Monday, 17 June 2019


The lack of attention to food safety and quality in Nigeria has become the Achilles heel in the country’s quest to become a net exporter of agricultural products. What is generally permissible in Nigeria will often be considered unworthy in the international markets.

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It takes attention to detail in meeting international standards before goods of Nigerian origin can be accepted, because, left as they are, they wouldn’t have been acceptable. Also important is that agricultural goods with quality issues can hardly be traced back to source in Nigeria. As such, getting the required adjustments put in place, from whatever part of the value chain, becomes difficult. It gets worse where the product may have been defective from the farm, as identifying just where it originated is nearly impossible at the moment, except by assumptions or guesswork.

The Nigerian Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS) is hoping to address this by introducing a bagging and tagging system in packaging agricultural products, in such a way that each commodity can be traced through the value chain, and down to the farm if necessary.

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Vincent Isegbe, director general, NAQS explained in an exclusive interview, that the agency has started testing the system with the hibiscus exports. The process, according to him starts by grouping farmers for that commodity, likewise suppliers and exporters will have to be grouped and assigned functions and duties.

Each of those groups is registered as an association with laws that control them. There will also be sub-suppliers who are mandated to supply only according to the standards requested by the main supplier. Even before the crop is harvested such a person (the sub-supplier) will be in constant communication with the farmers, ensuring they do not use unwanted chemicals if they want to continue being patronised. The manner of cleaning will also be stipulated as well as how it will be packed, ensuring hibiscus is not packed with other field crops like mixing up with maize. When this process is completed, such a person will mark those bags as those supplied by him/her.

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The main supplier will then pick those bags, ensure the right procedure has been followed, ensure it is dry, there is minimal roughage, and that everything is clean without sand. At this stage, it is taken to the exporter that is required to record who supplied what bag. Therefore, if there is an issue, he/she can trace it down.

In cases where certain chemicals have been applied on the commodities, such as methyl bromide in fumigating the Hibiscus, the bags to be used for those will have different colours from the conventional white bags. The exact colour has not been finalised, but according to Isegbe, it will be either pink or deep blue. This way, exporters will know that those ones have been treated with methyl bromide and they are going straight to Mexico. When the application of this system with Hibiscus value chain records the desired results, it is then expected to extend to other commodities.

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The quarantine boss also explained that some information that was unavailable to the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) at the time has now been provided, addressing the controversy generated earlier in the year over application of methyl bromide.

According to him, “After NAQS shared some documents with NAFDAC, they agreed that they did not know the extent of that category of exemption before issuing a public alert against it. The fact is that there are three exemptions which we brought out clearly and NAFDAC was not aware of and that’s why interagency collaboration is important.”

He explained that if an agency is making a policy statement on an issue that has to do outside its scope like agricultural produce, it is important for them to get in touch with the agency saddled with that responsibility. Under the Quarantine Pre-shipment (QPS), it is allowed to use methyl bromide.

At the moment, he emphasised methyl bromide is only being used for Hibiscus, based on an agreement with Mexico to use methyl bromide for hibiscus being exported there. (BusinessDay)

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