The Federal Government says it is targeting about $8 billion annually in foreign exchange from the export of yams to other countries if its yam export programme succeeds.
Chief Audu Ogbeh, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, said this when he received the Technical Committee on Nigeria Yam Export Programme in Abuja yesterday.
Ogbeh said the programme to be flagged off on June 29, would enable the country to earn foreign exchange from agricultural produce in order to substitute the oil and gas sector.
According to him, “Ghana is exporting yams but we are not, yet we account for 61 per cent of the world’s yam production. This programme has to succeed; we must sell whatever we produce to the world because we are buying too much. We allowed ourselves to be deceived.
“I saw the figures of Ghana’s earning from yam export and their targets for the future and it was quite impressive. If Ghana can aim at a few billion dollars a year from yams, there is no reason why Nigeria cannot quadruple that.
“I want this committee to begin to engage team of engineers anywhere in the world. Can we design a plough that can make the yam heap? We have to mechanise heap making, otherwise, in the next five years, because of our aging farmers, you will find out that we do not have yams again and we will get into fresh troubles,’’ he said.
Meanwhile, Prof. Simon Irtwange, the Chairman of the committee, said the committee was working with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) to train farmers and also improve some yam varieties. The chairman said the committee had prepared a four-year action plan for the yam value chain programme in the country. He solicited for better funding for the committee, which was private sector-led to commence the programme.
“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 markets,’’ he said.
Mrs. Elizabeth Nwankwo, a yam exporter, representing Oklan Best Limited, listed some challenges facing exporters to include inadequate transportation and lack of quality seedlings. She explained that inadequate storage facilities also contribute to the rejection of the country’s agricultural produce at the international markets.
Nwankwo expressed optimism that there would be zero rejection of the country’s agricultural produce if the challenges are tackled.
Recall that the committee was inaugurated in February to facilitate the acquisition of warehouses at the receiving destinations, address markets in Europe and Canada. It will also sensitise farmers and exporters on required international standards of yam before exportation.
The committee comprises representatives from the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS) and the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), among others.