By using bio-fertiliser, farmers are reviving land and boosting the nation’s agro exports prospect, Daniel Essiet writes.
While many farmers are battling to survive, because of the financial challenge of setting up a modern farm, organic farming method is helping Herny Adigun, chief executive, Yomex Organic Farm, to succeed.
He uses organic fertiliser, mostly green manure. This helps to provide moisture and nutrients. When he began, his knowledge of farming was not much. Yet his willingness to learn and hard work have paid off handsomely – and he is an example to emerging farmers everywhere.
Yomex Organic Farm based in Lagelu Local Government Area of Oyo State, showcases Adigun’s efforts to make his 16-acre farmland a self-sufficient organic.
The farm is one of the largest in the area, with tomatoes, cucumber and vegetables on three acres of land. Besides growing vegetables, Adigun has spacious sheds for poultry and goats. The peculiarity of the farm is its self sufficiency in every aspect, including manure production, and its solar power unit to generate its own electricity is nearing completion.
At the pace he is going, he could begin the process of applying for Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification or any international certification as an organic grower. Although his farm is not yet ‘official’, he regards his operation as 100 per cent organic.
While exploring various business ventures, he hit upon organic farming as having a promising growth potential. He foresees a tremendous growth in the demand for organic food in the next few years.
With activities of farmers, such as Adigun, organic production, has taken off successfully. Companies involved in organic farming are mostly export oriented.
In the last 20 years, a lucrative international market for organic cocoa, spices, vegetables and coffee has attracted more farmers into organic farming.
This is because the demand for such produce in the United States, Europe and Asia far outstrips domestic supply.
The major organic produce importing countries are the United Kingdom, the United States, China, India, Germany and the Netherlands.
A member of the Nigeria Vietnam Business Council, Mr Sunday Anjorin, said European and Asian markets offer good business opportunities for Nigerian organic companies that want to export their products.
According to Anjorin, supermarkets, food and pharmaceutical companies are channels for organic produce.
Others include bakeries, health food shops, specialised organic shops, fast food restaurants and delivery services.
He said organic spices and herbs were in demand in India.
So far, Germany is Europe’s largest market for organic products, with a sales volume of €5.8 billion and an average growth of 15 per cent yearly.
Indeed, food exports are vital to Nigeria’s economy, and increasing participation in organic farming by exporters is a welcome boost to the already strong and expanding sector.
Gradually, the ranks of certified organic farmers is swelling with the Nigerian Organic Agriculture Network (NOAN), an association that unites farmers, processors, exporters and organisations promoting the practice.
To experts and farmers, as organic farming drives growth in productivity, it also allows farmers to get the most out of soil.
While health-conscious consumers worldwide are providing valuable new organic export markets, most Nigerian farmers are finding it challenging meeting necessary certifications and other requirements to take advantage of the growing popularity of organic foods in industrialised countries.
In most cases, new entrants incur higher costs applying new organic techniques without the higher prices associated with organic label.
Most importantly, the European Union (EU) legislation requires that imported organic foods are produced to the same standards as that from the UK or EU.
On the average, and to win certification, a farm must stop using most pesticides and make other changes, then maintain those practices for three years.
Going organic is governed by strict government standards, which require that products bearing the organic label are made without the toxic and persistent pesticides, synthetic nitrogen fertilisers, antibiotics, synthetic hormones, genetic engineering or other excluded practices, sewage sludge, or irradiation. Beyond this, producers and processors are expected to register with an EU-approved organic control body, and subject to the import controls for organic produce.
While farmers are struggling to comply with the high-level standards needed to meet certification requirements, the EU in June banned some of the nation’s food items. They included beans, sesame seeds, melon seeds, fried fish, meat and peanut chips, among others, from entering Europe till June this year.
According to the European Food Safety Authority, the rejected beans were found to contain between 0.03mg per kg to 4.6mg/kg of dichlorvos pesticide. The acceptable maximum residue limit is 0.01mg/kg.
Addressing a forum in Lagos, the Chairman, Agro-Commodity Export Group of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Dr Obiora Madu, said it was imperative for the government to resolve the issue before the June deadline given by the EU to correct the anomaly.
”Yes, there are a lot of export markets beyond Europe but if we do nothing, it is likely to escalate at the same time as other nations join the EU to reject our produce again we are in trouble.
“As a chamber, we are concerned about the trend and are actively at the forefront of sensitising farmers and exporters on compliance to international standard for our produce.”
According to him, food safety implies the absence or acceptable and safe levels of contaminants, adulterants, naturally-occurring toxins or any hazard that may make food injurious to health.
In an interview, Madu noted that the organic export market is growing because of awareness on the dangers of pesticide residues in food and growing disposable incomes of the urban middle classes.
He said organically-grown products don’t have problems because producers don’t use pesticides.
Madu observed that the EU market is one of the toughest to supply because the technical, ethical, quality and packaging standards are so high.
This, notwithstanding, the successful exporters expect buyers to pay a premium for the extra certification and the quality and size standards; however, they are increasingly finding that the EU is still paying lower prices.
For some exporters, there are still opportunities in the world, including the EU, which makes it attractive to new exporters.
With Nigeria like South Africa in its ability to produce diverse agro product ranges, he sees a bright future for aspiring exporters.
Madu stressed the need for collaborative efforts of regulatory authorities and stakeholders in formulating a framework to address the challenges of the agricultural produce in the international market
There are programmes to help farmer groups and small exporters overcome the challenges and take advantage of the remunerative markets. The programmes are designed to increase their technical skills and improve product quality, which will enable them to obtain organic and fair-trade certification.
Some of the programmes focus on stages of the supply chain from production, harvesting and packaging to certification and marketing. The vital part is to pay for the costly certification and comply with high international quality standards.
On the issue, NOAN President Prof Victor Idowu Olugbemiga Olowe said the group was at the forefront of helping farmers to meet standards for certification.
To make them competitive, he said organic farmers, processors and traders must comply with strict requirements if they want to use organic logo or label their products as organic. He noted that farmers face a number of obstacles in exporting their products, including meeting buyers’ demands on quality, requirements and standards.
According to him, importers require agro exports to have certification. The organic product labels should bear the name of the producer. The advantage of certification, Olowe noted, is that the exporters are able to brand their goods as “certified organic, not just organic” which would increase value.
NOAN, he argued, is striving to assist farmers to adopt organic agriculture as a model for sustainable food and farming.
One way to achieve this is through a national system certification that demonstrates sustainable production practices and meets food safety practices.
According to him, independent validation of sustainability and quality claims is crucial for organic growers to market their produce.
Globally, the major problem in the organic market is a large number of logos and brands, which confuses many consumers and potential buyers of organic products; and probably has a limiting effect on growth over several years. The other challenge is that exporters are expected to prove with documentation that their produce have fair trade certification.