When on February 23, 2017, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development headed by the Minister, Chief Audu Ogbeh, constituted a principally private sector modelled 18-member Technical Committee to develop a blueprint for the Nigeria’s Yam Export programme, it was to further improve its export of non-oil commodities.
The purpose was also to explore the comparative and competitive benefits Nigeria has over other yam producing countries. The Technical Committee was saddled with the responsibility of developing a blueprint that would launch Nigeria’s yam into the global market, assume a substantial percentage of the market, and take advantage of the country’s export potential to earn at least $10 billion annually in the next four years.
According to statistics from Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), Nigeria is by far the world’s largest producer of yam accounting for 61.7 per cent of the world’s production annually and with over 60 yam varieties produced across the states of the federation. But unfortunately, the country is not among the world’s yam exporting countries.
Daily Sun reported that a total of 72 metric tonnes of yam left the shores of Nigeria for United Kingdom and the United States of America as part of efforts to earn foreign exchange. The 72 metric tonnes were exported in three containers of 24 metric tonnes each; one container left for the UK, while the other two for the US.
While speaking at the launch of the Yam Export programme recently in Lagos, the Minister of Agriculture, Ogbeh, said government saw the need to develop and promote the comparative and competitive advantages of Nigeria’s yam production, processing and exports with a view to repositioning the sub-sector to take its fair share in the global export market through compliance with Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and global standards as well as profit optimally from the huge gains of yam export.
On the contrary, stakeholders said the Minister failed to consider a lot of factors such as exploring several opportunities that exist in inputs, production, transportation, storage, processing, packaging and marketing of the value-added yam products, such as fresh yam, dry yam, animal feeds, yam chips, yam starch and yam extracts for alcoholic beverage towards employment creation, income generation and investments.
The stakeholders also faulted the Minister for not thinking out of the box before embarking on such programme, saying there is likely going to be scarcity of yam for local consumption, stressing that because where there is huge yam gap in other countries, people will begin to take the yam there. They noted that there will be challenge here because government has not funded yam production, stressing that yam is not like soybean that is grown and harvested in three months as yam takes nine months to be harvested.
They further argued that, “there is nothing wrong with exporting yam. If an individual exports yam, we may praise them, but a whole Ministry of Agriculture and by extension, Nigeria, giant of Africa, celebrating that we exported yam. Do you know the overheads and resources for the committees that must have gone into this?
What is the return compared to the resources that must have gone into this to justify the national focus on yam? Can the return or profit pay the salaries of staff on several committees that must have sat to make this transaction take place? What is the market share of yam in the world market?” they argued.
An agro-economist, Toluwaloju Ademola, said the Minister should have first considered adding value to it such as processing yam into Pharmaceutical Grade Starch (PGS), which is the major component of tablets, saying exporting yam is not a bad idea but adding value will earn Nigeria more money and create jobs.
He stated: “Just the way it started with crude and we became importers of refined petroleum products. Soon we will start importing processed yam. Prof. Awojobi invented yam-pounding machines decades ago but nobody was interested and supported the man. We are currently importing poundo machines from Malaysia and China.”
To improve productivity, the Deputy Managing Director of Peniel Gerar International Limited, Ojiefoh Enahoro Martins, said there is need for government to first increase farmers’ knowledge and develop good and improved seed tubers. He said IITA is really doing a good job in Nigeria today with regard to seed development.
According to him, Nigeria has so many agricultural agencies saddled with the responsibility of developing seeds, stems, tubers, among others, but they are not working and not empowered. He added that there are no good extension services from the Agriculture Ministry working with farmers.
He said: “Benue, Nasarawa, Katsina, Kogi, Niger and Edo states are predominantly yam producers. Our state governments have barren brains to identify the various areas that match each state and region so as to utilise the opportunity. I tell you the truth, the agricultural campaign and chorus is not positive to the rural farmers. I have visited almost nine agricultural states in Nigeria, working with rural farmers, they are not getting anything from the government except the political farmers.”
Speaking with Daily Sun, Co-founder/COO of FarmCrowdy, Africanfarmer Mogaji, said the Minister has shown that people can export yam, as many people do not know that Nigeria produces about 70 per cent of the world’s yam. He said the Minister has brought some information which have made many people aware of the opportunity in yam exportation.
He advised that, “Ogbeh should be talking about the value chain and not just the export. In value chain, he should be saying people could make a lot of money on the yam seeds because even that is more profitable than what you get from exporting yam. The Minister should be talking about how you can fabricate yam flour equipment, which is another value chain opportunity for people to make money. That people can aggregate things buying from a farmer and selling to the processors.”
He said fund should be made available in Bank of Industry (BoI) to help people who want to set up factory, which is another opportunity because there are numerous commercial opportunities people could derive from yam.
Mogaji said: “Where the Minister has done wrong is in not speaking about the value chain opportunities because there are nine to 10 big business opportunities that can transform many lives but the thing is that he has opened up yam and many people are beginning to see yam.
“The Minister should be telling people how to add value to yam not just exporting raw yam. How many tubers of raw yam will people export really, which is where I fault him but the good side of it is that he has opened eyes of Nigerians to know that we have not been tapping the potential of yam.”