• Friday, July 19, 2024
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BusinessDay

Imported oranges displace local varieties

oranges

Nigeria’s citrus farmers say imported oranges from West African countries are competing better than locally grown varieties.

According to the local farmers, oranges from Benin Republic, Burkina Faso, Ghana and few other West African countries are sweeter and juicer, which confers significant competitive advantage on them over locally grown vareities.    

Local farmers attribute their inability to compete with their West African neighbours to lack of awareness of better orange species and modern storage facilities, as well as importation of oranges during on and off-seasons.    

Oranges are not on Nigeria’s Import Prohibition List,  owing to existing regional agreements like the Common External Tariff (CET), which permits importation of fruits.   

However, farmers who spoke with BusinessDay said the challenge facing them was not importation of oranges, given the existing trade agreements between Nigeria and her neighbours, but pointed out import of oranges should be allowed only between June and November, when Nigeria is off-season.

Nigeria has two harvesting seasons, December and late April/early May, during which orange farmers in the country are said to be in- season. Hence farmers say they are not worried that oranges are imported during off-season but are affected by activities of orange importers on-season.

Some industry watchers say though, that the solution is for Nigerian farmers to grow the sweeter and juicier varieties which have more appeal, and that then, they would compete better with the foreign product, because they would have the same appeal but less cost to market.

“When oranges are in off season in Nigeria, Burkina Faso is harvesting,” said Afioluwa Mogaji, chief executive officer, X-ray Farms.

“The fruits are imported into the country the way frozen foods are being smuggled into the country. You will notice that oranges and some other fruits are now available all year round in the country,” Mogaji said.

“The seedling can be planted in Nigeria but farmers are not informed about where to get them from. We do not have the same rainfall pattern and terrain with those countries,” Mogaji added.

Nigeria has the sweet and bitter orange varieties, as well as Mandarin. Each year, millions of tonnes of oranges and other fruits are harvested in Nigeria but a good number of them go down the drain as wastage, due to poor market access and poor storage facilities and transportation glitches. Most of the oranges in the country are farmed in the middle belt region of the country, with traders buying and conveying them across the country.

As things stand, growers of oranges and other fruits, such as pineapples and watermelons will have to compete for share in a market  saturated with fruits from neigbouring countries.

In 2002, the Federal Government banned the importation of fruit juices into the country, giving farmers hope of improved prospects.

“It is abnormal for a country blessed with huge arable and tropical lands to allow imported fruits and agricultural produce in, as this would put pressure on the country’s currency, reduce revenue to both government and individuals, and worsen the rising rate of unemployment,” said Akin Omotayo, director, Institute of Food Security, Environmental Resources and Agricultural Research (IFSERAR).

“There should be a strict adherence to legislation on imports of agricultural produce and products. I also want to say that there must be investment in agriculture, particularly in the area of irrigation. That will ensure all year farming and prevent continued importation of agricultural produce and products,” he said.

Nigeria is currently the ninth producer of citrus fruits in the world, with 3.4 million tonnes, according to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) in its report. Fruit juices are categorised under the food and beverage sub-sector, which is the largest of all the groups in the manufacturing sector.

The sub-sector contributed N264.32 billion in output in the first half of 2015 and N41.21 billion in the same period.   

“I like buying the oranges that are imported from Cotonu because they are sweeter than the ones grown here” Funmilayo Adebola, an orange dealer at Mile 12 Market told BusinessDay.

“I am aware that oranges and other fruits like pineapples and water melons are imported into the country,” she added.

If agriculture must play its leading role in diversifying Nigeria’s economy away from oil, farmers must be provided with a level-playing field that will enable them to thrive, say industry watchers.

Josephine Okojie