The recurring rejection of Nigerian food and agricultural commodities by the member countries of European Union (EU) and the United States (US) based on their reported ‘poor quality’ has drawn the attention of the nation’s food regulatory agency. It has been estimated that over 70 per cent of Nigeria’s food export is rejected abroad. Some of the rejected products included palm oil, dried beans, hibiscus (zobo) and smoked fish.
In 2015, the EU banned the importation of Nigerian beans on account of containing high level of pesticide, considered harmful to health. Similarly, the US banned Nigeria’s processed smoked fish in 2018 due to administrative failure to provide required basic information. However, some of the nation’s agricultural products have been rejected abroad because of not being recognised internationally.
The Director-General of the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Prof. Moji Adeyeye, has, while decrying the development, called for synergy among the relevant agencies and other stakeholders in the food and agricultural sector to improve the quality of Nigerian food products. It is commendable that the NAFDAC boss has urged the regulatory agencies at the ports to resolve the problem. It is regrettable that most of the rejected products did not pass through NAFDAC’s scrutiny before being shipped abroad.
Also, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Sabo Nanono, recently disclosed that some Nigerian agricultural products were blacklisted in the international markets due to proliferation of substandard products. It is instructive that the minister revealed this at the inauguration of a taskforce on counterfeit products promoted by the Agricultural Produce Sellers Association of Nigeria (APSAN). In a related development, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, recently lamented that the quality of the nation’s agricultural products do not meet the export standards of many countries. The rejection, according to the minister, has deprived the nation market access into a lot of countries. If the quality of our agro-export products is improved, the country, according to the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC) boss, Mr. Olusegun Awolowo, will likely realise about $30 billion from non-oil export by 2025.
We decry the incessant rejection of the nation’s agro-export products on account of poor quality, packaging and labeling. The regulatory agencies such as NAFDAC, Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON), Shippers Council, Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC) and Nigerian Agricultural and Quarantine Services (NAQS) should immediately take steps to improve the quality and packaging of the nation’s food exports. NAFDAC and relevant sister agencies at the ports should assist Nigerian exporters to export quality food products that can meet international standards. We have enough food and agricultural products that can earn the country substantial revenue outside oil and gas. Besides, the sector alone can create many jobs and help in the government’s diversification drive as well as stimulate economic growth.
Therefore, it is important that all exportable food products must henceforth be subjected to pre-shipment inspection. The food products must be made to pass NAFDAC scrutiny. To achieve the goal, there should be an efficient collaboration among the regulatory agencies. The unwholesome practices of some exporters, who avoid vetting and regulation of their products for export, must be done away with. Although NAFDAC has reportedly sensitised some food processors, handlers and exporters through training programmes, workshops and seminars on current safety management requirements such as hazard analysis, critical control, good manufacturing procedures and others, there is need to do more now that the rejection is on the increase. In fact, NAFDAC and other relevant agencies must begin to create awareness on food safety in all the 774 local governments in the country. Due attention will be paid to hazard analysis and critical control, good manufacturing practices and others during the awareness campaigns.
Since the international market is highly competitive, only products of high quality and packaging can meet the required global standards. Improving the quality of Nigerian food products is the best way to address the rejection challenge.