Tackling Hibiscus export ban to Mexico
Over the past five years, agriculture has contributed an average of 30 per cent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). One of the commodities boosting foreign earning is Hibiscus, also known as zobo. Hibiscus, a flower used in teas and cuisines around the world, is expected to lead the market for floral flavours through 2027, according to a new forecast published by Future Market Insights (FMI).
Mexico is Nigeria’s biggest export market.
In 2017, Nigeria earned $35 million exporting 1,983 containers of Hibiscus to Mexico, being the hub of Southern and Latin America, within nine months of that year, according to the Coordinating Director, Nigerian Agricultural Quarantine Service, Dr Vincent Isegbe.The Director, Operations, AgroEknor, Adedoyin Adesanya, said Hibiscus is a major income earner for Nigeria. According to him, dried Hibiscus flower is used in the production of tea.
His company engages in collection, cultivation, harvesting, processing and marketing of Hibiscus in Europe, Mexico and the United States.
The Hibiscus Farmers Association in Jigawa said its members earned N3.6 billion from export of Hibiscus last year. The association’s Chairman, Alhaji Faruq Abdallah, said 15,000 tonnes of Hibiscus was produced in the state within the period under review, and that each tonne was sold at N240,000.
Abdallah listed the major Hibiscus-producing areas in the state as Mallammadori, Kaugama, Gumel, Gagarawa and Birniwa local government areas.
He said there were over 15,000 Hibiscus farmers in the state, noting that they sold the commodity to over 30 Kano-based companies.
“These companies, through their agents, normally buy Hibiscus produced by our members and stocked in major markets of Gujungu, Hadejia, Mallammadori, Maigatari, Garungabas and Sara. They export about 98 per cent of the total Hibiscus we produce to Mexico, China, India and Sudan, where the commodity is used in manufacturing beverages, medicine and hair cream, among others.”
He appealed to the Federal Government to expand the Cluster Programme to enable the farmers increase Hibiscus production. Abdallah said if the Federal Government could expand the clusters support from 50 hectares to between 80 and 100 hectares in every council, production capacity could be increased to about 30,000 tonnes annually.
He appealed to the state government to provide more inputs for farmers to encourage more people to grow Hibiscus.
The Coordinating Director, Nigerian Agricultural Quarantine Service, said from January to September last year, the agency inspected and exported Hibiscus to Mexico worth $35 million.
Isegbe said the agency was strengthening the capacity of farmers in Jigawa and other states where Hibiscus was being produced to enhance the quality of the produce in line with global standards.
Containers of hibiscus flowers rejected in Mexico
Deputy Executive Secretary , Federation of Agricultural Commodity Associations of Nigeria (FACAN), Mr Peter Bakare said more than 40 containers of Hibiscus flowers were rejected in Mexico in 2018 as a result of impurities, adding that some farmers used lower quantities of chemicals.
Ban on Nigerian Hibiscus flowers has left many exporters ‘technically’ out of business, as it is yet to be lifted. This has caused job losses in the agriculture value chain, even as many farmers depend on cultivation of the crop for survival.
Experts believe Nigeria has lost $35 million (N12.6 billion) from the export of Hibiscus following the ban.
Bakare said the association was working out stringent measures for commodities export to meet international standards to prevent loss of revenue due to rejections.
He said that the measures would be put in place on exports because the country lost significant revenue, while many exporters suffered heavy financial losses because of the number of rejected exports from Nigeria.
He said the association was faced with many challenges leading to rejection of its produces in the international market because of inability to provide sanitary standard compliance documentations.
Adesanya said the major problem affecting Hibiscus was quality. “If the flowers are challenged, it will be rejected. The international market takes the issue of quality very seriously. Currently, the ban by Mexico is actually affecting us, because they account for 80 per cent of export from Nigeria and they are always ready to accept from Nigeria because of the quality?”
To achieve good quality, the produce goes through four food safety standard stages – spreading and sifting, sorting and final, said Akintunde Adaraniwon. He added that through the first three stages, all unwanted elements that often lead to rejection in international market are taken care of.
“Our fumigation chamber is being built and when completed, we’ll be able to ensure removal of all unwanted particles to make it available for international standard, he said.”
On the cause of the ban of the product, Adesanya said: “People go into the business without knowing the nitty-gritty.They get into exporting rubbish-stones, sands and unwanted particles, with the aim of getting more money. When the Mexico door was closed, we had to survive, that is why we are doing our best. We are the first company to export Hibiscus from Port Harcourt Airport, Onne, and it was successful, the only difference compared to Lagos is the high cost. “High levies are charged in Port Harcourt, instead of the N140,000 fees for exporting a container, it shoots up to N200,000, including hotel accommodation and logistics. The extra cost affected our profit line. Kidnapping, insecurity and other challenges are responsible for exporters ignoring Port Harcourt Airport, but we took that risk. Operations there are very fast unlike Lagos.
Efforts to address the issue
The Head, Media, Communications and Strategies Unit of the Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS), Dr. Chigozie Nwodo, said the organisation, NAFDAC and other agencies had reached an agreement on the use of methyl bromide in pre-shipment preservation for quality and standardisation of the flower .
Consequently, farmers are advised that the healthy use of methyl bromide for control of agricultural pest remains permissible in Nigeria, especially for export of Hibiscus to Mexico.
He stated that the use of methyl bromide was sometimes set as a precondition for the treatment of agro-commodities intended for export.
He said Mexico specifically requested the use of methyl bromide in the treatment of Hibiscus shipments
Nwodo said the organisation has taken delivery of containers of methyl bromide that will be used in pre-shipment preservation for quality and standardisation of the Hibiscus flower. He reiterated, however, that all agro-chemicals are potentially harmful, if used contrary to their original purpose or if applied arbitrarily.
He said Nigeria would resume the exportation of Hibiscus shortly.
A founding partner, AgroEknor, Timi Oke, lamented the ban on Hibiscus flower by Mexico. He said the action had crippled their businesses and led to massive job losses.
To avoid rejection which most exports suffer, Oke said the company pays particular attention to the process of preparation, packaging and storage of flower picked on its farms to reduce the possibility of contamination and to assure clients of its commitment to high quality.
DANIEL ESSIET writes