Stakeholders in Nigeria’s agricultural sector are evolving proactive strategies aimed at improving the quality of processed goods to overcome the ban on some produce exported from the country.
This is contained in a special survey conducted by the Newsmen on the ban placed on some 25 exportable produce by the European Union (EU) between 2015 and 2016.
The respondents across the South West states and Kwara fielded questions in separate interviews. In Abeokuta, the Chairman of the Ogun branch of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Mr Segun Dasaolu, told Newsmen, farmers were engaging in effective collaborative efforts with the state government in the area of training.
This, he said, was to ensure they were acquainted with the international standards and requirements for agricultural produce.
“The state government has begun to organise series of seminars for our members on production methods, processing and packaging through the Ministry of Agriculture,” Dasaolu said.
He urged the Federal Government to step up quality control management system for agricultural products to enhance their acceptability in the global market.
He said government must ensure through its relevant agencies that various food law requirements must be complied with during production while the entire process in the agricultural chain must be complied with.
The chairman also advocated for the promotion of organic system of farming in Nigeria to boost the nutritional value of the country’s farm products. “With organic system, we will do away with synthetic chemicals and fertilisers which constitute the major basis for the rejection of our products at the global market.
“Although it is expensive to practise but it will guarantee high quality for our farm produce and also enhance and create wider market for our goods at the world market,” he said.
Prof. Olufemi Peters, the Executive Director, Nigerian Stored Products Research Institute (NSPRI), Ilorin, noted that the EU may have banned locally smoked fish from Nigeria because of its health hazard.
Peters, a Professor of Chemistry, told Newsmen that locally smoked fish contains poly aromatic hydrocarbon which could cause cancer. “One of the main disadvantages of the way peasant farmers smoke their fish is the presence of what we call polyaromatic hydrocarbon in the fish,’’ said the don.
The don said the institute has designed smoking kiln that is environmentally-friendly and free from polyaromatic hydrocarbon. Peters added that NSPRI smoking kiln is hygienic and free from any form of health hazard, adding that fish smoked by the kiln could compete with any in the world.
According to him, once there is mass production of the kiln, fish farmers could export their smoked fish to any part of the world. However, beans farmers in Kwara called for thorough checks on chemicals used in the preservation of farm produce.
A beans farmer, Mr Dada Olotu, said most farmers use fake chemicals to preserve their produce, making it unsafe for consumption. He called on NAFDAC to check the activities of pesticide companies in order to control the influx of fake chemicals into the market.
Also speaking, the Chairman of AFAN in the state, Mr Olawale Ajibola, said lack of basic techniques in processing farm produce was responsible for the rejection of some produce by the EU.
“One major reason why those food items were rejected is because they found out after testing that the chemicals used for preservation were either too much or dangerous to health.
“The agricultural research institutes in the country should be revived and equipped to be able to carry out necessary research and testing on food items produced in the country,’’ he said.
In Ibadan, Mr Ojedeji Joseph, the Chairman of Cocoa Farmers Association of Nigeria, Oyo State chapter, said many produce fail the standards test abroad due to reluctance of farmers or middlemen to follow strictly the processing regime.
Citing the case of cocoa, Joseph said the steps to be taken in cocoa processing were depoding, fermentation, drying and storage, adding that a failure in any of these stages may lead to rejection.
Joseph said many farmers were now feeling the impact of the ban on their income and were working assiduously to meet the standards through painstaking processing of their farm produce.
He, however, lamented the dearth of the modern processing equipment for some produce, saying this may affect the quality of produce meant for export.
In Ado-Ekiti, the state goverment said measures were being adopted toward ensuring that cash crops such as cocoa beans produced in the state and packaged for export were made to meet international standard.
The state Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Mr Kehinde Odebunmi, said farmers were incurring huge losses due to poor packaging.
He called on relevant stakeholders, particularly farmers, to be passionate about the quality of cocoa processed for export so as not to risk rejection in the international market.
According to him, the state would soon review its grading methods for cocoa to meet international market requirement. He disclosed that the state had also begun moves to create additional cocoa plantations in the three senatorial districts.
The commissioner explained that the investment would help the state to rake in about N1 billion yearly and about N20 billion per annum in 10 years to come through sustained efforts.
Odebunmi said given the current market price, cocoa farmers in the state would rake in about N235 million this season if their cocoa was well packaged while government generate about N135 million from grading and sundry fees.
An official of the state chapter of the Cocoa Growers Association, Mr Jayeola Dawidu, said the group was not happy with the development in the international market concerning cocoa sale and pricing.
