducing, as we are talking, we have collected the last batch of samples which we are going to analyze soon to add to the record we have before, and then we can make a formal submission to the EU for them to evaluate, the ministry too is doing its own through the Zero Reject Committee, which the ministry set up, so we are working from various ends to ensure that collectively, when the efforts are put together we will be able to achieve the need for the EU to lift the suspension on our beans.
As a full Director General of NAQS, what will happen differently?
The Quarantine rules and duties will not change, but the forts and commitment with which we are going to put towards what we are doing will have to be much more than before because the Quarantine is going to play a very important role reviving the economy, don’t forget the demand for fossil oil Internationally is reducing and it is even compounded by the fact that the price is even low, so what we need to do as a nation to increase revenue for government is either through Information Communication Technology (ICT) or any form of technology, through manufacturing and through other services that we can deliver, the services could be as technical as offering, that is what other countries are doing and they are making a lot of money, on our own part, ours is to ensure that we export a lot of Agriculture produce, we have the best of weather, we don’t have winter, when others say they have winter, that is when we are harvesting our beans, that is when we are doing irrigation service, new onions are coming up, new tomatoes and other irrigated products are being harvested, so we don’t really have any reason not to produce all year round and export all year round, so that is the area we are focusing on.
And those things we have in abundance which other countries are in dear need of, we should be able to put our acts together and export. Cinnamon, Turmeric, these are highly medicinal agricultural produce that most counties use as tea of as supplement, by the time we produce and be able to add value to it by making it into powder, we will be able to supply larger quantity than exporting raw or unprocessed Turmeric, ginger or onion as the case may be. So, we are looking at innovative ways of doing that, even the beans issue that you mentioned, we are looking at possibilities of developing biodegradable pesticides that will not carry any dangerous synthetic chemical that will affect our export, by the time we are able to do that, then we don’t have issues, since it is biodegradable and is of biological origin, no country will kick against it, so these are possibilities that Quarantine is working on in conjunction with the various universities and other business individuals who have been trying one or two things in producing economic pesticides. Some companies have come with some products to show us that they are bio-pesticides, we will work alongside them and see how we can assist them in developing it probably into a commercial quantity through the assistance from government so that it will be available for farmers.