Aside the huge benefits of vegetables as vitamin supplements, stakeholders are in agreement that there is huge business platform which yields huge profits and even creates a means of foreign exchange for Nigeria. OLAJIDE FABAMISE reveals Nigerian Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS) standards on quality vegetables.
A balance diet is incomplete without a healthy dose and consumption of vegetables; this makes vegetables some of the most sought after foods both locally and internationally.
As a business, Nigeria has huge economic potential in the sales and exportation of vegetables across the world. But how prepared are Nigerian farmers to meet the required standards that will ensure that the nation benefits from this business?
Vegetables that are to be exported must be inspected, screened and certified before they can be accepted as fit for human consumption and export and this can only be carried out by expert statutory body, which in this case is the Nigerian Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS)
Dr Mike Nwaneri, coordinating director, NAQS, says “For those in the vegetable production business who have subjected themselves to the guidance of the NAQS, they are very happy as we are told they make about $280,000 monthly from the export of leafy vegetables alone”.
Nwaneri who spoke while leading officers on a field trip to vegetable farms in Lagos recently was positive that the market was yearning for more investors as some exporters met with them in his office recently calling for more produce from Nigeria, but he noted that the nation did not do well in foreign markets “because we don’t seem to understand very well the processes involved. Our people sometimes get confused about who to meet, what they need, where to go and how to do things to be able to meet the requirements for export”.
Agricultural Quarantine focuses on two broad areas. First is safe importation to ensure that whatever we import from outside is safe. It also focuses on import-export trade facilitation. When you ask people to submit their materials meant for export, for inspection, screening and certification, they look at it as a way of delaying their business, but the certificate recognised globally, of freedom from pests and diseases of plants, coming from Nigeria, is the photon-sanitary certificate issued by the NAQS” he said
Abdullahi Abubakar, the first vegetable exporter certified by NAQS says “twice every week, I export more than 100,000 cartons of vegetables including (soko Celosia spp), green Spinach (Amaranthus spp), waterleaf (Talinum triangulare), bitter leaf (amagdalina) and fluted pumpkin, among others
“I carry the vegetables to the airport from the farms. My work is to take the vegetable to the airport, give the agent and give him my bank account” he says
Speaking with journalists on how he is able to preserve his vegetables to meet international and export standards, he said “NAQS taught us how to put manure, fertilizer and even how and when to harvest. Before NAQS came, we were just doing it anyhow, selling to whoever came. They came to us and taught us how to clean the vegetables. Some don’t have customers abroad. So, they don’t see the need to conform to NAQS. I have customers in Dublin, England, and South Africa.”
Nnamdi Okwunuba, NAQS Public Affairs officer, said “There is huge foreign exchange potential in vegetable business. The $280,000 is not just what Nigeria should be earning from foreign sales of vegetables. For the international market, you don’t have to bring everybody on board. You have to have pest risk analysis and set up pest-free areas. Everybody should know the standards. The onus is to avoid putting defective products on the tables of Nigerians. We are also concentrating on avoiding what will bring a bad name to Nigeria in the export market”.
The fact that they have sprayed their vegetables does not mean they meet the standards; the acceptable level of every kind of chemical product varies with products.
He urged vegetable producers to come on board to learn how to produce for the international market. “There are standards and practices you have to meet before the products are accepted outside,” he added.
Dr Dayo Folorunso, a Scientist, who operates the Lagos State University gate farm says in their efforts to meet with international standards, farms under their supervision are sprayed weekly and monitored by the farmers in line with international standards. “Seven days after that, we come here to witness the harvest of the same vegetables. We have farms for “Soko” (Celosia spp), green (Amaranthus spp), water leaf (Talinum triangulare), fluted pumpkin (Telfaria occidentalis), bitter leaf (amagdalina). These are the major ones we have on weekly basis. We don’t allow Basil because of notorious pests associated with it.
He said, “After the harvest come the screening stage where about 500 cartons of vegetable species weight at 200 metric tons are harvested and bought by exporters twice weekly through accredited exporters”.
We have been working with the farmers for about 10 years. In the past, there have been various interceptions, but in the last seven years, we have been able to bring the farmers together so that we can eliminate interception cases which we have been having in European countries.
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