Gari From Abroad

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• Nigerians and NAFDAC are still pondering the paradox

It’s a wonder that gari, a Nigerian staple, is reportedly being imported into Nigeria when the country is the world’s largest producer of cassava, the crop from which gari is produced. According to reports, a Nigerian lady discovered that a shop in Ikoyi, Lagos, was selling imported gari, and sounded the alarm.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, news of this discovery spread fast among an alarmed populace. A WhatsApp post shared by Sola Adeniyi, the Executive Director of Natural Nutrient Limited, was titled:

“Attention: Indian gari being sold in Nigerian supermarkets.” A storm followed on February 20 as many Nigerians expressed their dismay on social media. A report said: “The gari is packed in a 500g bag, which has the picture of a lady and an inscription, ‘TRS’ (Asia’s Finest Foods) on it, with a price tag of N450.” Curiously, pictures of the pack showed that the product’s name was spelled as gari, instead of gari, which is the usual spelling in Nigeria.

It is creditable that the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) promptly responded with a raid on a shop located on Cameron Road, Ikoyi, Lagos. The agency’s Acting Director-General, Mrs. Yetunde Oni, said its officers seized 26 packs of the product for analysis.

While the public awaits the agency’s findings, there are several important questions begging for answers. Oni’s response showed areas that need clarification: “Investigation is ongoing on the imported Indian gari. It does not have NAFDAC number and was not registered by NAFDAC; it is said to be a product from Ghana but packaged in the United Kingdom. We are investigating to know the source of entry into the Nigerian market. We will only promote cassava made in Nigeria; it is a staple food in Nigeria and it should earn us foreign exchange and not from anybody else.” She added: “Thorough investigation is not one we will rush into as a scientific organisation. Please exercise patience and we will speak at the appropriate time.”

The agency’s reassurance may not be reassuring enough. The discovery of garri imported into the country is especially scandalous because cassava, which is processed to make the staple, is produced in 24 of the country’s 36 states. How a cassava-rich country became a market for imported gari is more than puzzling. The development certainly says something negative about Nigeria’s agricultural policy as well as the country’s security and regulatory agencies relevant to the developing story.

The idea of gari from abroad is basically absurd; and it is a further reflection of how far the country is from realising the much-needed diversification of its economy through agricultural development, among other possibilities. The importance of agriculture and agricultural advancement cannot be overemphasised.

This June 2016 statement by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, is useful as background to the country’s agricultural challenges: “Starting in 2010 – 2011, the government of Nigeria, after years of benign neglect, began to reform the agriculture sector. To refocus the sector, the government implemented a new strategy, the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA). In 2011-2016, the focus was on rebuilding a sector whose relevance had shrunk dramatically. That was reflected in the lack of lending to farmers by the financial system and the dramatic levels of food imports from across the world.”

Ogbeh added: “Today, as we evaluate the progress made under the ATA, it is apparent that additional work is still required in order to meet our objectives. Nigeria still imports a significant amount of food. Nigeria is also not earning significant foreign exchange from agriculture, meaning we are losing on both ends. Therefore, it became paramount to “refresh our strategy” to tackle these two issues head on. The Agricultural Promotion Policy (APP) is that refreshed strategy.”

Ultimately, what the imported garri scandal further shows is that the country needs an agricultural revolution, which won’t happen by merely talking about it.