Nigeria on Thursday began to export yams to Europe and the United States, as part of moves to diversify its oil-dependent economy and earn much-needed foreign exchange.
Agriculture minister Audu Ogbeh flagged off the first consignment of the fibrous tuber from the port in the country’s economic capital, Lagos.
“Oil and gas cannot employ millions of people just like agriculture so we must work hard to move from oil to earning foreign exchange from agriculture,” he said on Wednesday.
“To make yam competitive, we will work on the packages and the right types of trucks to be used for transportation of the produce,” he said.
According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), Nigeria accounts for 61 per cent of the world’s total yam output. Ogbeh said not all of it was consumed, causing waste.
But with food shortages in conflict-hit parts of the country’s northeast and food inflation nudging 20 percent, there are fears the policy could hit consumers in the pocket.
Yams, a staple grown across Nigeria, have gone up in price since last August when the country slipped into recession as a result of low global oil prices.
Nigeria relies on crude oil sales for 90 percent of foreign exchange earnings and 70 percent of government revenue.
But the worldwide oil slump slashed revenues, weakened the naira, pushed up inflation and stalled investment prompting the government to look to the non-oil sector to stem the tide.
“The (yam export) policy is going to compound our suffering,” said Lagos housewife Bolanle Akintomo.
“A tuber of yam that used to sell for between 200 and 300 naira (63-95 US cents, 56-83 euro cents) is now 1,000 naira ($3.2, 2.8 euros).
“With exports, the price will further go up.”
The National Association of Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Manufacturing and Agriculture said incentives were needed to produce enough yams for local and overseas consumption.
“There may be an increase in prices at the short-term but the prices will fall as more yams come to the market,” a NACCIMA official said.
Denja Yaqub of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), said the initiative could encourage farmers to increase output, earning foreign exchange for the cash-strapped economy.
“The policy will also make our agricultural produce competitive in the international market,” he added.
Yaqub said the government needed to reduce fuel costs for farmers, upgrade roads and improve storage facilities to cut waste in the supply chain and ultimately lower prices.
Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Chief Audu Ogbeh is upbeat. Under him, Nigeria’s push to build a robust export-based economy appears to have started.
Barring any last minute hitches, Nigeria will, this week, export 72 metric tonnes of yam to Europe and the United States (US). The shipment, according to Ogbeh, will be in three containers of 24 metric tonnes each; one container will go to the United Kingdom (UK) the rest, US.
Ahead of the planned shipment, the Minister has announced that the Federal Government targets about $8 billion in foreign exchange annually from yam export to other countries.
Ogbeh, who made this known when he received the Technical Committee on Nigeria Yam Export Programme in Abuja, said yesterday’s launch of the programme would enable the country earn foreign exchange from agric produce to substitute the oil and gas sector.
The Nigerian Yam Export Programme is a private sector initiative aimed at taking yam processing to the next level. It was inaugurated in February this year. Its Technical Committee was made up of representatives from the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS) and the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), among others.
The Committee’s mandate was to sensitise farmers and exporters on the required international standards for yam before export, and facilitate acquisition of warehouses at the receiving destinations, among others.
The Yam Export Programme, The Nation learnt, became necessary because of Nigeria’s comparative advantage in yam production. Ogbeh put it in perspective when he said despite accounting for over 60 per cent of global yam production, “people do not know that we grow yam”.
While admitting that Ghana’s projection on yam export was impressive, the Minister expressed optimism that Nigeria can quadruple Ghana’s. “We should keep pushing to become number one in yam export,” he said.
As part of strategies to surpass Ghana in yam export to Europe and other continents, Ogbeh tasked the NAQS on reducing the inspection charges, pointing out that it will make the country competitive in the export market. He also tasked the Technical Committee on Yam Export on mechanised heap making to work for the design of a plough that can make yam heaps.
Ogheh, who pledged that government will work on the packaging and use of the right type of trucks for transportation of yam, also assured yam exporters of government’s support, assuring that government will refund everything they spent on the venture.
The Committee Chairman, Prof Simon Irtwange, said the committee was working with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) to train farmers and improve some yam varieties.
While stating that the committee had prepared a four-year action plan for the yam value chain programme in the country, he solicited better funding for the committee.
“We have standards that we are following and they have to do with pytho-sanitary requirements to meet international standards. We have combined the standards of Ghana and Nigeria to make sure our yams are not rejected at the international market,” Irtwange said.
Source: The Nation