The concerns over the incessant rejection of food and agricultural commodities from Nigeria by the US and the European Union (EU) on account of poor quality and safety turned a new twist and the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) has raised concerns with a recent statement on Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) border rejection notifications from the EU.
In the statement on Quality and Safety of Export Food Trade, the Director-General of NAFDAC, Prof Moji Adeyeye disclosed that after analysing the RASFF, the agency observed that most of the rejected products were smuggled out and also not certified by NAFDAC nor the Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Services (NAQS) at the ports.
She, however, called for proper collaboration and synergy amongst all agencies of government to curb the indecent behaviour of some exporters and ensure only quality and certified products are exported.
Recall that in January 2013, the EU safety authority placed a temporary suspension of importation of the nation’s beans into Europe till June 2015 over high residual aflatoxins.
The commission later extended the suspension to June 2019 under the CN codes 0713 35 00 and 0713 90 00 owing to the continuous presence of dichlorvos and the impossibility to achieve in short time compliance with the union food law requirements regarding pesticide residues.
As expectations were high that the EU would soon lift the ban, it further announced the extension of the ban till June 2022 over the failure of the nation to implement its food safety action plan submitted in 2018 and further allow the nation to implement the appropriate risk management measures and provide the required guarantees.
Beside the fact the EU ban was a result of farmers’ excessive use of chemicals and pesticides for preservation without regard to human health, some other reasons are inadequate packaging and labeling. Experts are however concerned about the high rate of products smuggled out of the nation’s ports, not certified by NAFDAC or NAQS in the first place.
Amid the well-publicized federal government goal to encourage and enhance exports, there are many questions that boggle the mind. What are the challenges exporters face that result in smuggling food products out of the country without the required certificates? Is it a case of a rigorous process to obtain phytosanitary certificates from NAQS or is the process too expensive? With the numbers of regulatory agencies at the port and stringent procedures, at what point does smuggling occur?
Despite the documentation process carried out before exporting, many rejected products haven’t been traced or linked back to exporters or agencies of government for prosecution. How many export products have been seized compared to import products? What infrastructure has been put in place to save the nation the bad image of repeated rejection of its commodities? What is the value of rejected products? These are some of the questions begging for answers and MMS Plus attempts to proffer solutions and suggestions from industry experts.
Speaking with MMS Plus on the NAFDAC’s comment, the Executive Secretary of the Institute of Export Operations and Management (IEOM) Mr. Ofon Udofia opined that it is shameful for NAFDAC to make such a statement despite the high number of government agencies at the port inspecting goods before export.
He added that it means there’s no coordination between the agencies of government at the ports, noting that smugglers cannot be stronger or wiser than the government regulatory agencies.
“Our fish and beans are banned or rejected frequently because of several issues. There is a need to look inward at the home front. If the food products are smuggled, what is the value and statistics of the smuggled products? Who smuggled them out?” He quizzed.
According to him, shipping is all about documentation, yet he lamented that not one person has been linked or held responsible for the rejected products.
“If you’re telling me that most of the products sent back are smuggled through the unapproved border routes or maybe through a bush track but not from the main port because we have security agents there. When we’re importing, Customs seize a lot of goods but when we’re exporting there’s no report of seized goods, what’s the challenge? If you ask anybody in Nigeria you want to import, they’ll tell you the procedures, so where do we have the issue now? You cannot take cargo out of this country without proper documentation to accompany your cargoes. If I’m a shipper, I’ve registered my company, gotten my certificate from the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC), after production I need NAFDAC to enable my production to move, then Customs and Quarantine at the ports, in all these processes I don’t have any issue then at what point does smuggling occur?” He said.
In Customs defence, the National Public Relations Officer (PRO), Deputy Controller Joseph Attah stated that these challenges are part of the reasons Customs insist on 100 percent examination which some stakeholders are against because it does not facilitate trade at the nation’s ports.
