Nigeria began the export of yams to Europe and the United States in June 2007, as a move to diversify its oil-dependent economy; with a plan to earn $10.0 billion annually over the next four years.
To start, Nigeria shipped out the first batch of 72 tonnes of yams to Europe and America. Unfortunately, all the yams that left the shore of Nigeria were reportedly rejected, as they were found to be rotten upon arrival at their destinations.
Many months after this failure, Nigeria is yet to resume the yam exportation program; an indication suggesting that the Federal Government is yet to overcome the challenges it experienced with the yam shipment, even as Nigeria is already in another yam harvest season.
The rejection of these yams from Nigeria by Europe and America is less about the yams exported, but more about the Nigeria’s food exportation system, as it has been reported that sixty-seven different processed and semi-processed food products of Nigerian origin exported to the EU were rejected in 2015 and 2016. The rejected food items include brown and white beans, melon seeds, palm oil, mushrooms, bitter leaf, Ugwu leaves, shelled groundnut, smoked catfish and crayfish.
Generally, products from Nigeria are regarded as substandard, not well processed and not acceptable globally. Nigeria, compared to neighbouring Ghana is backward in agro-processing and exportation due to Nigeria’s outdated equipments, unhygienic and low standard processes.
Market survey between Nigeria and Ghana showed that Ghana imports yams and other products from Nigeria, enhance them with their sophisticated machines and export to other parts of the world. This validates the notion that the problem of yam export in Nigeria is from either the farmers or the yams.
Though Ghana is the third largest producer of Yams in West Africa, after Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire, producing 11.2 % the world total and covers markets in USA, Canada, UK and Europe. Between 2005 and 2010, yam production in Ghana contributed about 16 % of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
And still the government of Ghana is pushing for more, the Government has developed the National Yam Development Strategy and Yam Export Strategy, aimed at increasing export volumes from the current 35,000 metric tonnes to as high as 400,000 metric tonnes, with expected revenue of about $5 billion by 2018.
Yam and other perishable agro products are being rejected regularly because the Nigerian government and the private sector have not invested enough in the agro-processing and agro-logistics industry. As noticed, these industries lack up-to-date technology, skills and efficient systems.
Nigeria is not prepared for today’s kind of agro-produce exportation; the country’s officers from the Ministry of Trade are still using the 1959 ordinance, which is the constitution they still follow to grade whatever is exported from Nigeria. Even at the time of the 72 tonnes of yam, yam was still among the items that by law could not be exported from Nigeria as stipulated in the Export Prohibition Bill.
Nigeria needs to develop a new system and adopt a quality management system approach towards improving the quality of agricultural produce, both for local consumption and exportation. Nigeria needs a system that ensures quality control board to design quality control unit across regions, to monitor the seed to harvest process before export.
Nigeria can also learn from Ghana who are already far ahead; under the Ghanaian new guidelines for yam export, exporters would receive full payments up front in US dollars and all yams will pass through a ‘single-corridor’ pack house, ensuring adequate quality control by way of cleaning, packaging, sealing, labelling with bar code, and electronic scanning to prevent the use of yam exports as a conduit for nefarious activities.
However, even with a quality management system, Nigeria will not make good progress if logistic problems common with the country’s ports are not tackled. Usually, for yams to be in good state at the point of delivery in Europe or America, they have to be stored and transported in a temperature-controlled environment. They must be transported in refrigerated trucks or at least open trucks with similar temperature conditions of a traditional yam barn.
However, refrigerated trucks are needed more in Nigeria, due to the slow cargo processing system in country’s ports, as 64 % of the times spent to transport goods out of Nigeria is linked to delays at the ports, so if perishables are not stored in refrigerated containers while waiting to be processed, they begin to rot.
In conclusion, the rejection of Yams from Nigeria is due to the inefficient and outdated agro-exportation system which is an extension of the county’s under-developed agricultural sector. The Agricultural sector in Nigeria, which was abandoned when oil was discovered in the Niger delta, lacks systems and processes that can produce goods of international standard, and it seems the present government decided to jump into yam exportation without addressing the fundamental problems in the sector, despite being revealed severally in the recent past. Not until the fundamental problems of Agriculture in Nigeria are addressed, more Nigerian food exports will be rejected.