Last month, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, reiterated Nigeria’s plan to earn a minimum of $10 billion annually from yam exports in four years. He had first made the declaration in 2017 while flagging off some yam exports to the United Kingdom at the Lilypond Container Terminal, Ijora, Lagos.
Since the inception of the Buhari administration, the government appears resolute in its determination to drive non-oil exports. Already, Ogbeh has constituted an 18-member Technical Committee on the Nigeria Yam Export Programme, which has reportedly developed a blueprint required to launch Nigeria’s yam into the global market. The committee is also said to be working on the development of the yam value chain production, processing, marketing and exportation strategy document. When executed, it is expected that the plan would create about one million jobs in addition to $10 billion earnings in four years. Meanwhile it would cost an estimated N3.13 billion to operate the plan.
All the available facts point the odds in Nigeria’s favour. The biggest producer of yam in the world, Nigeria accounts for over 70 percent of global yam production. Its earnings from yam exports have also been on the rise. In 2012, N70 billion was realized from the exportation of yam; this is more than double the N37 billion realized in 2007. At the moment, Nigeria’s yam exports are targeted at Japan while European and American markets remain largely untapped. To drive the point further home, the global yam market is also reportedly growing at an annual rate of three percent.
Considering how the fall in crude oil prices plunged Nigeria into a recession, the Nigeria Yam Export Programme is laudable. However, executing a project of this magnitude also involves contending with the realities on ground.
In Nigeria, yam cultivation is mostly carried out on subsistence level and usually seasonal. This is a great hindrance to exports as it limits harvest output to meeting solely local demands. Ogbeh himself acknowledged this fact when he stated that Nigeria was making plans towards mechanized yam cultivation; to produce ploughs which can be used for making yam heaps. With 60 years as the average age of food crop farmers in the country, there is need to institute a more effective technology driven farming methods. Until Nigerian farmers are able to successfully cultivate yam on a commercial basis, Nigeria’s yam export drive may not produce any outstanding outcome. Already, in the last five years, Nigeria has been unable to increase its yam production despite a rising population. According to statistics from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, there is an annual supply-demand deficit of 15 million metric tons of yam.
Currently, the logistics to facilitate export are sorely lacking. Over 80% of Nigeria’s total yam output is produced by the North-Central region. With the poor state of roads in the country and a comatose rail network, it takes an average of three days to move agricultural produce from the middle belt region to the seaports in Lagos. This does not take into account the gridlock at Apapa where the ports are situated. The persistent gridlock has led to the loss of perishable agricultural produce being transported to the ports due to prolonged exposure to heat. Indeed this was the fate that befell the container load of yam Ogbeh flagged off for export with so much fanfare in 2017. The yam tubers were rejected upon arrival at their final destination because they were rotten.
What Nigerians expect from the Agric Minister at this time is not a rehash of the expected benefits from exporting yams, but a detailed plan on how the Technical Committee constituted by his ministry intends to use its N3.13 billion budget to resolve all the shortcomings in the yam export value chain. Anything short of this would amount to playing to the gallery.