SON set to boost agric produce export from Nigeria

 

By Samson Echenim

In line with the Federal Government economic diversification plans, the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) has adopted strategies to ensure that agricultural produce exports from Nigeria meet international standards and are not rejected by the importing country.

Recall that a huge volume of beans export was recently rejected by a European importing country for being of poor standard, leading to significant loss of foreign exchange for Nigeria and poor reputation for agricultural produce exports.

Acting Director-General of SON, Dr Paul Angya told SHIPS AND PORTS DAILY, that the organisation had started to develop standards for select priority produce from farm to storage, cutting across soil composition, soil preparation, kind of pesticides to use, seed improvement, harvesting, packaging labelling and storage.

He said, “So when we talk about alternatives to oil, we are not looking only at manufacturing, we are looking at agriculture and that is where we have our biggest strength, but then, recently we have had issues of rejection of our beans that were exported, rejected by the EU and sundry other agro-allied products.

“So, what we have done to make our agro-allied products meet international quality has been to develop standards. First of all, we identified priority products—agric and agro-allied products for export, such as cocoa, rice, beans melon—there are about 10 of them and then we develop standards and codes of practice for these products from farm to table, comprising soil composition, soil preparation, kind of pesticides to use, seed improvement, harvesting, packaging labelling, storage etc and all these we develop in terms of codes of practice, because sometimes, these products are rejected not so much of the product quality, as in this pesticides and additives that are used and how they store them.

“And they have issues of rotten produce sometimes. So, we develop the codes of practice to guide the producers, farmers of these selected products that of high priority from Nigeria so that we can deliver safe and affordable agro-allied products to the international community.”

Angya said the SON has also strengthened capacity for laboratory testing and certification of the agric produce meant for exportation, as it is key that the products do not have issues.

He explained further, “The situation we have now is that these products are tested only in the countries of export. It is only when they get over there that they are tested, so we don’t have control over the results, because we don’t have much of the facilities for testing in Nigeria. The facilities are what we call quality infrastructure. The testing laboratories are one of the major components of the national quality infrastructure.

“So when you have accredited laboratories, you can have these products tested in those labs and certified to those parameters, standards of importing countries. There are only two of such laboratories in Nigeria. SON has one and NAFDAC has one for testing food products. We are also currently developing a large laboratory complex in Ogba, Lagos which is over 85 per cent completed. When it is completed and furnished, we should be able to test all standards parametres for foods and food products, so that the facilities will become available an much of the products coming to Nigeria will have access to this testing.

“We have also conducted trainings. Our staffs have been trained over the last few months in these codes of practice and agricultural practices. Our staffs are training growers and farmers in this standards and codes of practice and so we expect to continually train farmers and produce dealers in additives, soil composition, soil testing, and traders in storage, warehousing, fumigation, preservation of these food products so that they don’t deteriorate. We expect that when the farmers fully imbibe the training and understand the handling of these products from farm to the table, it will reduce incidences of rejection to boost agricultural produce and exportation and therefore it will be able to attract for us, sufficient substantial foreign exchange as alternatives to oil.”

While noting that standards have always been there, he stated that the country had been faced with some kind of peculiar challenges recently, especially in the drive for finding alternatives to oil.

“The country is looking at agriculture and agro-allied products and in other to diversify the economy. As we all know, manufacturing is at its lowest ebb in the country and it has been on the decline in the past resulting from the influx of substandard and cheap products which have killed local manufacturing. But then, now, the situation is more severe because of the issues of foreign exchange, manufacturing is low.

“So, that is what we have been doing in that area. We also have issues of e-waste in agriculture, because some of these chemicals and pesticides destroy the soil. Sometimes, we have unacceptable quotient of lead and mercury in the soil, such that when you plant, the mercury and lead level in the plant becomes unacceptable to the importing countries. So these are all issues that our codes of practice and standards are meant to check.

“Then we are also advising government and recommending that government develop agricultural policy that will account for these challenges that we identified through our standards review and all that,” the SON boss said.

 



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