We have laid foundation for massive agricultural exportation —NAQS DG
THE Director General of the Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service, Dr Vincent Isigbe, in this interview with COLLINS NNABUIFE, speaks on his one year in office as the DG of NAQS. He also highlights some activities lined up for the year 2020 and the future of agricultural exportation in Nigeria.
How has your last one year in office been?
The Quarantine Service is quite enormous in terms of responsibilities, because of the assent to the bill. We started first by putting administrative structures in place, and that has to do with the office of the Head of Service, personnel matters and other issues, Federal Civil Service Commission for staff matters and to make sure it has a proper administrative working structure in place, because it is different from what it used to be as a department that was harmonised into the Nigerian Agriculture Quarantine Service, that we have done tremendously well and we are almost through.
The other issue is to make sure that the facilities that we have on ground are proper and working and are in the proper places. The laboratory in Lagos, we have been able to complete it, the one in Abuja is ongoing, there is a lot of work going on in the Ibadan Training Centre, because we thought we could start the training of staff last year, we couldn’t because money was released towards the end of the year so we could not complete most of the jobs.
This year, we will complete most of the major parts so that officers can go there for the training, the laboratory equipment and services too we are upgrading alongside, in fact that was the major reason we built the zonal offices because the whole wing of the complexes is for our laboratory, so immediately we finish, we transfer the equipment to the new building we have there.
We are doing a lot of staff orientation, it is different from being in civil service and public service, there are a lot of things that are new to the staff and which we are carrying staff along to be able to know and understand.
Basically, these are some of the things we have been able to do, then equipment wise, we have been able to bring in some equipment, first in the area of transportation, we have been able to bring in about 16 Hilux vehicles. So most of the stations that do not have any operational vehicle, at least have one branded vehicle they can use.
Some of the ports could not be accessed by private vehicles, and it is important for us because it helps boost our image. That is grossly inadequate in terms of the 65 operating stations and offices that we have, but at least we have started. In the budget of 2020, we will continue to build on such areas.
So we see our first year as a year of laying a lot of foundations for the many things that we intend to do.
In terms of export drive, we are still continuing with the export certification value chain, we identify commodities which are high network value which we want to showcase, highlight and bring the attention of exporters so that we can continue to export such commodity, especially the horticulture. We just finished a meeting with somebody from Edo State who is doing a lot of pineapple export, and we are liaising with him to ensure he is able to meet his own export market because as it is right now he is yet to meet a quarter of the export demand. We had a meeting with the UKAID recently, we discussed how we can increase the scope and how we can help him achieve that his target for export, he has already secured the market.
So, we are seeing how we can identify with promising farmers and encourage them by making sure they have quality products and when they go for export, it will not be rejected.
We signed agreement with the Chinese government, we did Phytosanitary Requirement for them on Forage sorghum which is Guinea Corn, and they are going to export massively our Guinea Corn to China. Their intention is to come and increase the scope by building five Sorghum plantation. This is the first time we are hearing that grains will have a plantation, what it means is that it is going to be on a large land where everything produced there will be exported to China, so that will boost a lot of Sorghum export and production in Nigeria.
We are almost through with Hibiscus, hopefully in the next one month we should be able to finalise the setback we had in Hibiscus export, so that people who have been producing Hibiscus can go back to their businesses.
What are those things you intend to do in 2020?
One major thing we plan to do in 2020 is staff orientation. We are discussing amongst ourselves that we need to orientate our staff in view of our plans to take Quarantine to where we want it to be in the next five years, and the task is enormous.
We see it as we are one of the government agencies that can bail out the Nigerian economy that is if government understands and we have put in the right perspective, we have the capacity to do that. Why I said that is if one commodity in nine months in one country can give $35 million, and you begin to showcase and place other commodities that can earn us so much, then we will earn more.
There is a lot of work that we need to do to get to that level. So we at the Quarantine Service want to ensure that our responsibilities is sorted out, let it be that the Quarantine Service, whatever we need to do to export all those commodities are put in place.
Then, because it is a value chain, we need to involve others in other value chains to ensure that they meet up with the pace at which we are going, so that at the end of the day, Nigeria can achieve the maximum volume of export that we want, that will generate substantial amount of money for the Federal Government, and therefore the farmers will be able to have something in their pockets to take care of their families and be able to improve on their businesses.
