By Emma Okereh
Some weeks ago, the Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS) held a- two- day stakeholders’ workshop in Lagos to reposition the Service for better service delivery.
This is more so since it has been upgraded so that it can be in a better stead to regulate and standardize the exportation and importation of agricultural products in the Nigerian borders.
But beyond standardizing and regulating the importation and exportation of agricultural products at the borders, the Service has embarked on what it called ‘backward integration for better export products’. This simply means that the Service go to the hinterlands where such products are cultivated from the time of cultivation in order to sensitize the farmers on quality seedlings, effective transportation up to the ports for export.
This intervention, it christened, ‘From farm to fork’, is aimed at promoting healthy agricultural export so that the farmers would not be disappointed at the border posts.
The Lagos workshop which held from Tuesday, May 22, 2018 to Wednesday, 23rd May 2018, witnessed many topics and resource persons from the Service such that the new vision and its attendant responsibilities are well drummed to the operators.
On day one of the workshop, the first presentation was on ‘the imperatives of workplace attitudinal change in NAQS delivered by Dr Olusegun Awobiyi while the second presentation was themed ‘Executive Order Reforms: NAQS’ perspective delivered by Dr. Gozie Nwodo, Head of Media and PEBEC Reform champion.
The third presentation was titled, ‘Solid wood packaging: lessons from the Korean experience’ delivered by John Abba Obaje, HOD Plant Quarantine.
The second day witnessed the presentation of the keynote address by the Coordinating Director and Chief Executive of the Service, Dr. Vincent Isegbe titled NAQSS: New visions and challenges. The theme was apt given the new status of the Service where everybody has to key into the new vision and obvious challenges staring it in the face.
While presenting his keynote address, Dr Isegbe did not mince words as to where he is headed with the Service. He informed his audience in very clear terms that he has a vision to reposition the Service to be a first class, responsive and efficient agency.
He therefore outlined various ways and strategies of meeting up with his desired dream of taking it to greater heights. One of the strategies is through e-certification which will enable secure certificates issued by it which will eliminate forgeries and all sorts of malfeasance.
It is pertinent to note that within the period that Dr. Isegbe has led the Service, it has recorded a lot of plus. Worthy of mentioning is the fact that the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) chaired by Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo in its latest report late last year, ranked NAQS as the 4th MDA in terms of compliance, efficiency and customer service interface in carrying out its mandate.
The Coordinating Director also tasked them on discipline, staff training even as he sensitized them on wearing of uniform and its conduct and etiquette. He assured that the Service under his watch has effectively keyed into the federal government ease of doing business such that it can reap bountifully from it. He also spoke about seven freight stations to be located in Aba, Ibadan, Jos, Kano, Zamfara, Maiduguri and Kaduna.
He further assured his staff of better days if they put what they have been taught into practice just as he warned that big stick would also be wielded on erring staff that may attempt to force the hands of the clock backwards.
It will be recalled that some months ago, the Service also organized a sensitization workshop for farmers in Ainu/Oju local government area in Benue State themed ‘good agricultural practices for export trade’.
The workshop was an attempt to inculcate on farmers, good agricultural practices that will enhance production of good agricultural products that will meet the standard export trade.
Recall, that agriculture was 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 centre of this advocacy in Nigeria. It has the mandate of protecting Nigeria’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 “farm to fork”.
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 farmers’ 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.
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 Nigeria’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 agency’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.