Nigeria, global standard in food production and trade

The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbeh

It is quite clear that the era of oil and gas as the mainstay of our economy is gone. A few days ago, India announced that, by 2030, there will be no petrol or diesel-driven vehicle in India. Everything will be electrical. And that is India. You can be sure the Chinese will do the same shortly. As for Germany, a law is coming up to say that, by 2030, there will be no hydrocarbon in use. And, you can be sure that the United States has other plans. So, what is left for us? Agriculture!

And, we can’t continue to think that there is a Nigerian standard and other standards. There is one standard, and it has to be worldwide. It isn’t just about exports. It is about our own health and our nutrition security. Moving away from just eating much to eating well, there is a big difference between both. There was a Greek doctor who lived during fourth Century BC. He made a comment in 390 BC, saying “let food be your medicine. And let your medicine be food.”

What you eat, if you eat well, will determine your state of health and your longevity as a human being. Unfortunately, most of the time nowadays, we are actually eating poison because of the way we handle our food production. From the seed we cultivate, to the fertiliser we use, to the chemical we spray, to the way we process the food, or even preserve the food, or package the food we are determining whether we are eating well or eating badly.

It isn’t just about what we export. It is also about the health of the larger society. In that regard, I would like to mention that we need to educate the farmers very intensively, beginning right from the farms. That is what is called traceability. If there is a problem with the crop, where was it grown and how? What kind of water are you using to irrigate your crops? What is the pH level of the water? What is the source of the water? It goes on and on.

When you drive through Nigeria, you see people drying cassava by the roadside. They are drying it at the edge of the road, picking up bits of tar, stones and pebbles. Trucks are passing by, emitting fumes settling on the grains. Then we pack them up and put in polypropylene sacs which have their own effects, even on cotton. When you begin to weave it, ginning company will tell you that the cotton becomes extremely fragile and resistant to dye, which is why Nigerian wrappers fade and the Holandais that our women wear lasts longer.

It is the dye and the quality of cotton, adulterated by the kind of package they put them in, under the heat. If you drink pure water stored in a hot environment by the roadside, you may be drinking dioxin. If you make moimoi with cellophane bag, you are poisoning yourself. Our people are familiar with the leaves, such as Thaumatococcusdaniellii (eweeran in Yoruba), which grows in some parts of the south west. That leaf is more useful because it has anti-oxidant that helps your body’s system.

You see people drying fish.  The fishermen come from their fishing. Upon arrival and, before people come to buy, the fish begins to rot and there are flies around them. There are two states in the country now where we have noticed that kidney problems are increasing. In trying to drive away flies from their fish, some spray the fish with insecticides. In some places, they use cow dung to smoke fish. And, we all eat fish, smoked or fresh. We don’t know what has been used to preserve them. So, nobody can say I don’t care.

You go round the market places where people slaughter goats, sheep and so on for sale, and if you see the kind of water they use to wash the meat, you will faint.  Or, you see the carcass of our goats or cows being transported in a tipper, or in the boot of a car. The only luck we have here is that we over-cook our meat. That helps to reduce the dangers that we face when we handle food. We are trying to replace the polypropylene bags with jute bags shortly. That is the standard worldwide, because that is carbon-free, especially when you spray it with vegetable oil. We produced jute bags in the past, in Jos and in Badagry, in the days of the First Republic. All that has now disappeared.

Now, there is polypropylene everywhere, compromising the quality of our products from both local and foreign markets. We use fertilisers as well. For a long time, it was 15-15-15, that was meant to solve all problems. Very strange indeed that scientists didn’t realise that no two soils on a ten-hectare size of land are exactly the same in character.  We have started improving on our fertiliser blending. Yields have increased from 2 tons per hectare, in some places to 5 or 7.5 and even to 10 tons per hectare.

This matter is very important. We have to improve our own health and cut down our medical bills, and make ourselves live longer and happier lives. One problem we face with fertiliser, however, is that, since we began this new programme, some people have started adulterating fertiliser. They have even printed the federal government bags. They now load the fertiliser bags with kaolin and sharp sand, selling to unsuspecting farmers. The DSS has been arresting some of them and prosecuting them.

I want to send this warning very clearly to fertiliser blenders: don’t be tempted to cut corners. If we catch anyone of you – and we shall begin work seriously – we will shut you down. And, believe me it will take you a long time in any court to get your business revived. If we catch you, you will have a long, long journey with the police and with the courts. And we shall shut down your operations. We brought down the price of fertiliser to N5,500 a bag because Mr. President made arrangement with the Kingdom of Morocco. And the results have been very favourable. For those who abuse it, you will have days of tears, even if you think you are making money now.

We are dealing with issues like tomato grinders in the markets. Those machines fabricated by our local fabricators may appear very efficient. But they are very harmful. Raw iron has problem with rust (oxidation). So, we will eventually replace them with high grade, food grade stainless steel. We have to produce them. If we have to subsidise or find the money to do so and make sure that our women do not grind pepper and tomatoes and onions in the markets, using the machines, we will do so. They are bad for our health; even the rice mills. The parboiling drums they use are full of rusts. We will be replacing them with stainless steel through a process of slow education of our farmers. All of these tie up with the issues of standards and quality.

As for export, we have to be extra careful. There should be no more news of Nigerian goods being rejected abroad. There is no reason why our tomatoes during the winter can’t be sold in Europe. There is no reason why we can’t export pine apples, mangoes, even bananas to Europe. Just two days ago, the deputy chairman of DHL was in my office. Thirteen 747 cargo planes come to Nigeria daily, offloading cargo. They fly back empty. Sometimes, they have to use sandbags to stabilise the aircraft for want of what to carry outside.

And yet we have produce, onions, mangoes, oranges, passion fruits, avocado pears. Won’t it be wonderful if we can load these planes on their return journey and they are ready to give us very good discount? We have to earn foreign exchange. We need that to support our economy, to pay the debt we owe. So, let’s take up this business very seriously. The future is here. We have to create jobs for our young people.

Ogbeh is the minister of Agriculture and Rural Development.

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