QUALITY CONTROL: THE ANTIDOTE TO EXPANDING NIGERIAN AGRICULTURAL COMMODITY EXPORT MARKETS
The world markets set standards for all products to ensure that the consumers/buyers have value for their money. These standards cut across different items and products being used in all the Nations of the world and it changes from time to time depending on the technological trends. It also varies from one country/region/continent to the other. Therefore, for a product to succeed in any export market it must meet the quality specifications of that export market. However, the nonchalant attitude of most Nigerians towards the quality and packaging of what we produce locally is working very hard against us as we strive to have a place and a voice in the International Market.
As a nation, we have lots of Exportable Agricultural commodities which are presently largely untapped because of their low qualities and the nation’s wrong disposition to Agriculture. The Final Report of the Agribusiness Development Assistance to Nigeria (ADAN) in 2002, after evaluating Nigeria Commodities in terms of market, supply, profitability, barriers, geographic dispersion, environmental impact, employment generation and foreign exchange earnings, ranked the ten products from most to least interesting for export as follows;
2. Gum Arabic
6. Marine Products (prawn farming)
7. Wood Products (Hardwood charcoal, plank etc.)
10. Medicinal Plants (Prunus Africana or Pygeum)
As at 2005, with an arable land area of 71.2 million hectare, Nigeria has cultivated less than 34 million hectare (FAO, 2005) which amount to less than 43% of our arable lands. The international union of food science and technology has put the Nigerian post harvest losses for fruits and vegetables at 30-50%, while about 75% of the Nigerian farmers are peasants who practice subsistence farming. Despite all these shortcomings and inadequacies, Nigeria is still ranked among the top producers of most of the above mentioned Agricultural commodities in the world. However; the qualities of our Agricultural products and its packaging have made our dear nation to be performing far below expectations in the export markets for Agricultural commodities around the world.
For instance, despite the fact that Nigeria has a larger land mass with which she produces more raw cashew nuts than Ghana, Republic of Benin and Republic of Cote d'Ivoire, it will interest you to note that many Asian buyers prefer to buy their cashew nuts from exporters in these other countries for one singular reason, Quality! This has made the cashew nuts from these countries to command better prices than the ones that are exported out of Nigeria. Since some of the Asian exporters could not meet their buyers’ demands if they source from these other countries alone, they therefore source the commodity from Nigeria, transport them by road to the neighbouring countries and export them as products from those countries.
It is therefore logical to say that, if some exporters ship Nigerian Cashew from neighbouring countries and it’s accepted abroad, that means the cashew nuts from Nigeria is not primarily bad, the buyer only expects the exporter to dry the product under a hot sun for at least 2days and then neatly pack it in a jute bag before shipment. This way the tonnage of the product will be accurate and it will be preserved during the journey to the destination. This seems to be a simple process but most Nigerian exporters refuse to do this in order to maximise profit. The singular act of undermining quality makes the buyers to divert their businesses to the neighbouring countries. We as a result, lose Billions of dollars to our neighbours.
As the federal government intensifies the rebranding Nigeria campaign, it will be very important to take very drastic steps towards controlling the quality of Agricultural Commodity exported out of this country and make this known to the international community. This, I think will be a major step to regaining our pride and place in international trade, knowing fully well that no nation grows by trading with itself.
Therefore setting up a quality control centre for Exportable Agricultural commodity using Public- Private Partnership (PPP) strategy will be of immense benefit to this nation’s non-oil export businesses. This centre should be saddled with the responsibility of promoting the export of good quality Agricultural products, training exporters and farmers on processing and preservation methods, inspecting the quality of items to be exported and issuance of a quality certificate. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) should make this certificate part of the exchange control documents to be returned to the Banks after shipments in order to ensure strict adherence.
If the non-oil export sector of the Nigerian economy can be given this type of attention, then we will be on our way to expanding our Agricultural commodity export markets, creating more markets for farmers and ultimately boosting employment and the nation’s GDP.
Long Live Federal Republic of Nigeria!