The Technical Adviser to the Minister of Agriculture on Knowledge Management and Communication, Mr. Richard-Mark Mbaram has stated that Nigeria’s agro commodity is on the brink of a state of emergency as the nation’s food systems are facing challenging times due to lack of infrastructure and poor handling of agro commodities.
Mbaram during a chat with THISDAY, said aflatoxin levels in Nigeria’s agricultural commodities are on high side, calling on the need to move the light indicator from amber to red which he termed as a “code red” situation.
According to him, aflatoxin in food system is the major reason why the Nigerian populace is having prevailing manifestations of kidney and liver problems, maintaining that this was the case of India many years ago till the Indian government took drastic measures to curtail the menace.
In his words, “Recently, I have advised the Minister that we have a crisis, a state of emergency as it relates to micro toxins and mishandling of agricultural commodities. Our food systems in this country are facing challenging times due to the lack of infrastructure. If you want to process we need power and in the village we do not have electricity and this situation exposes our commodities to micro bacteria, salmonella, aflatoxins and the likes.”
He added: “This is why I told the Minister that this is beyond just serving the foreign markets or clearing our way to export. Those countries are rejecting our goods because they do not want their populace to suffer what our people are experiencing. This is a serious case of emergency and we need to tackle it as such. “
He said to address the situation, the Ministry is embarking on a massive sensitisation and advocacy campaign on the need for farmers to adhere strictly to good agricultural practices (GAP), as the Ministry had set the process in motion for a green and enhanced infrastructure to boost the nation’s productivity.
“This is why we need research, because research from international institute of tropical agriculture (IITA) has made us know what aflatoxins are. Our findings have revealed that commodities from the farm gate which have been randomly tested by the national agriculture quarantine service (NAQS), most of the times, these commodities meet the minimum requirements set by the target for export countries in the european union (EU) and the united states, but it is when they move to the point of aggregation and warehousing these commodities get infected by aflatoxins, so it means that the problem is really about market agents and aggregators,” he said.
He added that the Ministry is targeting farmers and aggregators in partnership with the nigerian export promotion council (NEPC), national administration for food, drugs, administration and control (NAFDAC) to sensitise farmers and aggregators on the rudiments of exports and the negative impacts of not doing things the right way.
“So you now understand why we have to be very aggressive in sensitization, intra agency collaboration and we are pushing the special agro processing zone programme all through to the end. When these goods are rejected, it trickles down to everybody. The farmers, country and the exporters are all affected. We are now saying that this is not the job for only one person, but combined efforts from the federal, state and local governments to help us get to the root of this problem. India had a similar problem and they fixed it. It is not something we can fix overnight, but deliberately, we will have to fix it to ensure that our farmers, exporters and the country at large does not lose revenue,” he said.
He said the special agro-industrial processing zones (SAPZ) of the federal ministry of agriculture is aimed at concentrating agro-processing activities in demarcated areas to boost productivity and integrate production, processing and marketing of selected commodities.
He noted that so far, seven states and the federal capital territory (FCT) have being targeted which includes Cross River, Imo, Oyo, Ogun, Kwara, Kaduna and Kano for the first phase.
The programme, according to the Technical Adviser, has so far attracted partnership from African development bank (AfDB), international fund for agricultural development (IFAD) and the Islamic development bank
On the rising food prices, he said is not unique to Nigeria as the whole world is struggling to recover from the bashing of the Covid 19 pandemic.
“We cannot lose sight of that as the recovery would be a progressive one. In Nigeria, we are fortunate in the sense that the pandemic is not really taking its toll on the health of our farmers. We have not really experienced deaths across board,” he said.
He further explained that the rising cost of food prices is also exacerbated by the disturbing reality of banditry of herders and farmers conflicts in the North east saying that in itself affects the productivity of farmers.
“The effects of climate change have also hampered the productivity and capacity of our farmers and also remember that our agro economy is hinged on small holder farmers and when you realize that these are largely subsistent undertakers, you will realize too that Nigeria has a peculiar problem.
He noted that the minister is focused on enhancing research capacities by equipping the Nigerian agricultural research institute to respond to the challenges particularly those thrown at the activity landscape by the elements of climate change to make farmers resilient.
“To become resilient of course is through science such as improved seeds, varieties to understand the onslaught of nature as it changes while also building the capacities of our farmers to become resilient to those changes and ensuring that their livelihoods are not destroyed altogether. The emphasis has been on revamping and enhancing our research capacities.
We also take a look at extension services, after ensuring that the research outputs can reach the farmers in a bid to improve the standards and agricultural practices,” he said.
He said plans are also ongoing to construct and rehabilitate road networks across the country in a bid to give farmers accessible road networks to access the markets, saying that farmers are being hampered by poor road networks from the farm gate to markets where they can easily exchange their commodities for value development, so we are agriculture and rural development, so infrastructural development is a core focus of the Minister and that has been a passionate engagement for him.
Moving on from there, when extension is enhanced, we want to bring youths into the sector because of the aging population of our farmers, we are able to attract the young population into the farms and this is the reason why we have decided to go full throttle on the green initiative which is the mechanization programme, because mechanization takes away the drudgery and drudgery out of agriculture is an incentive to the workforce.
We are also looking at ways of ensuring the quality for Nigerian produce in a way to positively affect the quality of our produce and their accessibility at the international markets.
Reacting to the aflatoxin report, the national president, agricultural produce sellers’ association of Nigeria (APSAN), Comrade Aloys Akortsaha, said the Ministry is working with the association to distribute grain store products to replace harmful insecticide used by farmers to preserve their commodities.