Nigeria’s decision to export yam to Europe has been received with mixed reactions from analysts and stakeholders in the export sector.
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, had announced that 72 metric tonnes of yam were ready for export to the United Kingdom and the United States of America.
The minister, who signalled the commencement of the export programme in Lagos on Thursday, gave an assurance that it would not subject Nigerians to hunger.
He had said, “Some people have asked whether by exporting yams we are not going to subject Nigerians to hunger, and I had to inform the Federal Executive Council that that will certainly not arise.
“You will remember that about February or March this year, some of you asked the same question: ‘Is Nigeria going to face famine?’ and I said it cannot happen. Apart from the crisis in the North-East, we definitely are not short of food. Although prices are high in some areas, we are not short of food.”
Stakeholders, however, adopted a different stance to the minister’s position.
According to them, yam is hardly affordable to the local consumer.
“The smallest tuber of yam sells for N600 and this was the same product that sold for N150 two years ago,” the Chairman, Ikeja Shop Owners Association, Mr. John Okonkwo lamented.
The Director-General, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Mr. Muda Yusuf, noted that the ministry should have been preoccupied with improving the production of yam so that it could be available locally before thinking of exporting it.
He said, “There is a need to get our priorities right. The major preoccupation of the agriculture ministry at this time should be how to improve productivity in agriculture. The sector is still dominated by smallholder farmers who do not have the capacity to support the realisation of the vision of food security for the country.
“The sector is grappling with serious issues of high cost of farm inputs, including agrochemicals, high cost of agricultural machineries and equipment, access to land for mechanised farming, sustainable off takers of agricultural products, access to finance (especially working capital by investors in the sector), security challenges faced by farmers because of the activities of herdsmen, and many more. These are the issues we expect the agriculture ministry to be addressing now.”
Yusuf added, “There is also a social dimension. The biggest worry of majority of the citizens now is high food prices. The negative welfare effect is profound. It is difficult to reconcile this reality with the dramatization of the export of yam. It is good to generate foreign exchange, but we have a moral responsibility to respond urgently to the problem of hunger occasioned by high cost of food.”
An economic analyst at the University of Uyo, Prof. Leo Ukpong, stated that the export move was a good one, but was bound to further push up the prices of yam in the local market.
He added that if there was a huge demand for Nigerian yam in Europe, the local supply was bound to drop, forcing up prices.
Ukpong said the government should have invested in agricultural research to increase the quality of yam and reduce disease and pest infestation, which would have led to increase in volume locally.
A stakeholder in the export sector, Dr. Victor Iyama, who is the President of the Federation of Agricultural Commodity Associations of Nigeria, said the move would encourage more people to go into yam production.
He noted that Nigeria was the largest producer of yam in Africa and that due to packaging challenges, Nigerian yams were being exported to Europe through Ghana, and were being passed off as Ghanaian yams.