FX gains, jobs, value addition beckon on yam export despite 20mmt gap
Nigeria’s recent undertaking to export yams will raise dollar inflows into the country’s recessed economy and boost value addition in the chain, creating jobs for those willing to explore opportunities in cultivating the crop.
This would however depend on farmers’ capacity to increase production and close the yam supply-demand gap of 20 million metric tonnes (MT) to prevent prices rising beyond the means of teeming Nigerians for which the crop is a staple food.
“It’s an export opportunity. Consider that cashew exporters earned up to $300 million last year. Cocoa exporters earned almost $900 million,” said Francis Ifeanyi Okeleke, executive director of Kenfrancis Integrated Farms Limited, which is in yam production in Anambra State.
“But most importantly, I see more people processing yam into high quality flour for the production of pastes and for bakeries. There is also starch that can be derived from it for food and beverage industries. These by-products can also be exported,” Okeleke said.
Elizabeth Nwankwo, CEO Oklan Best Ltd, whose company is a major yam exporter in Nigeria, told BusinessDay recently, that yam exports would create ready markets for farmers, raising their incomes, as well as investment and job creating capacities.
Robert Asiedu, director of West Africa Research for Development, International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) said Nigeria should now begin to look at an available technology that can double yields to 20 tons per hectare, from the current 11 tons.
The Federal Government recently flagged off yam exports to Europe, the US and the Americas, to compete with Ghana and attract more foreign exchange into the economy. However, local demand for yams is at 60 million tonnes, while production is 40 million tonnes, leaving a gap of 20 million tonnes. Nigeria ranks as the world largest yam producer but the staple food is not cheap in the local market.
Some farmers and exporters who spoke with BusinessDay, believe that unless efforts are made to raise production, increased demand for export will put more pressure on supply, leading to sharp price push-ups.
A similar situation played out with grains, including maize and wheat, in 2016 which saw farmers pegging their prices at dollar rates, due to high demand from exporters. “The export move is a right one but the timing is very wrong. Before we talk about yam export, we must first increase our yield per hectare and improve on our storage facilities,” said AfricanFarmer Mogaji, chief executive officer, X-ray Farms Limited.
Martin Enahoro, deputy director, Peniel Gerar International, an agro-business firm, said Nigeria must increase its yield per hectare and develop high ratio propagation technologies, such as aeroponics, bioreactor and vine cutting, to address the problem of quality and multiplication in seed yam production.
Despite Ghana recording a lower yield per hectare in yam production (8 tons per hectare) compared with Nigeria’s 11 tons per hectare, the Ghanaian tubers are still cheaper.
At Mile 12 Market in Lagos, a small tuber of yam is currently being sold between N450 ($1.2) and N600 ($1.7) while a medium-sized tuber is sold at between N700 ($2) and N900 ($2.5); big size tuber is sold for N1, 300 ($3.6) and N1,500 ($4.2).
In Ghana, a small tuber of yam is sold for between GH5 ($1.1) and GH7 ( $1.6) while medium tuber is sold between GH9 ($2) and GH11 ($2.5), big size tuber sells between GH14 ($3.2)and GH16 ($3.6).
Ghana exports about 35,000 metric tons of yams annually, which accounts for 94 percent of the total yam exports in West Africa, a position Nigeria hopes to take in the next four years, with its recent yam export initiative.
According to Obiora Madu, former chairman, export group, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) what may work against yam export is poor cold chain infrastructure. Madu further states that the yam Nigeria’s yam export drive can only be successful with adequate infrastructural facilities such as storage, good road networks amongst others, which according to him, have made the cost of yam production higher in the country.
Samson Akwah, organising secretary of the yam section at Mile 12 Market, complained that the collapse of the Mokwa-Jebba route has raised the transportation cost for yams.
Akwah said that hiring a Mercedes Bens truck (911) from Benue and other middle-belt states to Lagos, now costs N700,000 as against N350, 000 last year.
According to him, the customers will have to pay for the additional transportation cost, noting it as the reason for the recent price increase in yams in the market.
Apart from that, yam farmers are still largely hit by post-harvest losses, which is a big problem that will put more pressure on yam prices.
In 2010, Nasarawa exported about 118 metric tons of yams to the United States, but recorded a post-harvest loss of 40 percent, on account of logistics problems such as preservation, storage and the likes, said Muhammed Jamil Zakari, commissioner for agriculture.
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