Stories by Steve Agbota
Despite being the world’s largest cassava producer with an estimated 75 per cent of the produce processed into garri, millions of Nigerians were shocked last week when packs of imported garri from India were discovered at a supermarket in Ikoyi, Lagos.
Gari, which is desiccated, crispy, creamy-white and granular staple food stuff happens to be the least of any item that anyone would imagine, could be imported from else where in the world into Nigeria because it is surplus supply and is being produced almost in every state in the country.
After National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) visited the supermarket in Ikoyi and 26 packets of 500mg each of the product were seized for analysis, Daily Sun investigations reveal that the garri was actually produced in Ghana but was packaged in India before making its way into Nigerian stores.
Daily Sun investigations also revealed that the supermarket still has a lot of unregistered products such as red beans, pepper and tapioca, among others, on its shelf all over Lagos.
The Indian firm, TRS Asia’s Finest Foods, wholesale and retail group based in the United Kingdom, aslo has canned tomatoes labeled ‘Plum Peeled Tomato’ without registration number but carries expiring date in supermarkets in Lagos.
Going by way of quality, it is confirmed that garri produced in Nigeria is far better than the one produced in Ghana. Now that Nigeria’s import bill is put at about $20 billion annually, which is no longer sustainable, Ghanaian or Indian garri cannot add to the import bill, as many Nigerians are already rejecting the garri.
Stakeholders in agribusiness and food industry berated the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) for allowing junks into the country without considering the health implications of these unregistered imported foods on Nigerians. They said it is absurd for any government agency to allow such garri into the country.
Poor methods of processing cassava roots can result in poor quality products that contain unacceptable levels of cyanide, as well as being contaminated by foreign matter and disease-causing agents. If people eat these kinds of products, they can suffer from acute cyanide poisoning, and a nerve-damaging disorder that makes them unsteady and unable to walk properly.
However, stakeholders want the Federal Government to get to the root of the Indian garri and openly tell Nigerians how it got into the country. They accused most of the Federal Government parastatals including Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Health, NAFDAC and the NCS of not doing their job.
Speaking with Daily Sun, Chief Executive Officer, Highhill Agribusiness Development Centre, Don Adeniyi, said that NAFDAC has raised the bar very high, saying that if the agency makes the business environment friendly, everybody will love to register his or her products.
He said, “when you get your products registered, we would now be looking at the database to know this one or that one has complied with NAFDAC requirements. But if we continue at the rate we are going, we will still have some problems at hand because presently NAFDAC has increased its registration fee again. If you check their website now, the registration has been increased again. With this, we are still going to have a lot of non-registered products in the markets.”
He blamed the NCS for not doing what it is supposed to do, stressing that unless there is a drastic reform in the Customs people will continue sabotaging the efforts of our system.
He lamented: “I am sorry to say that Customs is like the most non-effective government agency we have presently. When you say you ban a particular product, it is that period you will see that product in the market everywhere. Presently, rice is coming in through land borders like never before. I think there should be a scapegoat and people should be held responsible and should be punished.
“Because of the money you want to take, you are putting people’s life in jeopardy. Imagine people brining in imported jollof rice and all that into the country and the Customs will just allow these things to come into the country. Somebody needs to be held responsible and serve as a scapegoat. Customs needs to be effective at their various primary assignments.
“It shouldn’t be the headache of Nigerians to start picking up things that are not supposed to come into our country in the first place. If they do their job, things will be okay. When you are given assignment, you need to stay alert; if you are not doing your job, it’s either you resign willingly or you get punished for not doing your job.”
The Managing Director of Wilstoun Foods, Chukwuemeka Wilson, said: “I got in touch with NAFDAC and I asked them to verify the quality and the standard of the cassava used in making that Indian garri. The garri was made in Ghana and packaged in India. Maybe because we don’t have enough standard packaging facility, they take it outside the country, package and bring down here.
“The way Ghana produces its garri is quite different from the way we produce ours. I know their method of producing garri. So it is left for NAFDAC, as a regulatory body, to certify whether that product is up to the standard. Our standard is higher here in terms of production compared to Ghana.”
He said Nigeria’s garri is far better than the one produced in Ghana because of the technology processors are using now, stating that Nigerians have left the method of using firewood to fry garri and processors are using automated garri fryer that is being fabricated in Nigeria by local fabricators to meet international standard.
Meanwhile, the National President, Nigerian Cassava Growers Association, Pastor Segun Adewumi, said it is an insult to government if foreigners begin to sell garri to Nigerians because Nigeria is the biggest cassava producer even though Nigeria is also a major cassava eater. He said it is an insult to Nigeria for India to import garri into the country, stressing that there is also need to make garri popular beyond Nigeria because garri is a special food.
He explained: “There is also need to standardise our garri production because for a long time, Nigeria’s garri is not accepted outside Nigeria. If you want to sell your garri in Europe, you have to label it Ghana. If you label it Nigeria, they will not accept it because it is not standardised.
So there is no reason we can’t have control and standardise our garri.
“We made efforts and we have written to the minister and I am sure he is working on allowing us to standardise garri production so that our garri will meet the world standard in hygiene, price and quality. I am sure Nigeria will not allow it.
“We can’t allow India to dump garri or cassava on us. Cassava is one thing that cuts across geo-political zones. You can plant cassava everywhere. Apart from its industrial value, food value has sustained our economy. When we are trying to stop them from importing starch, maize and also to reduce importation of wheat so that our foreign exchange will be preserved, why should we now allow others to take over the one we can control.”