By ADEZE OJUKWU
‘Learn to do common things uncommonly well. Anything that helps fill the dinner pail is valuable. Ninety-nine percent of failures comes from those who have a habit of making up excuses.’
– Prof. George Washington Carver
The relentless rejection of Nigerian food products in some international markets is not only disgraceful but worrisome. It is equally more disheartening that this policy is coming amidst the nation’s beleaguered struggles with severe political, economic and social challenges. Just last week, the National Agency for Food And Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), said European Union (EU) has again rejected 24 exported food products from Nigeria in 2016 for failing to meet standards.
Recall that in 2015, the EU banned about 42 processed and semi-processed food products over poor quality and unsafe standards. NAFDAC spokesperson, Dr Abubakar Jimoh, who disclosed this, said ‘groundnut was rejected because it contained aflatoxin, which made the quality substandard.’
“The exported palm oil did not scale through the EU’s test because it also contained a colouring agent that was carcinogenic. Beans was initially banned for one year, when EU was not satisfied with our exported beans in terms of quality assurance, it extended the ban by another two years, which expires next year, he added.’ Data from the European Commission Rapid Alert System (RASSFF) showed that 42 Nigerian food imports were refused entry into EU countries in 2015 and another 24 in 2016.
The RASSFF report said the food products, were denied entry into the continent following border monitoring and testing as well as internal control measures, which indicated that they posed health risks.
The rejected food items were listed as shelled groundnuts, brown and white beans, melon seeds, palm oil, smoked catfish and crayfish. Others were bitter leaf, ugu leaves and mushrooms among others. This shameful situation accentuates the recalcitrant demand for an agricultural revolution. This agitation is both urgent and inevitable. For several decades, the nation has been inundated by challenges in the sector including food insecurity, sub-standard food processing, water scarcity, post-harvest losses and related agro-allied challenges.
Several reasons have been advanced for this anomaly with corruption, political and socio-economic inequities topping the chart. Principally, the lack of political will to drive effective investment in agro-allied industry has brought the nation to its knees, as it remains heavily dependent on importation and hand-outs from other countries, thus further depleting its scant foreign earnings. Added to this disastrous dilemma is the wanton killings and destruction of farmers, farmlands and properties, allegedly perpetrated by armed Fulani herdsmen across the country.
Indeed, these are not the best of times for many rural farmers particularly in the South and Middle Belt regions which are the epicenter of this butchery that has left many farming communities in Benue, Enugu, Anambra, Delta and Edo States in dread and trepidation. Sadly, the failure by this government and its agencies to tackle this menace has forced some farmers to engage in sharp practices that undermine safety and standards in food production, storage and processing.
Due to lack of monitoring and enforcement of best practices, many farmers use highly toxic chemicals, pesticides, preservatives, metallic and banned substances such as carbide, poisonous gases, dangerous wax coating and colourings.
The consequence is the unfortunate rejection of the nation’s food items in some countries. Sadly, the relevant government agencies established to enforce standards and safety measures in the food and allied industry are grossly ill-equipped for the enormous task. As a result, most Nigerian are forced to consume unwholesome products despite their hazardous effects and health risks, a situation that is quite disconcerting.
Just last week, the Acting President Yemi Osibanjo blamed poverty and hunger for the agitations for self-determination across the country.
Obviously, this statement is not only lame but ludicrous, because there is no scientific evidence, for his presumed correlation between food security and political demands for self-rule. But even if this connection were true, what is the administration doing to address the problem which has continued to aggravate poverty markers, mortality levels and most development demographics across the land.
This government can go beyond rhetoric to revive this vital sector through incentives for small farmers, provision of technologies, trainings as well as security for farmers from Fulani herdsmen bandits. Allocation of appropriate budgetary provisions to the sector as well as creating the enabling environment for agricultural research, innovations and enterprise are some of the measures that can boost the sector. Obviously, what is required is a revolutionary approach that will enunciate a comprehensive and multi-sectoral agricultural policy designed to jumpstart the country from being import-dependent to being self-sufficient in food production and export.
This country boasts of several top-flight institutions and agencies for agricultural training and research, manned by some of the best indigenous experts in the world. However, it lacks the political fervency to create the enabling environment for these experts and stakeholders to deploy their prized expertise and skills to sanitize and revamp the industry.
The unwholesome practice of federal character system, entrenched nepotism and profligacy have forced many highly trained experts including world class professors of agriculture, crop science, agric engineering, food technology as well as veterinary medicine to flee the country for greener pastures.
This brain-drain, which adversely affects several critical sectors of the economy particularly health, education, engineering and Information Technology, has worsened due to unfavourable conditions, power failure, policy somersaults, political crises, poor facilities and poor remuneration.
Nevertheless, the country still parades an array of patriotic, highly skilled practitioners working assiduously to revive agriculture and allied services.
The onus is on government to do the needful by going beyond rhetoric to inject adequate funds into the sector as well as providing ultra modern technical facilities in order to encourage prime research and relevant innovations in all areas of food production, processing and packaging.
That is the practice in other climes. In most advanced countries including America, European nations, Israel, Brazil, Argentina and India, farmers and those in the agro-allied business are given incentives, support structures and research funding to enhance their enterprise. Most advanced countries invest heavily in research and researchers in health, agriculture, technology and other critical fields that impact heavily on human life and development.
It is worthy to note that the world still celebrates renowned American botanist cum agricultural chemist Prof George Washington Carver, famous for his contributions to advancements and innovations in agriculture. Nigeria can take a cue from the life and legacy of Prof Carver, whose inventions have advanced food production and human life globally.His biography published by FamousScientists.org is quite pedagogic and inspirational.‘His favourite plant was the peanut. He invented over 300 ways to use the peanut, as soap, plastic, shampoo and even shoe polish.’ ‘Born into slavery in a small Missouri town, Carver would become one of the most notable botanists in the world, due to his love for God and man.’
‘Carver was an agricultural chemist, agronomist and botanist who developed various products from peanuts, sweet potatoes and soy-beans that radically changed the agricultural economy of the United States. He won several awards for his brilliant contributions.’
He was said to have spent most of his career teaching and conducting research at the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (now Tuskegee University) in Tuskegee, Alabama.
More than everything else, ‘Carver, was a farmer’s scientist. He taught farmers how to grow better plants, while even utilizing farm waste products. He turned corn stalks into building materials. Carver found dyes in the rich clay soil. He manufactured more than 100 products from sweet potatoes.’
Indeed, Prof Carver’s godly disposition and public spiritedness are quite instructive and worthy of emulation.
Ojukwu writes from Lagos