Rice is doing well, other commodities like orange flesh potato, there is a lot of package coming up for it. So all those commodities that people are beginning to take interest in, we want to be sure that they are ready for export.
Some, we have even gone ahead to make it ready even when the market have not been exposed, but that we know the potentials are there, so whatever Quarantine will need to do to put the infrastructure in place, we are doing that, because it is just the matter of one customer coming to say he has the market, we don’t have to wait for 3 months, everything should be ready so that whenever the market comes on board, the person will just take up from there.
We will also ensure that the capacity that we need to fulfill our obligations as a National Quarantine Service is in place, we are going to do a lot of training of staff, and most of our trainings are specialist in nature, in the sense that they are specific goal oriented trainings because of the nature of our work.
Now if you notice, the EU has brought in a new regulation which took effect from last year 14th December concerning the new rules of export into their countries, and we need to be abreast will all that new requirements, and put every machinery in place so that every exporter is aware of what he or she is supposed to do, and we too ensure that the obligation is satisfied, and then we can have seamless export.
We have realised that there are certain commodities that as a country we have not been able to export for one reason or the other. Last year we started putting machinery in place, this one will take us the next five to tenyears to be able to overcome that challenge, it is a process, because the international audit team would have come and audit our process, so once we have started, we have been notified, then we start the process, monitor it and ensure that it stabilises, once you can get consistent result in the two to three years, then we can make report for their formal evaluation, they will come and evaluate, and watch us for the next two to three years before their audit team will come and certify processes that we have undertaken.
We don’t just want to sit down as the National Quarantine Service, we have started and we are yet to get to the point when we can invite them. This is our second year, we are going to intensify concerning those commodities and ensure that we don’t just produce it and it waste in the country, we should be in the position to export them.
We have a lot of international obligations and meetings to attend and such obligations and meetings are such that we need to fulfill them, we owe that opportunity to defend the country, when such meetings are held, especially when it comes to standardisation, we need to make Nigerian position known. There is usually the Nigerian position, and then the West African position, then there will be the African position.
If when they bring up a new regulation, they will bring it up for discussion, we will look at the content of the discussion, see our capacity and capabilities to know if we can meet up with that obligation, if there are challenges, we will let the international organisation know that we need training so that if there is support, they can offer the support. If it is something that we cannot and we need to go back and develop, we will make our position known and they will give us time frame which will be making annual report.
So it is a matter of Quarantine attending these meetings regularly and stating the position of Nigeria as the case may be so that we will be able to meet that obligation, if we don’t attend and decisions are taken in our absence, it becomes binding on us, so the cost is not attending such international meetings could be high, because look at the number of commodities that we need to export, so when issues of such commodities come up, we are Nigeria, probably we will be the biggest producers, should be able to make a statement.
The United Nations declared this year as a year of Plant health, what is the significance of this declaration?
Food is life and plant food is the most staple one, meats are like supplementary, the one we eat to sustain us is mostly the plant food, so it is important that we secure plant health so that our crops in the field are healthy, and they can produce, people can eat from it stay healthy, sell some and be able to take care of our needs.
So if there is any challenge to plant health, then there is challenge to National food security, and if there is challenge to national food security, then by implication, there is challenge to international food security.
So, it is important that we are able to secure our boundaries that there is no foreign pest or disease coming in and we too ensure that in our own country, we are not generating any disease that can leave our own country to our neighbor’s, that is one of the critical agreement between the International Plant Protection Convention, to which Nigeria is a signatory to.
So, we have a duty to secure plant health just as we have a duty to secure animal health, the focus is this plant health which 2020 has been declared as international year of plant health and the 6th of December every year from 2021 will be declared as international day for plant health.
So it is very critical for us as a country, our own government too have subscribed to that since the inauguration in 2019, and we are part of the strong lead government agency to ensure that plant health in this country is secured, protected and promoted.
We have gone ahead to establish 6 plant clinics and hopefully this year we are going to bring in another 6 in such a way that by next year we are able to have one plant health clinic in each of the senatorial zones, gradually, we will fill the whole senatorial zones, but let’s start with 1 per geopolitical zone.