Following the recent move by the Federal Government to begin the exportation of yam by the end of this month, many questions have been raised on modalities for the export. In this interview, Dr Vincent Isegbe, the Coordinating Director, National Agriculture Quarantine Services (NAQS), spoke with COLLINS NNABUIFE on plans to make the export business a reality.
What are the mandates of National Agriculture Quarantine Services?
The mandate of quarantine services are in two folds, one is to prevent the introduction, the spread and the establishment of any exotic disease or pests of animals, plants, aquatic resources or their products from coming in or going out of Nigeria.
The second mandate is to facilitate international trade, that is to say by the action of the first mandate to enable us facilitate international trade because at the end of the day whatever we are producing is of essence that we add value to it and export, we earn foreign exchange, we create job opportunities for the farmers and all the critical stakeholders on the value chain, we engage the youths in doing something for themselves.
What is the quarantine service doing to address the issue of rejection of Nigeria agriculture products in the European market?
It is the duty of the quarantine by the international Plan Protection Convention, which Nigeria is a signatory to, to be the only agency of the government that will issue the phyto-sanitary certificate, no other organ or agency of government issues phyto-sanitary for the export or import of plants and plant products into the country, and it is not just Nigeria alone, every other quarantine service in those respective countries do the same thing.
It is our duty therefore to ensure that those exports or import of plants and plant products and inspected, certified by quarantine, then the relevant export and import permit issued as the case may be.
Now where you find out that the Nigerian quarantine service is not allowed or put in a position to exercise these mandate, you find infractions, in the sense that those imports and exports will go without quarantine inspection and certification, and if it does, at the other end,in the importing country, it will be impounded because it will not be allowed to enter those countries without those quarantine certification and the phyto-sanitary certification issued along these commodities, that is why it resulted in Nigeria being suspended in the first instance for one year for exporting brown beans to UK, and then after we were suspended further for three years under the same thing, it is as a result of the fact that the Nigerian Agriculture Quarantine Service did not inspect, certify issue phyto-Sanitary certification for those consignment of beans that entered the U.K.
It is rather unfortunate that at this period of Agriculture Production Policy,we are encouraging the export of agricultural produce and we are producing enough.
What is the current status between NAQS and the Nigerian police on the transportation of farm produce?
We are collaborating with the Nigerian Police Force to reduce extortion if not eliminate extortion on the high ways, we want to encourage those carrying agricultural produce to pass through our stations for inspection.
For example, when you load grains from Maiduguri, and they charge you at the loading point in Maiduguri, you pass through Bauchi, maybe the state government there collects some revenue , you pass through Plateau, the state government collects revenue, you enter Nasarawa, they collect, you enter Benue, they collect, thereafter, all these revenue they are collecting, the consumers will bear the cost of these charges, between Maiduguri and Lagos, they would have spent between N100,000 to N200,000, assuming it is perishable produce like tomato, due to the stop and pay movement, the tomato could spoil, the cost of those produce that spoilt and the cost of production will be added for the consumer to pay.
So the essence was to collaborate with the police so that at theses strategic check points, we ensure that no vehicle is stopped on the highway because the are carrying farm produce and there will not be extortion, that is our area of concentration, except at the quarantine post where you stop to check the health of the animals and for disease surveillance which is the normal duty of quarantine.
Currently the government said they will start exporting yam by the end of this month, was the quarantine service carried along?
The NAQS is playing a very strategic role in this intended yam export, we are the one to do the certification of the yam, once it is produced, we do the certification and we do what is called backward integration to let the farmers know that if your commodity is intended for export to a particular country, this is their requirements.
The yam should be of uniform size, it should not have a growth on the head, it will be cut and waxed with candle to prevent infection, the yam should not have any nematode infestation, the yam should be of uniform specie, put in the carton in a particular way, it should be properly labeled and weighed, and if it is going to a particular country, the import condition for that yam will be stated, if it is going to be fumigated, the chemical for fumigation will be stated, so we will comply with the request of the importing country to ensure that those things are put in place.
Yam that have fingers that are too long, too fat or that have rashes on the body, non of them will pass for export, and of course we painstakingly inspect each tuber of yam to ensure that they meet those requirements before we certify them and issue the photo-sanitary certification for the export.
We are already talking so that the exporters will do what they are supposed to do, so that they don’t bring the yam at the point of export and it will be rejected. We do jingles to tell farmers where our offices are for enquirers, we have 5 zonal offices, 56 stations and we are still expanding so that they can come and ask questions.
As the farmers are preparing their farms, we want to know where the farm is, we want to be able to trace each tuber to the farm, that is one of the conditions, we will able to trace that this tuber in a particular consignment came from a particular farm, if it has any issue in the importing country and they informed us, we will be able to trace the yam to the farmer and the farmer.
What do you think the government need to put in place to enhance your capacity?
Let me start by saying that the NAQS is an agency of government that Nigerians don’t understand what we do, they don’t appreciate the role quarantine is playing in enhancing and supporting the Nigerian agriculture economy, the Customs Service sees NAQS as an impediment to trade, and they are not true, rather, the Quarantine service ensure that any commodity leaving Nigeria complies with what Sanitary and Phyto-Sanitary (SPS) measures, which is an obligation Nigeria has to fulfill to be able to export.
In every developed or developing society, business should be played by the rules and that is why government the executive order which talks about transparency and ease of doing business let every player be transparent in their action so that business transactions will be eased.
The Custom Service should see the Quarantine Service as a partner because at the end of the day if those thing are not certified and they collect their duty, that consignment will be returned.
To be able to do our job, we need encouragement from all the critical stakeholders, if they have issues with us, let them come out, recently I read that on the dailies that Quarantine Service now charge for wooden pellets, that is not true, we have always treated wooden pellet as commodity for export, if you have you wood pellet stamped and treated, you don’t have a course for us to treat them for the second time, but if they are not treated, the international community by International Standard on Phyto-Sanitary Measures,rule number 15 (ISPN 15), clearly indicated that any wooden pellet that is used in packaging any commodity for export must be treated and stamped in the country of origin.
We need improved funding because, crop pest survey, we do a lot of field works, we buy a lot of chemicals, we do elaborate analysis to support the work we do, we train our staff, some go overseas for specialist training, in few weeks ahead, four of our staff will be going to the U.K. for specialist training on the new equipment that we have brought in.
And for us to be on top of the situation to compete favorably with what the other developed nations do in their Quarantine Service, we need to be up and doing , for now we don’t have an office, we are in a rented place, it is not convenient for us.
We need operational vehicles because some of the areas we operate are difficult terrains, they are border stations, so they need a vehicle that can use in coming to the hinterland and be able to patrol all those areas, the operational vehicle we have is less than 10, they are not enough.
We are complying with the Executive Order, but it is the implementation that is not being done right and that’s why we are drawing the attention of government to the proper implementation of the Executive Order. Where you said that Quarantine Service should not be at the frontline, who will inspect, already by the wrong implementation of the Executive Order, 17 bags of Kolanuts passed through the screening, it would have been exported if not that our staff saw it and intercepted it, and those 17 bags of Kolanuts were going to Saudi Arabia, and importation of kolanuts have been prohibited in Saudi Arabia and if eventually it has gone, it will be a bad name for Nigeria and the Quarantine Service.
So we have made a presentation to the Implementation Committee to look at the necessity to put Quarantine Service where we are supposed to be, not at the back side because there are grievous implications for doing that .