Battle intensifies against food contaminants, export rejection

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Executive Director, NEPC, Olusegun Awolowo

• As NSPRI, export promotion council, others train stakeholders

Some agencies and institutes of the Federal Government in food research and development have moved to stem rejections of exports of food and industrial crops of Nigerian origin by training farmers, aggregators and exporters in the best agricultural practices during planting, farm maintenance, harvest and post-harvest periods.

The stakeholders were trained according to CODEX Alimetarius Commission and other international standards in Lagos, Kano and Port Harcourt in cocoa, cassava, yam, leafy vegetables, sesame seeds, tomatoes and palm oil, among others, with much emphasis on planting, storage and preservation good practices.

Facilitators harped on advantages of penetrating international markets such as earnings in forex, balance of trade and employment opportunities for value chain actors, deepening of crop production as demand increases both at home and globally.

Deputy Director, Product Development, Nigeria Export Promotion Council (NEPC), Moruff Salami, representing the Director-General of NEPC, Mr Olusegun Awolowo, said in Port Harcourt: “We gather here today because of some issues, some challenges facing some of the selected products coming from this zone.

“You are all aware that Nigerian agricultural products are facing challenges overseas. The reason is that some of our products lack quality and standards and this makes it difficult to penetrate international markets.”

The challenges, he added, make it difficult for the country to share in the global market, and based on the inability, NEPC was convinced that stakeholders had to do something urgent to stop rejection of Nigerian products.

Speaking on agronomic practices for sesame production, Dr Hadiza Abba Babagana of the National Cereals Research Institute (NCRI) Badeggi, Niger State, said sesame, which is also called beniseed, is one of the oldest oil crops and excellent source of high quality oil and protein.

“It is used for wide array of edible products in raw and roasted forms. It is rich in vitamins B and E, and also a good source of Ca, P and Fe. In Nigeria, the primary use of sesame is oil for cooking. And it is eaten as a snack after roasting among rural and urban dwellers,” Babagana said.

World sesame production is about 5,532,000 metric tonnes (MT) behind soybean, groundnut, cottonseed, sunflower, linseed and rape seed in the quantity of world oil seed production, Babagana disclosed. India, Myanmar and Tanzania are the highest producers in the world with 12.40 per cent, 12.78 per cent and 14.56 per cent production respectively.

Nigeria is also one of the top producing countries of sesame with about 9.52 per cent of the world production. Major producing areas in order of priority in Nigeria are Nasarawa, Jigawa and Benue. Others include Yobe, Kano, Katsina, Kogi, Gombe and Plateau states.

To avoid rejection of its export, Babagana said the seed to be planted should be disease-free and dressed with apron star or apron plus to reduce the incidence of seed-borne diseases. Babagana added that insect pest problems are often common and spraying is necessary if serious damage is noticed at flowering and capsule formation. Cypermethrine (cymbush) and karate at 1l/ha is to be applied.

“Sesame is usually mature for harvesting between 90 and 130 days after planting, and harvesting should be done when many leaves have dropped off and the remaining ones have turned yellow while the lowest capsule on the stem have turn from green to yellow,” Babagana said.

“Plants are cut with sickle and should be bundle, tied upright and left for seven to 10 days pending on the size of the bundle until dry for threshing. Delay in harvesting results in seed loss through shattering.”

Drying of about two-three more days under direct sunlight is required to avoid spoilage, and clean seeds should be bagged immediately after threshing, winnowing and drying. Bags should be stacked on pallets to improve aeration and in case of insect infestation during storage, farmers or aggregators are advised to introduce tablets of phostoxin under supervision of a storage expert.

ALSO, another resource person during the training in Lagos, Dr Michalel Omodara, while talking on post-harvest management of cocoa, cassava, fruits and leafy vegetables for export, said challenges of rejection and food infestation and contamination starts from food value chains such as production, weak extension system, reliance on rain-fed agriculture, small land holding and low productivity.

He said essentials of post-harvest management include maintaining quality
food safety and wholesomeness.

He also harped on international food standards, codes of practice, guidelines, and recommendations developed by the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) to protect the consumers’ health and ensure fair practices in the food trade.

On handling of cocoa, he said while harvesting, the pods should be ripe and there should be healthy pods fermentation under optimal condition such as drying, reducing moisture content to seven per cent, removing acetic acid, stopping fermentation after a good number of days and adequate drying.

The dry beans should be stored in cool and dry place, avoiding contamination by insects, smoke or moisture. Omodara advised farmers and exporters on slow respiration rate, lower temperature, increased relative humidity and reduced risk of microbial growth, among others while handling leafy vegetables for export.

The Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC) at interactive sessions in Lagos on 15 June; Kano on 16 June and in Port Harcourt on 18June 2021, presented ‘Export Standard Requirements: Compliance to Global Market Quality Requirements for Agro-Commodities.’

NEPC said its mission was to spearhead the diversification of the Nigerian economy by expanding non-oil exports for sustainable and inclusive economic growth.

The council said there are four main global customer needs that an exporter must consider and they are price, quality, choice and convenience. Others are health issues, safety issues, variety of products, taste, colour and environmental issues (food miles, packaging, labeling).

The council stated that the global commodities/food import market is driven by compliance to buyers’ requirements, and the requirements can be divided into legal and non-legal requirements you must meet to enter the market; additional requirements — those you need to comply with to keep up with the market; niche requirements — applied to specific niche markets.

“Legal and non-legal requirements that products must comply with are food safety: HACCP. Food contaminants (SPS): heavy metals, pesticide, mycotoxins, microbial load, MRL, foreign matters, PAHs, etc. Consumer labelling: consumers must receive essential information to make an informed choice when purchasing.

Others are food safety certification: QMS, FSMS, etc; corporate social responsibility; sustainability certification: RSPO, Rainforest Alliance, UTZ, etc.

Export rejections, NEPC said, are caused by administrative issues such as non-compliance to documentation requirements, incorrect filling of information for entry, inadequate information and know-how on the entry requirement for agro-commodities imports to the EU; Food Safety issues (SPS) such as high level of pesticide residue, presence of mycotoxins, heavy metals, high microbial load, presence of foreign matters, fumigation level, etc.

Specifically, factors responsible for rejects of Nigeria’s exportable agro-commodities are technical barrier issues such as poor packaging, labeling, insufficient information on the nutritional content, GMP certification, etc.

Others are that standards are compromised in a situation where products are sourced from different farmers scattered all over the country relying on planting materials of doubtful origin and quality.

In a summary of border rejection notification – from January to September 2019, the number of rejection cases was 49, and the number of companies involved was 27. The number of companies with verifiable contact details was seven. The number of companies with unverifiable contacts was 20.

Some of the export products and their contaminants are sesame seed – salmonella, insect larvae and glass fragments; in shelled groundnut it is aflatoxin; and in ginger, aflatoxin, among others.

Negative effects of export rejects include that costs of rejections are high; it is a constraint to the effort at growing the nation’s economy through non-oil exports; exporters bear the cost of taking back the product or face the cost of destroyed shipment; rejections lead to frequent inspections and tighter scrutiny and commodities contamination attracts wide international media attention and unfavorable image.

To address export rejection, experts at NSPRI and NEPC, as well as crop production specialists suggest strict compliance and adherence to importing countries entry requirements for exported agro-commodities (phytosanitary, health certifications and analysis certificates, etc.)

They also advised farmers and exporters to obtain relevant certifications for exported commodities/food items, imbibe good practices coded as GAP, GWP, GMP; build capacity and acquire know-how and conduct sampling and shipment inspections where necessary.

Dr Aroyeun Shamsideen Olusegun, Director, Value Addition Research Programme, Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CRIN), Ibadan, Oyo State, while talking on best production practices in the export of cocoa, said according to the ICO, characteristics of exportable cocoa beans of merchant quality must be thoroughly dry, free from smoky beans, free from abnormal or foreign odor, free from any evidence of adulteration, reasonably uniform in size, reasonably free from broken beans, fragments and pieces of shell, and be virtually free from foreign matter.

“Best practices in cocoa production are desirable and recommended step by step activities involved in the preparation, selection of hybrids, agronomic, farm management, cultivation, harvest and post-harvest operations of cocoa, which result in a high-yielding and acceptable cocoa bean quality for the industries,” Olusegun said.

Benefits of best production practices in cocoa at the international market, he added, include integrity of quality and source, sustainability of export business, traceability of products, food safety, health benefits to consumers, environmental safety and good quality with premium prices.

Tools for best production practices are good soil management, good agronomic practices, integrated pest management, Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), Good Hygienic Practices (GHP), Good processing/Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and Good Storage Practices (GSP) of cocoa.

He warned farmers never to harvest unripe fruits and avoid cutting/wounding of the cocoa pods, and advised them to harvest with specific techniques and tools, use clean and sharpened tools regularly, separate diseased pods from healthy pods right in the field and fermentation should be between five and seven days.

The Director of Research Operations (NSPRI), Dr Folorunsho Olayemi, advised the stakeholders, particularly the regulators to be cooperative even while fulfilling their mandates.

Also, the stakeholders at the end of the interactive seminars in the three regions in the country called on the Federal Government to establish a joint forum where researchers, farmers, exporters, export regulators and promoters should meet at least twice in a year to move the export trade forward.





Source: The Guardian

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