• Thursday, June 13, 2024
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WTO initiates $1.2m project on Nigeria’s agricultural exports

Tinubu congratulates Okonjo- Iweala at 70, Ojora, at 92

The World Trade Organization has initiated a $1.2 million project to bolster Nigeria’s agricultural exports. The project, supported by the Standards and Trade Development Facility (STDF), seeks to address the challenges faced by Nigerian cowpea and sesame exports in meeting international sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) requirements.

Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, Director General of the World Trade Organization, stated this at the launch of seven trade support programmes for Nigeria initiated by the WTO, World Bank and ITC held on Tuesday in Abuja.

“This type of project is one I term a low expenditure, high impact project,” Okonjo Iweala said “With an initial funding of $1.2 million, of which nearly a million comes from STDF, we aim to train local food safety advisers and empower stakeholders to meet international market access requirements:, she said.

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She said as the world’s largest producer and consumer of cowpeas and the fourth leading producer of sesame, Nigeria had encountered increasing rejections of its exports due to non-compliance with international Standard Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) standards. Instances of pesticide residue levels surpassing permissible limits had been identified, particularly in sesame exports to markets such as Japan.

The project aims to build the capacity of stakeholders across the sesame and cowpeas value chains. By focusing on enhancing agricultural practices, including pesticide application, hygiene techniques, harvest, and post-harvest methods, as well as food safety measures, the initiative seeks to ensure compliance with international standards.

“Nigeria is the world’s largest producer and consumer of cowpeas. Sesame is primarily an export crop, and Nigeria is the world’s fourth leading producer, exporting to the EU, Türkye, Japan, South Korea and other Asian markets. However, Nigerian cowpea and sesame exports have increasingly faced rejections in several destination markets due to non-compliance with international SPS requirements.

“For example, Nigeria accounts for over a third of Japan’s sesame imports – but health and safety inspections during the past few years have found instances where pesticide residue levels were nearly double the maximum residue limits permissible from 2019 to 2021.

“To tackle these problems this new project aims to build the capacities of stakeholders across the sesame and cowpeas value chains to better understand market access requirements, to improve agricultural practices such as pesticide application, hygiene techniques, harvest and post-harvest methods, and food safety. The project – which will kick off with an initial amount of $1.2 million – of which nearly a million comes from STDF – will also be used to train local food safety advisers. This type of project is one I term a low expenditure, high impact project.

“ The WTO is not a financing agency like the World Bank or IMF but it has a wonderful secret that I find very attractive. It spends small sums of money to make a big impact. You cannot imagine how a million-dollar intervention can earn Nigeria hundreds of millions of dollars if not billions (you heard ED NEPC talk of several billions) in increased agricultural exports, supporting improved incomes for farmers, exporters, businesses and others once agriculture producers and exporters follow the correct sanitary and phytosanitary standards.

“However, to succeed fully, we also need partnership. One of the big gaps in the sesame and cowpeas value chains is the lack of quality post-harvest storage and transport infrastructure – that is, things like modified atmosphere and airtight storage, or the use of triple-layered bags). Some producers may be applying pesticides during storage and transport to compensate for storage and transport conditions that are conducive to pests”, she said.

Highlighting the importance of partnership, Iweala emphasized the need to address gaps in post-harvest storage and transport infrastructure. She added that collaboration with other organizations or states was envisioned to improve storage and transport facilities, thereby ensuring the quality of agricultural exports.

“The STDF project on its own cannot solve all these issues – we would like to partner with other organizations or with states, to improve the storage and transport infrastructure. If we can make this sesame and cowpeas standards upgrade a success story like we did with the Oyo Shea Butter then we shall be able to look at other export crops and scale up. The goal is to get Nigeria back as an important quality agriculture exporter.

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“But this agriculture quality upgrade project is not all we have for you today. There are other interventions we hope to make happen soon”, she added.

The WTO DG added that in addition to the agricultural quality upgrade project, Nigeria is poised to benefit from the World Trade Organization (WTO)-World Bank Digital Trade Initiative for Africa. With an allocation of about $1 billion for pilot projects in nine African countries, including Nigeria.

According to her, the initiative aims to enhance digital connectivity and regulatory capacity.

“Based on an assessment of where Nigeria stands with its digital hardware and software infrastructure, the World Bank in partnership with the WTO is prepared to assist to develop or upgrade digital (soft and hardware) infrastructure.

“The WTO will help build the necessary regulatory framework and capacity. Nigeria is one of nine pilot African countries to which the World Bank has allocated about $1 billion for the pilot project.

Speaking further she added that the future of trade is digital and digital trade is the fastest growing segment of trade at this time, especially digitally delivered services trade.

“The future of technology is Artificial intelligence and Nigeria, and indeed Africa must be equipped to benefit from digital tech and AI.

“ I know the World Bank is already doing some work in this area, including trying to crowd in private investments and where possible working with the Ministry of Communication, Innovation and Digital Economy. We hope this pilot Africa Project can help enhance this effort in Nigeria to support digital trade.” she said

Earlier, Doris Uzoka-Anite, Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment commended the WTO and the ITC for the launch of STDF that would not only complement the President’s endeavors to leverage trade for economic expansion but would also play a vital role in unlocking economic prospects for the Nigerian populace.

“We also heartily welcome today’s launch of the Standards Trade Development Facility (STDF) , a global partnership which works to strengthen food safety, animal, and plant health capacity in developing countries by encouraging the use of good practices to facilitate safe trade worldwide. This focus empowers us to put the best of Nigeria on the global market, boosting safety and security
for our people and opening doors for our businesses”, she said.

She expressed confidence that the programmes that will be implemented through the facility would support the federal government’s efforts towards ensuring the safety, integrity and marketability of Nigeria’s goods and services.

Read also: Delta to disburse N2bn agricultural intervention fund to farmers

Also speaking at the event Nonye Ayeni the NEPC Executive- Secretary, reiterated the challenges of rejection faced by Nigerian food exports including sesame and cowpea.

She said the challenges were mainly due to poor quality, inefficient procedures and documentation, Sanitary and Phyto-sanitary issues and improper packaging and labeling among others.

She said: “A good number of these factors led to the decision of WTO/ITC to sponsor the STDF project, which will be backed by expected 30 per cent counterpart funding from NEPC.

“This project, STDF 845, will therefore enhance the quality and standard of sesame and cowpea through the institution of good Sanitary and Phyto-sanitary (SPS) conducts, Good Agricultural and Warehousing Practices (GAWP), packaging/labeling and excellent storage systems.

“All these are expected to forestall frequent contract cancellations and loss of business opportunities, while allowing significant increase of global acceptance of the items and for better quality of these products consumed locally”.