One of the key cardinal pillars of transformation of Gov Willie Obiano’s administration is agriculture. The state at several occassions has declared the gains it has recorded in the sector, citing the export of vegetables to Europe since 2017, as one of the greatest achievements. But many people in the state cast doubts on the export exercise, referring to it as a propaganda by the state government to boost its profile. In this, interview, Senior Special Assistant to Gov Obiano on Agricultural Export and Livestock Value Chain Development, Dr. Okey Okwuosa spoke with EMEKA CHIAGHANAM on the genuineness of the export exercise and other exports issues.Excerpts:
MANY people in the state cast doubts on the state’s agricultural exports. What do you have to say about it ?
That’s figments of their imaginations. Anambra’s agric export is real. We have been exporting since 2017. Large quantities of vegetables were exported by air to Europe. In 2018, Grafil Group had huge export; they exported over 108 metric tons to the United States, including snails, whereas Tiger Foods exported 180 tons.
The Kizno Foods Agro-allied Ltd exported 120 metrics of yam tubers to Europe. These are empiric figures. Somebody who doesn’t know what we are doing should ask questions. In reality, we export.
In fact, in the next two weeks, Grafil Group will export several metric tons of produce to the United States. This has not been done once, it is over a period. For instance, Grafil Group exported in April, May, October and November, 2018, just periodically. They just have to gather these produce from certified farms,
How would you extinguish the doubts?
The new commissioner, besides the new drive for the ministry, has taken it as a task to give massive publicity to the export section with facts and figures. This will go a long way to remove doubt, even where some people saw it as propaganda tool to raise the profile of the state, which is not true.
We are going back to our video clips. In the process of trying to put these things together for export, we push them out through the media outlets, and let the world know what we have been doing. That is the next strategy.
Secondly, we are working hard to attract global gap presence in Anambra to train our agronomists and specialists; that is the export desk officers, so that they will be certified as farmer assurers, who will in turn, train the farmers – Anambra vegetable and other produce farmers to be certified.
This is because whatever produce they put together for export can go to any international market without questioning.
How do you go about the exports?
We have agricultural exports from Anambra State going to Europe, America, even to the West Coast of Africa. We do that through some off takers.
These off takers are people or businesses that liaise with farmers through the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation, Processing and Export, via the Export Department. The state encourages farmers’ cooperatives and farm clusters and enters into an agreement with the off takers.
The Export Department brokers a deal that are convenient to all parties, the state inclusive.
We have major off takers like Grafill Group, they off take agricultural produce like vegetables, palm oil, oil bean seeds processed castor oil bean seeds, processed garri, snails and vegetables like, pumpkin, local basil (Nchanwu) and Onugbu,, among others .
Then, we have another major off taker, the Tiger Foods Ltd. But the difference is that while Tiger Foods Ltd processes and off takes agricultural produce and processes them into dried spices, and other produce like cocoyam flour, they package and export them, mostly to the West Coast countries. They also market them within the country.
Then we also have Kizno Foods Agro-Allied Ltd. They offtake mostly the tubers, yam tubers, they are not into cassava. They are looking at exporting potatoes and plantain to Europe. Theses offtakers have a large market in their various destinations.
They make use of Anambra Conditioning trucks, three big Leyland Trucks, which Governor Obiano, procured for this very purpose, mostly for vegetable export.
Do these trucks take the products to the airports?
Most of the exports are through the seaports. The conditioning vehicles get these produce from the farm gates to their processing centres, domiciled in the companies premises for packaging.
They are processed and packaged under a very cool temperature, normally, minus 13 degree Celsius.
We call it blast freeze. Under that condition, they pick them from Awka, either to Port Harcourt or Lagos. They will also maintain the cold chain up to the point of export.
What can you say of the quality?
They meet export quality of the countries exported to. These products are packaged under a specific regulated temperature. By the time it gets to the point of disembarkation, it is as fresh as the way it should be right here in Nigeria.
How do you encourage people to get into agricultural export, since most ndi Anambara don’t know about it?
If you are ready, we might have to advise you on the type of produce or crop you have to cultivate as a farmer, because there are crops that have comparative advantage over others.
For instance, we have developed what we called Anambra Vegetable Export project (AVEP) in this ministry and we are partnering with farmers, linking up off takers, to off take from them.
We also assist farmers to tractorise their farms in farm cultivation, not necessarily farm development, then give them organic fertilizers or even the chemical types, support them with extension officers to make sure that what they are doing is in tandem with the international standard practice, so that at the end of the day, they would be in an advantageous position to market their produce either to off takers or to the common markets, which ever they desire.Tthen also, the state will through these interventions generate revenue.
How does one engage as an off taker?
It depends on your capacity. By that I mean people who will pick up your produce, the one you have produced or procured. You must have a market abroad. That link must be there. Then you go through the process of identifying, registration with Nigerian Export Promotion Council.
he council will advise you on certain standards you must meet up with and the rest of them. When you have all these documentation done, establish your market out there, the Export Department takes it off from there.
We advise you on what to do in terms of how you will off take from farmers, package your produce, make sure that what you are doing is in tandem with global practice.
Do you check or confirm the documentation before going into business with interested parties?
You see, we are not enforcing officers, we play advisory role. We don’t enforce but shall always advise you on the processes and stages to take to achieve your goal.
You see, if you are doing export as organic produce, you must conform to the processes of producing organic. Let’s say vegetable for instance, we shall make sure there is evidence of traceability, knowing your farm, going there from time to time to inspect to make sure it conforms to global standard.
The bottom line is that we ensure global standard and generate revenue by helping you do business, particularly on international level.
Have you had any complaint, rejection, or substandard produce?
No, because we try to make sure that the farmers comply. If you have anything that you claim to be organic, you want to export, and you are not sure whether you have treated that soil with chemicals, you had better sell at the local market, not that people should be eating these contaminants.
Even abroad, chemical fertilizer crops are there. It depends on choice. That’s why we are on our toes in the export to make sure that we monitor as much as we can because there is no way we can monitor every nook and cranny, except those that pass through the channel to major off takers.
These ones are easier, since we can identify their farms, pay regular visits and make sure that extension officers do their job in these farms, even when they have new breed of crops that have been developed.
What are the challenges?
We need to expand more on logistics. This will help us cover both the riverine and upland areas more regularly than we do at the present. We would love to interface more with farmers.
What is your message to ndi-Anambra?
Gov. Obiano’s giant strides in transforming the state are commendable. Ndi-Anambra should key into government projects, particularly the agric sector for the benefits it offers to them and the state.