Nigeria’s agriculture exports facing rejections abroad

Director-General, WTO, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
Director-General, WTO, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
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Nigeria’s agricultural goods do not match the sanitary and phytosanitary requirements of international markets, according to the World Trade Organisation, which has caused Nigeria to lose its top spot in the agriculture export markets.

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) claims that in spite of the country’s wealth of arable land and growing investments, it has become a net importer of farm produce that was formerly grown locally, undermining attempts to ensure the sustainability of food supply.

At the Abuja launch of seven trade support projects started by the WTO-ITC to promote the development of Nigeria’s trade and industry standards, WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala revealed this.

The initiatives, which include the Digital Trade Initiative support, Women Exporters Entrepreneurship support, National Trade Portal, Standards Trade Development Facility, and Cotton Development Initiative, aim to address the challenges of the digital trade divide, address issues of e-commerce, and establish a state-of-the-art technology centre for all trade-related data and information in Nigeria. They also seek to provide technical support to strengthen food safety, animal and plant health capacity in developing countries.

She said, “We are launching today with STDF, ITC, and the NEPC, a project to help with international safety and quality certification for sesame and cowpeas or black-eyed peas. The agriculture sector in Nigeria has the potential to be a major driver of export diversification and job creation – but too much of this potential remains unrealized, due to a variety of barriers. In fact, Nigeria has not only lost out in agricultural export markets, it is a net food importer spending about billions a year on goods, many of which we can also produce here. Some of Nigeria’s unrealised potential has to do with trade-related problems on the supply side – and that is what this project is seeking to rectify.”

Specifically, the WTO DG said Nigerian cowpea and sesame exports were increasingly facing rejections in several destination markets due to non-compliance with international SPS requirements.

She said the failure to comply with regional, global and import country sanitary and phytosanitary standards has resulted in loss of sales, revenue, and hard currency due to export rejects.

Last week, the former finance minister charged Nigeria and other African countries to improve the quality of their shea exports to international standards.

She added, “Nigeria is the world’s largest producer and consumer of cowpeas. Sesame is primarily an export crop, and Nigeria is the world’s fourth leading producer, exporting to the EU, Türkiye, Japan, South Korea and other Asian markets. However, Nigerian cowpea and sesame exports have increasingly faced rejections in several destination markets due to non-compliance with international SPS requirements.”

She said for example, “Nigeria accounts for over a third of Japan’s sesame imports – but health and safety inspections during the past few years have found instances where pesticide residue levels were nearly double the maximum residue limits permissible from 2019 to 2021.

Hence to tackle the challenges, Okonjo-Iweala said the WTO was partnering with relevant stakeholders to build the capacities of stakeholders across the sesame and cowpeas value chains to better understand market access requirements and improve agricultural practices such as pesticide application, hygiene techniques, harvest and post-harvest methods, and food safety.

She said the project which would be implemented with $1.2mn funding would improve the country’s non-oil export.

On her part, the minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Doris Aniete, said the ministry was putting in place policies and mechanisms that would facilitate and enhance trade, while also removing all the bottlenecks hampering trade and investment.

She further stated that the ministry had started rolling out the N50bn Presidential Conditional Grant Scheme through the Bank of Industry, targeting various economic players.

She added that a N150bn intervention through the FGN MSME and Manufacturing Sector Fund, providing low-interest loans that are pivotal for scaling businesses and spurring job creation would commence very soon.

“We are achieving this by facilitating a strong enabling environment for businesses to thrive, developing robust policies and reforms, increasing access to financing, widening access to global markets, driving investments, and creating job opportunities, all in line with the vision of Mr President.

“In 2024 we are focused on improving infrastructural capacity such as power and transport, as well as soft infrastructure such as transparent regulation, policy consistency, the rule of law, and a culture of efficient collaboration and synergy among various government agencies and offices. We believe this will facilitate an environment where business operations are not hindered by red tape but can continue to thrive.

Also speaking, the Executive Director of the Nigerian Export Promotion Council, Nonye Ayeni, explained that the project expected to last for three years would enhance the quality and standard of sesame and cowpea through the institution of good Sanitary and Phyto-sanitary conducts.

She disclosed that in 2022, the worldwide value of sesame exports and its value chain amounted to $7.35bn, projected to surge to $9.27bn by 2032. Similarly, cowpeas were valued at $7.2bn in 2023, with an anticipated rise to $9.43bn by 2028.

“This project, STDF 845, will therefore enhance the quality and standard of sesame and cowpea through the institution of good Sanitary and Phyto-sanitary conducts, Good Agricultural and Warehousing Practices, packaging/labelling and excellent storage systems. All these are expected to forestall frequent contract cancellations and loss of business opportunities while allowing a significant increase in global acceptance of the items and for better quality of these products consumed locally


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