He enjoined members to start ensuring adequate processing of the cocoa pod, especially during the dry stage in order to attract foreign buyers. Mr Moses Oladipupo, the Chairman of CFAN in Osun, said that lack of government commitment to agriculture was responsible for the rejection of the country’s farm produce.
Oladipupo told Newsmen in Osogbo that lack government support for farmers by government at all levels had led to export of low quality cocoa and other farm produce.
According to him, due to lack of training, farmers do not care about standards during planting.
“As a result of this lack of training, farmers still process and preserve cocoa and other farm produce by drying them along the highways where such produce are exposed to contamination by rodents, flies and even humans. “Even locally, some of our farm produce are being rejected because of low quality,’’ he lamented.
Oladipupo said there was urgent need for government to send out extension workers to rural areas to sensitise farmers and monitor farming activities.
“When I was young, there used to be marketing boards which send out agricultural extension workers to villages to monitor the processing of farm produce.
“If such innovation can be revived, it would help to eliminate poor primary food processing by Nigerian farmers.
“In addition to that, government should change the orientation of farmers as majority are very adamant and would want to stick to the old methods of farming and processing of farm produce,’’ he said.
“Government should organise seminars and a school programme called `Farm Feed School’ for farmers to teach them the modern and standard ways to process cocoa and other farm produce.
“The ‘farm feed school’ is a programme where extension workers will go to farmers and teach them what they need to know about the standard ways of planting, processing and preservation of crops for export,’’ he said.
Oladipupo, however, said that cocoa farmers in the state were trying their best to ensure that the produce meets international standards by ensuring proper processing. Also speaking, Mr Kayode Afolabi, the Chairman of AFAN in Osun, said for farm produce to meet international standards, government agencies in charge of quality control must be involved in the process of agro production and processing.
Afolabi said the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) and NAFDAC needed to be involved in farm produce processing.
He also said that organic fertiliser should be used instead of inorganic to make farm produce more natural.
Afolabi said the association was trying to educate its members on the use of inorganic materials for farm produce in order to meet international standards.
Speaking in the same vein, Prof. Timothy Olabiyi, a Crop and Environmental expert, said that the use of high chemical components by farmers was affecting the acceptability of the nation’s farm produce in the international market.
Olabiyi, a lecturer in the Department of Crop and Environmental Protection, Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Ogbomoso, said organic agriculture was still the best practice farmers must learn.
He said the rate at which farmers were using chemicals for farm produce was alarming. According to him, Nigerian farmers are so used to chemical application to the extent that some of them believe they could not farm without chemical application.
“Before any developed country takes any farm produce from Nigeria, they will assess the chemical residue in it. “And at a point, when the chemical in the farm produce exceed the required standard, it will be rejected. “We need to start producing high quality produce devoid of chemicals, insects and wood, among others.
“In as much as we continue to have all those things in our produce, the international community will not accept our farm produce,’’ he said. Olabiyi, who noted that chemical components in farm produce do more harm than good, said farmers must be encouraged to embrace organic agriculture.
He said the use of synthetic fertilisers, pesticides, antibiotics and herbicides are not allowed in organic farming. Olabiyi said the use of organic manure for farming makes farm produce to be fertile and less harmful to the human body.
“Before the advent of chemical for farming after the Second World War, we practised conventional agriculture in the country. “We have been practicing agriculture and feeding the nation without the use of chemicals, but with the advent of chemicals, people have become lazy.
“What we are supposed to use hands to do on the farms, we prefer the alternative way of doing it with the use of chemicals,’’ he said. Olabiyi said government must encourage organic farming for farm produce to meet international standards.
Dr Richard Akinwale of the Department of Crop Production and Protection, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, said the rejection of Nigerian crops by the EU was due to poor processing of farm produce.
He urged Nigerian farmers to improve the processing system and also reduce the use of the pesticides applied on crops for it to meet international standards.
In Akure, Mr Emmanuel Giwa, the Chairman of AFAN, Ondo State Chapter, urged states and the federal government to support farmers in boosting the standards of cash crops meant for export.
Giwa said encouragement from government at all levels would go a long way to ensure that cash crops from Nigeria meet export standards. He identified training of farmers on planting, harvesting and storing of crops as part of measures that could improve the standard of crops.
“Things are changing. There are a lot of new and improved species of these cash crops in the world today. “If the government can provide us the seedlings of these species that meet the EU standards, then farmers can plant and generate more income,’’ he said.
Giwa, who is also the President of Ondo State Farmers Congress, said the association constantly organises awareness campaigns to sensitise farmers at ward, local and state levels on ways to improve their farm produce.