By NGOZI Onyeakusi


The exporters of yam to the UK and US have disputed the reports, initially aired by the Africa Independent Television (AIT) purporting that the yams exported after the official flag-off ceremony on June 29, 2017 were rejected at their export destinations.
The symbolic event, done at the Lilypond Container Terminal in Lagos by the Honourable Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, meant to boost the morale of Nigerian exporters and make a bold statement to the global marketplace, has drawn widespread criticisms on various media platforms based on the misleading reports.
The concerned exporters and other prospective exporters have expressed worries about the potential impact of the negative publicity on their prospects at the export market in the wake of federal government’s initiative on diversification of the economy through agricultural produce export.
Most commentators and analysts in the mainstream and social media have retailed the negative aspect of the laudable initiative and have played up the wrong versions of the export story. Discussions with the exporters have since shown the prevailing storyline as inappropriate and misleading.
First, the exporters to the UK and US have emphatically said that their consignments were successfully cleared at the ports and delivered them to their various warehouses. They said, although some cases of tuber spoilage were reported in both cases, these were separated from the good ones, and the good ones were distributed to the buyers. The exporters noted that Ghana, which has been exporting yams for a while, routinely records cases of spoilage, without making any public issues therefrom; and their yams don’t get rejected as a result.
Mr. Michael Adedipe of ADES UK Foods and Drinks for the UK, whose warehouse was visited by AIT, has deplored the AIT report and other subsequent commentaries about rejection of his yams by the UK authorities. Adedipe has said emphatically that the consignment was not rejected; “It was cleared.”
According to Adedipe, who confirmed that he spoke to AIT: “I’ve watched the (TV) programme which lasted for about two hours. All the positive stuff removed. We that decide to venture in this project are aware of the risks involved because, this fresh produce … we’ll expect five or 10 per cent damages. I don’t know why they said the product got rejected. I’ve sent my release note. I’ve sent video of loading. I’ve sent every documentation to say that there is no issue like that at all.”
On the spoilage of yam, Adedipe explained that “the failure has nothing to do with the ministry of agriculture, but the Nigerian Ports Authority. That’s where I see the failure.” He expressed disgust at the mishandling of his comments by the AIT reporter, saying: “I told him, he is aware of it. He knew about the delay, I told him about all the consignment. He knew every single thing that happened. But what he did the most is to use all the negative stuff. We talked about other things. I told him how I came into the UK to go and fix our problem. All those were removed from the report.”
Adedipe, who has vowed not to stop yam export business, disclosed that “the other mistake was the shipping line we used. But they were the ones that were available.” According to him, in spite of the sour experience with media report, “I’m willing to invest. I still expect…at least to take a container from Nigeria every week.”
Managing Director, Wan Nyikwagh Farms Nigeria Limited, Mr Yandev Amaabai, has strongly disputed the yam rejection story and said it doesn’t even tally. “The story from AIT was focused on UK. So far, I am the only person who has lifted yam to the US. Whatever we can do to clarify this issue will be good. We learn as we progress. The whole idea that government brought was to diversify the economy.”
My goods actually got to the US on September 7, 2017. The ship berthed on September 2, 2017, but, because of the flooding in Texas, we couldn’t discharge until the 7th. They were cleared from the Customs and brought to the warehouse on the 7th. Yams are perishable items and, definitely, some may go bad on the way. But, this statement that says the American government rejected Nigerian yams, where does it come from?
Our yams were released to us and we took them to the stores. We sorted out our yams when they got there. We distributed them to the off-takers. So, where they got this story from, I don’t know. Nobody has ever called from anywhere, even in the US, to ask me question. If a few yams got rotten, and I am not complaining, why are people crying more than the owner?I have all the papers. The Customs cleared my goods on the other side. And these things went to my warehouse from where we distributed.”
If Ghana, which produces 4.8 million tonnes of yams, according to 2008 estimates, occupies a niche as the leading exporter of crop, accounting for over 94 per cent of total yam exports in West Africa, Nigeria which is by far the world’s largest producer of yams, accounting for over 70 to 76 per cent of the world production, producing 35.017 million metric tonnes valued equivalent of US$5.654 billion by the 2008 estimates should do better than Ghana in the export market
Ghana is the first country in West Africa to launch its national yam development strategy in 2013. The country aims at US$5billion dollars of exports by 2018. Nigeria, which produces seven times Ghana’s production volume is beset with criticisms over attempts to bring it to the global yam markets. About 90 per cent of Ghana’s yams are exported to the US, Canada, UK and elsewhere in Europe. There are more Nigerians than Ghanaians in these countries, meaning more prospects for Nigerian exporters.
Chief Ogbeh has said that Nigeria, the largest producer of yam in the world, is not anywhere near the capacity to export and remains so much a nation of consumers. He stressed that“Nigeria must export” as the “country’s economy is increasing, and in ten years’ time, oil and gas is going to drop. Then we may have nothing to earn foreign exchange except we begin to diversify our export base now.”
With all these prospects in view, the Honourable Minister expressed surprise at the negative news trailing his laudable effort at putting Nigeria on the global yam export market, saying “we’re not going to stop because this is not enough to demoralise us. We have food to export. Never mind what so-called critics are doing.”
“In the ministry of agriculture,” he said, “we are not exporters. The ministry does not export. We’re going to talk to the port authority on cooling vans for vegetables and fresh produce so that exporters don’t lose money and we don’t lose face. We should begin to build cold trucks that are temperature-controlled to keep the yams till the time they have to go. We should invest in special containers for their storage.”
“If other countries are doing it, we too can do it. We’re trying to take over the market. We’ve come to nearly 70 per cent of raw output of yams. Why can’t Nigerians in Texas, Canada, London and Germany have access to the yams?” The Minister vowed that “we will go ahead with our efforts to export yam. We will not let this opportunity slip any further. We are determined to position our people to capture the investment opportunities and benefits in the yam export to these countries. We will fix the yam export value chain. We have the volume and the market.”
We will emphasise global best practices, engage with world class experts and international organisations as well as leverage the strength in indigenous knowledge. We will support investment in relevant infrastructure and facilities. We will revive the abandoned yam conditioning centres in Ekiti and Nassarawa states while we encourage the construction of new ones with appropriate equipment to boost storage and export prospects. We appeal to Nigerians, in the spirit of patriotism, to see the silver lining around the cloud of the week of misinformation about yam export.
We have commenced engagement with the National Assembly for the repeal of the 1989 law that prohibits export of yams and other agro-commodities. Currently, the bill has passed the second reading at the national assembly. The continued existence of this law is an obstruction against the economic diversification and export initiative of this administration. We plead with the National Assembly to fast-track the repeal of the law and help us further unlock our export potential.