By Benedict Erhabor
At a time the export of Nigerian foodstuffs like beans has been criticized for substandard practices, it is gratifying that Anambra State has, in four months, reportedly exported two kinds of vegetable eight times to Europe. The vegetables include bitterleaf, which is abundant in the state. Encouraged by the massive response to the exports, it is understood that the state is about to start massive export of okro, especially the type with eight lobes which Indians and other Asians are known to cherish.
The exports are happily coming at a time the Federal Government is said to be genuinely leading the effort to diversify the country’s revenue base, from petroleum which has in over one year been suffering glut in the international market, with all the attendant problems like the collapse in price. Economists have over the centuries been talking about comparative advantage of nations in international trade. A country like Nigeria with tremendous natural resources is expected to take advantage of plentiful crude oil to build petrochemical industries, for instance, and derive immense benefits from them.
It took a distinguished Harvard Business School professor, Michael Porter, to let the world realize that in this modern world which is highly competitive, what should matter is not so much comparative advantage as competitive advantage. It is not comparative advantage which placed nations and territories like Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea that have absolutely no mineral resources at their present dizzying heights of development but competitive advantage. In contrast, countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have humungous deposits of precious mineral resources but unfortunately rank among nations with the worst human development index (HDI).
The present government in Anambra State led by Willy Obiano, an erstwhile investment banker, must be a great believer in the competitive advantage theory. Otherwise, it is difficult to explain the sudden brilliant performance of his state in exports when exports from other states are facing rejection in Europe and elsewhere. The competitive advantage theory compels individuals and nations to squeeze water out of stone, as we have seen in the instance of Southeast Asian nations. They know that the modern world in particular is driven by globalisation which, in turn, leads to what my eminent professor at Cambridge University, John Child, famously calls hypercompetition in his great book entitled “Organisation: Contemporary Principles and Practice” which was published in 2005.
Since competitive advantage leads to research, innovation, efficiency and development, it is not surprising to learn from the Anambra State Investment Promotion and Protection Agency (ANSIPPA) that the state now produces in large quantities the best species of bitterleaf in the world. Discovered in Idemmili South Local Government Area—which, by the way, is the home of my Igbo in-laws—the government has been encouraging farmers to cultivate it all over the state with an eye on the export market, so that they can earn foreign exchange for themselves. This species of bitterleaf is valued internationally for its high medicinal value. Asians, for example, use both bitterleaf and ugu to produce a kind of spinach.
Needless to state, when Nigerian vegetables are exported, it is not only non-Africans that are targeted. There are huge Nigerian communities abroad. There are about two million Nigerians in the United Kingdom alone. Yet, there are far more Nigerians in the United States of America than in the UK. Nigerians in the Diaspora cherish home foodstuff. It is, therefore, regrettable that the home foodstuffs like yam and garri consumed by Nigerians abroad are supplied mostly from Ghana.
This has been the situation because of the inability of Nigerian exporters to comply with the import requirements of regulatory agencies in Europe and elsewhere. The most reported of these failures in recent years has been the return of five containers of beans from Ireland in the middle of 2015 for containing between .03milligramme per kilogramme and 4.6mg/kg of dichlorvos pesticide whereas the acceptable maximum is .01mg/kg.
The European Food safety Authority banned the importation of Nigerian beans and some other agriculture produce, though the embargo is scheduled to be lifted in June following a successful inspection in March, 2006, of facilities of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) by a team of European Safety Authority officials.
Anambra State deserves commendation for meeting the stringent rules for exporting to the developed world. The commendation becomes more deserving when it is taken into consideration that it is more difficult to export vegetables than foodstuff like beans. Anambra State’s success is reminiscent of Kenya’s achievement in earning millions of dollars daily from exporting flowers to Europe. Flowers are highly perishable like vegetables. Therefore, great care is required to export them.
Other state governments should borrow a leaf from the Anambra success story and start to export, too. In fact, other states should be competing with Anambra in the export of all kinds of agricultural produce. Nigeria is blessed with immense agric resources, and we should endeavour to take advantage of them.
n Erhabor, an investment banker, writes from Lagos.