Nigeria has been depending solely on crude oil exports as major source of foreign exchange earnings despite being among the world biggest producers of agro crops. JULIANA AGBO, writes On how the country can explore it’s vast agro potentials for export.

Nigeria as a country has a potential to export many agricultural produce, but not tapping effectively from its exporting potentials.‎ Being among the world’s biggest producers of agro crops, the country has not exploited much of its export potentials.

Exports from Nigeria to other countries of the world is very lucrative and can strengthen the country’s economy overnight.

Most employment opportunities exist with exportation and this  begins from manufacturing to the exportation.

Over the years, Nigeria have been depending solely on crude oil exports as  major source of foreign exchange earnings. If the tempo of food exports can be sustained, it can mark the beginning of an improvement in terms of trade and can diversify from commodity export to, maybe manufacturing of goods for export.

Though good enough, the federal government has been putting a lot of effort towards diversifying the production base of the economy so as to improve export earnings.

To this extent, the decision to begin the export of  food crops is one aspect through which the country  can improve foreign trade and strengthen its exchange rate.

But how can the nation effertively explore the opportunities offered through exportation of it’s vast agro products?

Several recommendations were made by experts during the Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Services (NAQS), National Awareness Training on Export Standard for Crops. The traing which held in Keffi recently, dwelt on different means including ways to improve foreign trade and strengthen the country’s exchange rate.

While emphasising on stimulating exports of agricultural produce as economic diversification strategy, a consultant to the NAQS, Charles Onyeani, who recommended the concept of Good Agricultural Practices (GAP),  said Nigeria has the capacity to produce enough fresh fruits and vegetables not only for domestic consumption but also for export.

Onyeani who lamented over poor practices that hinder the country from exports, advised farmers to maintain healthy farming practices so as to enable the country meet up export standard of crops.

“One of the major things that stop us from exports is  pest control due to lack of proper farming practices and storage facilities. But this can also be controlled through the use of NAQS restrictions,” he added.

In an interview with LEADERSHIP, an expert, Mrs Oraka Stella Nonyen, who advised farmers to leverage on the training, said the NAQS is ready to collaborate with farmers who are willing to go into export farming by registering their farm so as to monitor it  to the stage of harvest and export.

The expert who is also a consultant to NAQS, recommended the establishment of an agricultural radio for rural dwellers who lack access to information so as to have current best farming practices.

She said: “An export farm must be fenced to avoid pollution from passerby which must have must have all the facilities. For one to start an export farm, it requires crop that has export value, identify the country the crop will be exported to.

She reiterated the need for farmers to establish a consumer satisfied system such as GAP that would provide important advantage for domestic and export markets.

On the need to empower farmers, offtakers and exporters to comply with the standards of the export market, the director general, NAQS, Dr Vincent Isiegbe, said the Agency is implementing a program of backward integration for better export products.

He said the intervention codenamed ‘’Export Improvement Initiative’’ is tailored to ensure that all relevant activities performed from the fields where the prospective export crops are cultivated up to the point of shipment are consistent with the standard conditions and protocols. As part of this measure, NAQS has been interfacing with stakeholders to educate and train them on export quality criteria for agricultural produce.

While explaining that the NAQS is tasked with the promotion of export of agricultural produce,  he said the Agency has been interfacing with stakeholders to educate and train them on export quality criteria for agricultural produce.

He noted that NAQS is leading the government’s drive to stem the tide of the rejection of some Nigerian agricultural produce in foreign markets due to quality defects.

“The inability of stakeholders across the value chain to meet the relevant sanitary and phytosanitary requirements applicable in the destination countries is the most serious impediment to Nigeria’s participation in foreign trade.

“This is because many countries prohibit the import of produce with mycotoxin contamination, high pesticide residue, microbial contamination, sloppy packaging and labeling. Nigeria loses huge revenue, servicing narrow export market options. It is our goal to make Nigerian agricultural produce acceptable everywhere in the world. That way, we will earn more foreign exchange from more destination countries.”

He added: “I am glad to report that NAQS efforts in mainstreaming best practices are yielding great rewards. Due to increased knowledge and adaptation to guidelines, Nigeria was able to export 1,983 containers of Hibiscus to Mexico, within the first 9 months of 2017. The country earned $35 million US dollars in the selfsame period.

“Our mission is to catalyze the harnessing of the export potentials of Nigerian agricultural resources. We recently conducted a crop pest survey on pigeon pea, sorghum and groundnut.

“The result of our pigeon pea survey has paved a way for Nigeria to penetrate the $100 billion worth pigeon pea market of India. In the same vein, our crop pest survey on sorghum has opened the door for Nigeria to export forage sorghum to China. A local company is expected to ship out the first batch of its consignment in the first quarter of this year.”

Furthermore, Isiegbe stressed that the NAQS is committed to stimulating the growth of export of Nigerian agricultural produce. Adding that the Agency is ready to assist any Nigerian who is interested in exploring the prospects that abound in the land.

Commenting on federal government’s efforts in setting export standard for crops, a farmer, Yakubu Mustapha, lamented that the sector is still largely dominated by smallholder farmers that do not have the capacity to support the realisation of the country’s vision for self-sufficiency and food security.

He added that the sector is grappling with serious issues such as high cost of farm inputs, including agrochemicals, high cost of agricultural machinery and equipment, access to land for mechanised farming; access to finance, especially working capital, by investors in the sector.

Mustapha who commended the NAQS for organising the training on export standards for farmers, however called on the federal government  to restructure the bank in a way that farmers  would have access to loans for best agricultural practices.

He averred: “There is also the issue of security challenges faced by farmers because of the activities of herdsmen and many more. These are the issues I expect the agriculture ministry to be tackling at this time.

“It is possible to generate substantial foreign exchange from the export of food items, but the productivity issue must first be addressed. We need to structure the sector to attract the elite and younger generation of investors into agriculture and the totality of the value chain. The reality is that the farming population is aging fast.

“We are aware that the NAQS working assiduously to expand our export frontiers and we hope that If the country produces as much as she can produce and exports as much as her natural endowment allows, it will create thousands of jobs, improve livelihoods of families and place the foreign revenue from the agriculture sector on the upward trajectory,” he averred.