By Emma Okereh
Recently, the Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS) organized a sensitization workshop for farmers in Ainu/Oju local government area in Benue State themed a�?good agricultural practices for export tradea��.
The workshop was an attempt to inculcate on farmers, good agricultural practices that will enhance production of agricultural products that will meet the standard export trade.
Benue State as their slogan goes, is the food basket of the nation and it is only logical that the a�?gospela�� begins from there. True to type, the leadership of NASQ under Dr Vincent Isegbe, the current Coordinating Director, lived up to this billing when this workshop was held.
As we are well aware, agriculture used to be the mainstay of the Nigerian economy before the discovery of her rich oil reserves. Sadly, with the oil boom that subsequently followed, the focus soon shifted and successive governments paid less and less attention to agricultural production. But following dwindling oil revenues due to the lowering of global oil prices and demands, the Nigerian Government launched a massive campaign for return to agricultural production for foreign exchange earnings in a bid to diversifying its economy, a call many of her citizens are heeding.
The Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS), is one agency of government at the center of this advocacy in Nigeria .It has the mandate of protecting Nigeriaa��s agricultural economy from incursion by dangerous pests and diseases, whilst ensuring the promotion of international trade of agricultural commodities. But experts in the industry say that producing for the local market is one thing, and production for international trade is another kettle of fish.
That explains why NAQS regularly takes her enlightenment efforts to the hinterlands, where most of the rural farming communities are resident, to train them on good agricultural practices for export trade. The agency had identified the need to ensure farmers are properly guided in their production right from a�?farm to forka�?.
One of such farming communities is Ainu in Oju LGA of Benue state, a serene and hospitable agrarian town. Oju was identified for its potential for massive agricultural export trade.
On the first day of the workshop, an NAQS Plant Pathologist, Dr. Solomon Sunday took them through the rudiments of GAP for export trade while on day 2, the team leader, Dr. Gozie Nwodo, Head of Media and Public Relations lectured on the imperatives of farmersa�� Cooperatives. Afterwards, the pilot cooperative groups were given some take-off support from the agency with a promise to follow up on their progress for continual guidance. Each participant was also provided a token for their transport. Both sessions were very interactive and the farmers attested to having benefited immensely from the training workshop.
The team had a stopover in Otukpo at the residence of the NAQS Zonal Coordinator for North Central, Dr. Sunday Audu, to brief him on the outcome of the workshop.
It is imperative to remind the reading public that the Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS) is a regulatory agency under the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. It was created for the harmonization of Plants, Veterinary and Aquatic resources Quarantine in Nigeria to promote and regulate sanitary and phytosanitary measures in connection with the import and export of agricultural products with a view to minimizing the risk to Nigeriaa��s agricultural economy, food safety and the environment.
The main objective of NAQS is to prevent the introduction, establishment and spread of animal and zoonotic diseases as well as pests of plants and fisheries, and their products. The agencya��s other mandate is the facilitation of international trade. This can be a tall order, considering that these two mandates appear parallel. The challenge therefore is the ability to deploy requisite expertise and experience in order to maintain balance in carrying out both mandates. This is exactly the task NAQS officers are faced with daily: that of maintaining the delicate balance between enforcing regulations aimed at preventing the introduction of pests and facilitating international trade to aid economic growth.
In addition,the agency has made significant strides in creating farmer awareness and combating diseases that cause huge economic losses. A few examples are the scourge of Tuta Abosluta, a pest that destroys tomato, Army worm that attacks maize and recently Banana Bunchy Top disease that affects banana. The agency did this by collaborating with relevant stakeholders whilst launching a robust media campaign and engaging farmers at the rural areas with a view to preventing recurrence and spread. More importantly, NAQS takes proactive action towards preventing the incursion of other pests and diseases, like the Coconut Lethal Yellowing Disease, that are already devastating neighbouring African countries.
The issue of Mycotoxin contamination in our food has also been taken up. Enlightenment campaigns and workshops for market men and women in several states of the federation by an NAQS/Chinese Embassy collaboration has been ongoing and had already taken place in Kano, Benue and the FCT. Furthermore, effort at ensuring zero-reject of Nigeriaa��s agricultural products and the domestication of the Global Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) standards are all being championed by NAQS. Pest Survey and risk analysis for Pigeon Pea had opened Nigeria export, worth about 100 billion US dollars, to the Indian market following a trade facilitation visit to India recently.