According to him, the NAFDAC’s boss’ statement about the rejected products is part of the ills of smuggling which the agency has been sensitizing people against. “If someone sneaks something out of the country and it’s rejected, it means if you didn’t do it in the right way, it’ll backfire.” He said.
Meanwhile, the NAQS Coordinator at the Tin Can Inland Port, Dr. Joy Ivbade explained that exporters know the procedures to obtain the phytosanitary certificate and the process of obtaining it is neither rigorous nor expensive.
She however noted that exporters sometimes go ahead to fake it or fake ignorance about it, but at the end of the day, the products are sent back to Nigeria.
The Director-General of Multimix Academy, Dr. Obiora Madu however argued that the genesis of the nation’s food and agro commodities being rejected doesn’t start at the port; positing that it is a case of not having a quality infrastructure in the country which needs to be addressed immediately.
He identified some of the quality infrastructure to include; well-licensed warehouses, good agricultural factories, inter-agency collaboration, provision of data and statistics among others.
“Let’s take beans for example, as far as the EU is concerned there is a major ban on Nigeria. The chemical residue at the time the nation’s beans get into the EU market is high, and what happens is that as the beans move from one warehouse to another, exporters keep adding chemicals which there’s no way of checking or traceable to where it’s coming from.”
“The problem is in the value chain, the deed has already been done before it gets to the port. Our products being rejected is not new but the thing is that even the EU has stepped in to help us build quality infrastructure, how much attention are we paying to it? We’re the rejected products traceable to someone for prosecution? We’re always trying to eat our cake and have it. Some of the information about exports in Nigeria we get from international agencies, so that’s part of the problem.”
Dr. Obiora also said that nowhere in the world is NAFDAC’s certificate accepted. He added that the phytosanitary certificate from NAQS is what food exporters can’t do without because it is of global compliance.
“If you’re an exporter, generally the person who is buying from you would nominate an inspection agent either SGS, Cotecna, Bureau Veritas etc and that’s the certificate they’re looking for plus the phytosanitary. And if the buyer in International trade says he wants an SGS certificate and you obtained another certificate he didn’t ask for, you’re on your own and you’ll bear the cost.” He said.
The National Food Safety and Quality Council Bill on the floor of the National Assembly centres around the measures taken by the federal government to address the challenges of ban from the US and EU.
The bill seeks to address issues surrounding the control of food and feed safety; obligation of food and feed business operators, and will also define the functions and powers of institutions of government with the objective of ensuring that food and feed safety risks are effectively managed and that food is of the nature, substance and quality expected by the purchaser.
Reacting to this, Dr. Obiora argued that there are agencies of government that can currently handle that function.
According to him once an agency is established, it’ll have a Director-General, Directors etc it’ll have cars and offices; “As far as I’m concerned those are not where our problems are. Go and check the mandate of existing government agencies and let’s see if we cannot transfer that function to some of them,” he said.
Successive administrations have acknowledged that if the country must achieve its set goal of becoming one of the top 20 largest economies of the world, Nigeria must embrace and develop the non-oil export sector. It has also been generally observed that the country must develop the non-oil sector with resources from oil. The sustained volatility of world oil prices, the global tendency towards a diversified export based economy and the urgent need to expedite the process of economic growth and development has made it imperative that we either focus on non oil export or we regret it.
From available statistics, only few countries of the world can match Nigeria’s endowment in natural resources. With an estimated population of over 200 million, and onshore and offshore that boast of some of the finest deposits of oil and natural gas, a rainforest belt that offers the best cash crops and hard wood and a savannah region with very large tones of oil seeds, coffee, chilies, spices and abundant solid mineral resources.
In fact, the opportunity that Nigeria offers investors in export is immense and irresistible. In spite of all these, Nigeria’s economy has remained largely monolithic with investment in the non-oil export sector being everything but strategic. Nigeria has to correct this unfortunate trend of rejected exports and all regulatory agencies must jettison these tales of incompetence.