The recurring issue of the rejection of locally produced, yet popular food items as exports in the international market has repeatedly engaged the attention of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) as reported by the media in August 2021, October 2023 and recently in January, 2024. The economic situation is so deleterious that Nigeria is losing N539billion ($700million) annually to rejection of its agro-produce in the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States of America (USA).
For instance, in August 2021, yours truly in an article titled: “Reversing the rejection of Nigerian foods” harped on the revelation made by the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC, that over 70 per cent of Nigerian food export were being rejected abroad. This is worrisome for a country whose economic fortunes depended largely on agric exports back in the early sixties that contributed 60% to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) but dropped to 48.8% in the 1970s and 22.2% in the 1980s. As highlighted, some drastic actions have to be taken on the standardization of food products, including those consumed locally and others meant for export.
It was this situation that informed the decision by NAFDAC for the adoption of the GS1 standards for traceability in food and consumer product goods as at November, 2019. According to the Director-General of NAFDAC, Prof Christianah Adeyeye the issue of massive rejection of our agro-products being exported should serve as a wake-up call in terms of what is needed to be done “to ensure that Nigeria is not missing in the global field”. But first, it is important to know the salient reasons why Nigerian food exports get rejected.
It would be recalled that during the era of the former Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, yam consignments and beans packaged for export, at separate times were rejected due to wrong packaging, fake phyto-sanitary certificate.
According to Adeyeye: “Most of the exporters don’t go through NAFDAC and after taking a shortcut but at the other side there is no shortcut, the product will be destroyed. But NAFDAC also needs to enlighten the public because people don’t know. We have to enlighten the public more about the role of NAFDAC in exportation because we have to test whether there are pesticide residues, moles in the food. We have to do all sort of testing because if we don’t when it gets to the other side it will be destroyed.”
In October, 2023 Adeyeye disclosed that 68 different Nigerian food items were rejected in the United Kingdom and European Union countries that year. However, this number may be higher due to poor reporting systems.
The piece of good news however, is that as at January 2024 NAFDAC made public that it has started partnering with relevant agencies to end the rejection of food and agricultural commodities from Nigeria in the international market.
She noted that the international market is competitive in nature and only welcomes products of high quality with relevant certifications and quality packaging that is environmentally friendly and beneficial to trade globally, noting with dismay that the problem of quality, standard, certification and appropriate packaging for made-in-Nigeria products destined for export has been an issue in the international market.
She however, emphasised the need to address the issue of rejections, adding that some exporters obtain the wrong documentation, especially fake lab results, instead of bringing their products to NAFDAC’s ISO 17025:2015 accredited labs for analysis.
She maintained that NAFDAC is the competent authority in Nigeria charged with the responsibility to regulate and control the manufacture, importation, exportation, distribution advertisement, sale and consumption of drugs, food and other regulated products in Nigeria.
“NAFDAC having attained the ISO 9001:2015 Quality Management Systems that covers all her regulatory processes and procedures and certified WHO GBT maturity level 3, places great premium on deepening use of science in its regulatory processes and self-developments.’’ This is truly inspiring.
The DG, however, pointed out that the Agency believes in collaborative efforts with both local and international organisations to compliment her robust regulatory policies geared in protecting consumers and promoting public health by ensuring that regulated products and the systems for their production are safe for the public.
There is the need to ensure that the food, water, vegetables and all kinds of food Nigerians consume, are of good quality. Good enough, NAFDAC has a robust team of agencies involved in exports like the Shippers council, SON, Customs on the ground. In fact, the Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS) has listed 10 major reasons agro-export commodities are mostly rejected abroad. NAQS is the license-issuing regulatory agency under the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD).
According to reason stated in its Quarantine Bulletin Vol. 4, most farm produce meant for exports were rejected due to lack of phyto-sanitary certificate which only the NAQS issues. Dr. Chigozie Nwodo, Head, Media, Communication and Strategies Unit listed the reasons with the explanations as stated here below:
Absence of sanitary/phytosanitary certificate
The consignment must be accompanied by a valid sanitary certificate (for products of animal and aquatic origin) and a phytosanitary certificate (for products of plants origin). The certificates are issued after inspection and certification of the contents of the cargo, in accordance with the conditions on the import permit of the destination country. The exporter must submit the items for inspection and certification by NAQS and obtain the applicable certificate prior to shipment.
Infestation with harmful organisms
The produce intended for export must be free of harmful organisms or toxic substances.
Incomplete information on sanitary/phytosanitary certificate
All information required in the sanitary/ phytosanitary certificate must be provided legibly in print.
Forgery/Alteration of certificate
Forgery or alteration will render the certificate invalid and make products subject to rejection. Any alteration in the date on the certificate, type of consignment, weight and volume of consignment, and authorized signature on the certificate renders it invalid. A certificate with mutilated particulars is, therefore, unacceptable.
The information on the label of the cargo must be descriptive of the exact contents of the cargo as they are in the Sanitary and Phytosanitary certificates.
Concealment of strange agro-produce in a consignment of certified commodity
Concealment of an uncertified agricultural item in the consignment of a certified produce earns total rejection.
Improper export procedure
Certain products require the exporter to give the Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service advance notification of country to which export is intended.
Exporting prohibited items
Some countries prohibit the export of certain agricultural items. Cargo of products on the prohibition list of the destination is liable to rejection at the port of entry.
Absence of additional declaration
Some countries require declarations like date of harvest, place of harvest, whether there are any special handling precautions in addition to the sanitary/phytosanitary certificate.
Use of unapproved fumigants
The detection of residues of unapproved fumigants in the produce intended for export may constitute basis for rejection of the cargo.
The NAQS further advised prospective exporters of agro-commodities to visit its website – www.naqs.gov.ng for general information on quarantine procedures and NAQS on specific agro-export.
All said, this is one critical issue of national economic importance that calls for frequent sensitization program between NAFDAC, the Manufacturer’s Association of Nigeria (MAN), the food-related research institutes, the Ministry of Science and Technology, with the media duly carried along for sustained public enlightenment.