Local farmers and agric stakeholders are yet to get over the recent decision by the European Union (EU) to further extend the ban on the country’s dried beans to June 2022 with severe economic implications to Nigeria’s agriculture. TAIWO HASSAN reports
In January 2013, the European Union (EU) placed a temporary suspension of importation of Nigeria’s beans into Europe till June 2015 over high residual aflatoxins. Since then till date, the Federal Government and other agricultural agencies have been putting in measures in terms of policy change to ensure that chemicals in local dried beans meet the EU and international standards.
However, as expectations were high that the EU would soon lift the ban this year, the EU has surprisingly further announced that it was extending the ban till June 2022. With this move, Nigeria’s hope of seeing a positive change this year has been dashed. EU said it had extended the import ban to June 2022 to EU countries over Nigeria’s failure to implement its food safety action plan submitted in 2018. The extension was made known from the office of the EU Head of Trade and Economic Section of the EU delegation to Nigeria, Mr. Filippo Amato.
The EU food safety authority had in 2015 banned Nigerian beans because it contained between 0.3mg per kilogram and 4.6mg per kg of dichlorves pesticide when the maximum acceptable residue limit is 0.01mg per kg. The EU then in 2015 extended the import of dried beans from Nigeria til June 2019, owing to the continuous presence of the pesticide. With this development, EU is pointing out that for now, the ban placed on beans export to Europe from Nigeria is still in enforcement. It, however, noted that other agricultural commodities were not affected.
Last year, the Federal Government had insisted that Nigeria was on the verge of being taken out of the EU ban by 2021, following the drastic measures put in place with the silos project for storage of quality agric products meant for export market. Reliably, it was gathered from the Federal Ministry of Agri-culture and Rural Development (FMARD) in Abuja that government was in advanced talks with the representatives of EU delegation to Nigeria and ECOWAS to fine-tune ways of lifting the ban finally this new year.
In a bid to reverse the ban, the Federal Government in August 2016 inaugurated a 26-member Standing Inter-Ministerial Technical Committee to address the rejection of Nigeria`s dried beans by the European Union. While inaugurating the Committee, Audu Ogbeh, a former Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, left nothing to doubt about its terms of reference. According to him, “we are here to take our destinies in our hands by finding lasting solution to the incessant rejection of our agricultural commodities, especially in Europe. “We need to avoid the embarrassment of further rejection in the future by strengthening our regulatory authorities to live up to their mandates. “Our desire for agricultural products and non-oil exports means there will be vigorous pursuit of investment in quality control and standardisation.”
Similarly, this newspaper gathered that the current Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Alhaji Sabo Nanono, was also in talks with the Coordinating Director, Nigerian Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS), Dr. Vincent Isegbe, on proper issuance of documentation for clearance of agro exports and imports in the country, saying that the ministry was not folding its hands in the area of export control measures in entrenching proper standardisation of agro commodities. In addition, the agric minister has been holding crucial talks with the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to ensure the setting up of laboratories for the 19 silos located in 18 states and the Federal Capital Territory where NAFDAC can test the beans before export. Nanono said: “We are trying to get silo for the 36 states, where we can store our beans. We are also working at setting up laboratories in the states where the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control can test the beans before export. This is to ensure that no beans go out of the country without properly been tested.”
Clearing the air
Isegbe had rejected the claims that there were lots of Nigeria’s agricultural commodities being rejected by the European Union at the point of entry, saying that it was only bean product that is facing suspension while others were due to improper documentations. He explained that there had been erroneous reports that Nigeria has about 16, 32 and 46 agro commodities that are currently being rejected by the EU over standardisation requirement issues in the media. According to him, it is better to set the record straight that Nigerian commodities are doing well internationally and it is only beans that is suspended by EU among the country’s agro commodity exports and the agency is doing its possible best to ensure that the suspension is lifted on beans. He said that his agency was responsible for issuing clearance for agro exports and imports in the country, saying that it is not folding its hands in the area of export control measures in entrenching proper standardization of agro commodities.
However, following the alarm over the outbreak of aflatoxins in local produce, which is a threat to food security in Nigeria, the Federal Government ordered 1,000 tonnes of aflasafe chemicals worth N600 million from International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA)’s subsidiary, Harvestfield Industries Limited, to tackle Aflatoxin challenges in Nigerian agriculture.
Also, the move by the Federal Government to invest N600 million on the aflasafe chemicals is to curb European Union (EU)’s rejection of the country’s agric produce meant for export and encourage more non-oil export of agric produce. New Telegraph reliably gathered from a senior official in IITA, Samuel Aikore, that the Federal Government had decided to place the order as a way to prevent the scourge of aflatoxins damage to the country’s agriculture, especially as it concerns agric produce rejections at the international scene. According to him, aflatoxins is a group of mycotoxins produced by aspergillus species, including A. flavus, A. parasiticus, and A. nomius, adding that a quarter of the world’s food crops are estimated to be affected by mycotoxins; creating a large economical loss in the developed and developing countries. He explained that other reports indicate even higher contamination rate of aflatoxin, stating that one of the reasons which make aflatoxins one of the most challenging mycotoxin is the fact that it could be produced by the responsible fungi not only at pre-harvest time, but also, at post harvest stages including storage. The IITA official noted that agricultural experts, including farmers and government agenecies, had reiterated that the issue of aflatoxins was important consideration in the country’s agricultural value chains as it contributes to enormous economic losses through its adverse effects on food security, human health and trade in agricultural products.
He said this was the reason IITA is campaigning that there is need for strategies for local awareness creation on the aflatoxin problem, aflatoxin mitigation approaches with potential for immediate adoption by farmers and other value chains actors, institutional arrangements and partnerships for aflatoxin management in Nigeria, and modalities for funding local activities on aflatoxin management.
Again, it would be recalled that the Cowpea and Beans Farmers, Processors and Marketers Association of Nigeria had disclosed that plans were in top gear that would see Nigeria export quality beans to the European market, as the ban placed on the country was expected to be lifted by 2021. The President of the association, Shittu Mohammed, had told New Telegraph in an interview that the EU ban extension was as a result of farmers excessively using chemicals and pesticides for the preservation of beans without regard to human health, a problem, which, he said, was now being dealt with by the association. Mohammed said: “You see, the ban was because our farmers were using excess chemicals and pesticides on their dried beans without thinking of the effects on human health.” He said the association was also trying to ensure that beans are included among produce on the Federal Government and Central Bank of Nigeria’s Anchor Borrowers’ Programme.