SON’s certification as gateway for improved market access
Food import and export inspection and certification systems are widely used as means of food control because consumers’ confidence in the quality (including safety) of their food supply depends in part, on their perception as to the effectiveness of food control measures. The perception of low confidence in exports originating from some African countries by developed countries has over the years led to the rejection of commodities from the continent. Nigeria has had its fair share of product rejections, leading its African counterparts with 103 products in the export category. With an internationally accredited laboratory by the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), there are expectations that access to global markets would increase. FEMI ADEKOYA examines this optimism and opportunities for Nigeria if well exploited.
Nigeria over the years has suffered the effect of low compliance with GlobalGAP standards and its implications for access to export market and projected income for the country has been far-reaching. This is because buyers prefer produce from certified countries to non-certified ones.
Although inspection and certification requirements have been described as capable of impeding international trade in such commodities, it has been argued to be a measure of minimising a country’s vulnerability to bad products.
For Nigerian exporters, the inability to comply with the ever increasing stringent standards requirements such as Global GAP is having negative impact on the image of the whole agricultural export industry as well as the economy until now. GlobalGAP is a set of “Good Agricultural Practice” (GAP) standards pertaining to food safety, the environment, animal welfare, worker health and safety established by a consortium of food retailers in Europe as a system of self-appraisal certification by horticultural goods producers.
The Intention of GlobalGAP is to change producers’ attitudes towards food production by imposing a performance standard with defined criteria to follow in order to render production processes safe through the application of Integrated Farm Insurance Standard (IFA).
Failure to respect these requirements will result in GlobalGAP certification being denied or suspended. Although, GlobalGAP is a voluntary standard and business-to-business label which is often not directly visible to consumers, its implementation has become an important prerequisite for accessing the European Market.
Confirming this trend, the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Olusegun Aganga said over 103 Nigerian export products have been rejected at the global market in the last five years for not meeting acceptable international quality standards. He attributed the volume of the rejections to lack of accredited laboratories in the country where the products could be tested before being shipped abroad. He, however, said Nigeria now has an internationally accredited laboratory in Lagos which would help to check the drift.
According to him, since the internationally accredited microbiology laboratory of the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) meets international best practice, any product tested there would be acceptable anywhere outside the country, thereby saving the millions of dollars being lost by the manufacturers and the country wherever there is product rejection.
He said the country’s image has been dented due to huge amount of rejects, maintaining that Nigeria, the giant of Africa still has to depend on Ghana to export its products to the world. According to him, the number of rejects in major foreign markets between 2012 and 2013 revealed that Benin republic had 2 rejects; Egypt had 95, Ethiopia 3, Zambia 5, and South Africa 56 while Nigeria recorded 103.
He said: “We all say we want to diversify the economy with a view to increasing our income from non-oil products. But there is no way we can achieve this without having quality infrastructure such as the laboratory. “For instance, we could not export yam to the UK because we do not have a laboratory to test it here. “Those who export products in Nigeria take them to Ghana to test them and the credit goes to Ghana. In the last five years Nigeria has more than 103 rejects.
If you compare that to other African countries like South Africa and Ghana, who only have between six and seven rejects, our is unacceptable. We are having this rejects because we did not have accredited laboratory in the country.
Indeed, a recent world bank report had estimated that developing countries will lose about $6.9 billion by 2015 to rejections of their of their exported food items.
According to the Federal Government, Nigeria has continued to record the highest number of product rejection in the continent’s export profile to developed countries. He said the plummeting oil price is a wakeup call as a country, saying that Nigeria can no longer rely on one product for foreign exchange. “That time has come and gone.
This is why we launched the NIRP to add value to all our commodities. Going forward, this is not about exporting crude oil but selling crude oil to Nigerian companies creating jobs for this country and also produce petroleum products here in the country which we spend more $15 million importing petroleum products into the country. We will save that and become a net exporter of petroleum products by 2018.
It is not all about agriculture because Nigeria is a blessed nation with 44 solid minerals in commercial quantity,” he said. The Director General, SON, Dr. Joesph Odumodu, on his part, noted that the agency would have not achieved this great feat, if not for the support of the ministry of trade and investment, saying that the SON has received a lot of support from the minister to get the laboratory up and running.
“We achieved what we have today without any foreign or international consultant. We decided that we can do these ourselves and with the kind of management we gave to our people we were able to achieve this great feat.
He said going forward; there would be more laboratories to complement the effort of the newly commissioned laboratory. “I want to invite you to avail yourself of the laboratories we have here and the more that will come in the future,” he said.
The Chief Executive Officer, Nigerian Export Promotion Council, Segun Awolowo said some of the factors responsible for the rejection of exported food item include non-compliance with regulatory requirements for processed and semi-processed commodities, non-compliance with documentation requirements, incorrect filling of information for entry, inadequate information and know-how on the entry requirement for food imports to the European Union and the United Kingdom.
He noted that developing countries including Nigeria seem to face considerable problems in meeting basic food safety and hygiene requirements for exporting food items to developed countries, saying that a recent world bank report estimated that developing countries will lose about $6.9 billion by 2015 to rejections of their of their exported food items.
“It is therefore of immense challenge to meet standards requiring more sophisticated monitoring. The current trend in food safety and quality management is a shift from end product testing to a systematic preventive approach that employs the identification of hazards and establishment of preventive measures to reduce or eliminate such hazards during food processing,” he said.
A recent report had estimated that about 50 per cent of fruits and vegetables are lost or wasted globally.
According to the report, the challenges to reduce these losses in developing countries and developed countries are different, noting that in developed countries, a lot seems to be wasted by consumers while in developing countries, the losses are due to problems such as inadequate storage facilities, pests and managerial and technical limitations in harvesting techniques.
It is believed that certification systems will not go away and will continue to be a requirement for accessing the lucrative export market, hence the need to support farmers and value-chain stakeholders in reducing the cost of compliance, so as to make the process of compliance easier and affordable.