Success of air cargo in Nigeria would herald export revolution ― Ikechi Uko

KEY players both from within and outside the country’s aviation sector have identified importance of air cargo to a stronger economic empowerment of the country through a virile food distribution and wealth for farmers.

Stressing the positivity abounding in good synergy between aviation cargo and agro business at the recently held CHINET21 Aviation Cargo Conference in Lagos the different stakeholders laid emphasis on how symbiotic relationships between government agencies and other relevant players will engender profitable end result for the aviation sector in the country with an extension to farmers.

Lending his voice, the Chief organiser of the CHINET21 Conference, the first of its kind, Mr Ikechi Uko while speaking on what the country stood to gain from such a conference, identified the need for the various forms of government to put more attention to the hitherto challenge confronting adequate packaging of food products by farmers for outward exportation.

Emphasising the importance of investing more on better packaging, Ikechi in line with the communique which emanated from the conference, said apart from the problem of packaging cited the issue of certification and traceability which he said formed the integral part of a successful packaging.

“Even those who say packaging is not a problem also said that Nigerians do not package well, packaging is very important. We are told that if you are doing fruits, there has to be holes so that air can enter, if you are doing vegetables it has to be packed like this, if you are doing meat, there are specifications and if you go to any store in Europe and see how those things are packed, it is the same mangoes, the same bananas, why don’t we invest in packaging?

“I don’t think anybody can say packaging is not a problem, what I have heard is that packaging alone is not a solution to the problem, there is the certification and the traceability, we have to know what you use in your farm and what type of chemicals are you using in your farm? It is important, that is where we have problem in Nigeria.

Speaking on why farmers needed to be carried along if air cargo in the country must get a boost and the necessity of certification, Ikechi declared “First, we are getting educated about the IGAP projects, almost all the big stores in the world have those certifications.

“We don’t have many people in Nigeria who do certification; most times you have to bring outsiders to come and certify that this product. When someone is growing his grains or apple and he says he wants to export, if it is not certified it cannot go, we need to start getting into that certification level.

“Nigeria as a country needs to look into that because that is a big problem, these people have to come say these are the standards, these are the chemicals that are not allowed to be used for farming and there has to be an extension program to our farmers, States government have to come in to help their farmers who want to export to be able to set the right standards.

“If you are going to plant apple, these are the chemicals you cannot use so, that traceability starts from the farm, you don’t need to come and check my produce at the airport, I already have certification from the farms, State governments now have to get involved in that aspect.

“For this export thing to work, state governments have to get involved in the farm because farm produce are 75 per cent of our export, traceability is important. So, our advocacy would be to the Ministry of Agriculture in each of those states because that is what delivers the quality that we can put in the aircraft.

On whether the cargo conference signified a light at the end of the dark tunnel towards the growth or enhancement of air cargo in the country, Ikechi replied: “I think so and I will tell you why. This is big business, passenger traffic is very small, a particular airline brings a passenger plane in a day and brings five cargo planes in a day so, cargo is massive and we have a country where we need to employ people, we need to feed people, we are just importing. The success of air cargo in Nigeria would herald an export revolution in this country, that if we are going to make air cargo seamless in this country, it is going to be massive.

“Goods do rot, tomatoes is harvested it doesn’t get to the table, it rots, if you put it in these trailers and they say one bridge has broken somewhere, it rots. Air cargo is the future for food distribution, for wealth for farmers, for the economy. For me, what we have started with the air cargo conference is not just the export, the Director-General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) told me, you are thinking of export what of domestic cargo, that this is even bigger, no domestic cargo airline, we only have one that is distributing for DHL, where are the domestic cargo planes, none.

There is no domestic cargo airline, there is domestic cargo distribution by air, everybody is stuck on the road, the roads keep going bad meanwhile, one Boeing 737 plane can carry what 20 trailers are carrying in one hour and come back. A 737 deployed on a route can take out all those trailers bringing produce. What this conference has done is to highlight the importance of air cargo and I see it as the future of not just aviation but trade and wealth for Nigeria.”

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