The Director General of Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS), Dr Vincent Isegbe, in this interview, speaks on the plans of NAQS to embark on exportation of agricultural commodities following the easing of lockdown initially occasioned by the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic. He also speaks on the effect of the lockdown on agro export. COLLINS NNABUIFE brings excerpts.
BRIEFLY give a rundown of the impact of COVID-19 on agricultural export.
COVID-19 just as it has affected every aspect of the economy, has affected agriculture, and it has affected the agricultural export as well because every other thing that has to do with production, the logistics of moving them from the point of production to the export desk has been affected one way or the other. Of course we have been on ground all this while, because we see ourselves as essential service provider who is always available to render these services whether there is public holiday or not.
So, on our part we are there, but again, there was limitations in movement, farmers could not go to their farms because of restriction of movement until it was relaxed.
Some of the crops we produced in the hinterland could not be accessed and brought to the market, and it is from some of these sources that some people get their materials for export.
COVID-19 has generally affected every sector of the economy including agriculture and by implication to the export trade, but that is not to say that we didn’t make any effort during the lockdown, we tried to salvage the situation by saying that if there is any available flight into the country, we could export whatever we can.
As the lockdown is being eased, and flight activities is gradually resuming, what is the plan?
Well, we have been on ground, if you recall the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) issued a circular for the resumption of exportation of agricultural produce, that letter too was sent to the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), the Customs, Police and to the Service Companies, so each and everyone of them is aware. And before now like I said earlier, export has been going on at the available opportunities that we have, so each and everyone of those organisations are involved
So, once the lockdown is relatively eased to enable flight to start operating, we will come back in full force.
Which crops are we exporting to be exported this year?
We have reviewed and developed for 19 commodities and we are still counting. We have some of the conventional ones like rice, cocoa, sesame, ginger, garlic, onions, and we have new ones like Nsukka pepper, turmeric cinnamon, fish, vegetables and other new ones that we are developing, because we want to make sure that they are available and highlighted so that those who are interested in exporting them can go ahead.
Honey is among them too, snail, cow horn and hoof. Those days they used to throw away the cow horns and hoof, but people are picking them, cleaning them up, process them into trophies and then the hoofs are grinded for fertiliser and other components and shipped to overseas. So, there are things people were throwing away before because they didn’t find any value for it, but now, a lot of people are processing it. In fact, someone sent in 310 metric tons of cow horn just in one consignment.
Is Quarantine assisting farmers in the hinterland who find it difficult to transport their crops to point of export?
That does not directly fall under the mandate of the NAQS, if we know that there is an exportable product somewhere and for one reason or the other, it cannot be moved to the market or to where exporters can buy them, we will draw the attention of the state or local government to that fact to see what they can do, or almost we involve the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to see if they can help because it is a rural development department, but sincerely, that should be the function of the state government to be able to make accessible roads for the agricultural produce to come to the market.
What are the challenges the NAQS is facing?
One of the challenges is that we were not able to expand the way we would have loved to expand because of the constraints of funding, personnel, infrastructure and we will love to have more trainings. All these, it is not that they are not there, but you see, quarantine is one of the fastest growing disciplines you find, and it is hi-tech because you need to work with speed, with efficiency, because you are working on behalf of your whole country to meet the need of another country. So, high specialization is required for the various categories of staff. We have quite a number of high profile officers but we would have loved to have more, we have about 10 PhD holders, and countless Master degree holders, but again, there are lots of areas of specialization that you may begin to wonder why we need such calibre of officers. When you talk of GMOs, it is whole lot of area, if you talk of fruits, there are insects that affects fruits, there are viruses that affect fruits and of course too, the conditioning of the fruit for export is another area that we have to look at.
Another area is the pesticides, we are having challenges with them, some people are bringing in some unregistered pesticides, some are being wrongly applied, we need to ensure that those who are producing, there is proper knowledge of integrated pest management so that the application, the use and the management of those pesticides is well understood, where there is no specialist to apply that and if a farmers wants to do it on his own, he should be trained to be able to manage it well. So we need regulations to control that.
What is the status of NAQS training centres in the country?
We have a training centre in Ibadan, we have been doing the renovation for the past 2 years, we had thought that by June or July or latest by September, the first batch of officers would go for the training, but COVID-19 disrupted the plan, we are going to review the dates for the admissions so that we can allow staff to come in, then Customs clearing agents will also be given the opportunity to come and understand the basics as why they need to do this quarantine Inspection and certification and other people who are stakeholdeers, so that in doing that, they will help in this issue of self regulation so that we now have someone who is within the industry that knows what to do and they will get in touch with us even before those things are brought for inspection and certification so that we have shorter clearance time.
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