Nigeria is currently facing a conundrum of food export rejections in the global market. The issues of poor packaging, lack of testing, certification, and quality assurance are pressing matters that need attention, JUSTICE OKAMGBA writes
Nigeria, a nation brimming with entrepreneurial spirit and rich resources, has encountered a significant challenge in recent times: the rejection of its products in international markets due to substandard packaging, and lack of product testing, amongst other issues.
According to the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control over 70 percent of food exports from Nigeria are rejected abroad with huge financial losses to the exporters and the country at large. 30 per cent of Nigerian products rejected overseas due to poor packaging and labeling, according to a study.
Further, Africa’s largest economy has also experienced a substantial food trade deficit of N4.92tn between 2018 and 2022; available data from the National Bureau of Statistics has shown.
However this hurdle, while daunting, catalyses Nigeria to enhance its global competitiveness by focusing on raising standards and implementing rigorous quality assurance measures.
The former Director-General of the Standard Organization of Nigeria, Mallam Farouk, while addressing industrialists in Lagos during a general sensitization for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, said Nigeria’s journey to global competitiveness begins with a commitment to raising standards and ensuring the quality of its exports.
The forum included representatives from key organizations such as the Association of Micro Entrepreneurs of Nigeria, Nigerian Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, and Association of Master Bakers and Caterers of Nigeria, among other business association
The DG remarked that by investing in packaging innovation, implementing rigorous quality control measures, educating producers, and promoting sustainable and ethical practices, Nigeria can overcome export rejections and carve a niche in the global market.
Mallam Farouk emphasized that the critical need for Nigerian industries to adhere to rigorous quality standards and international best practices is paramount in overcoming the hurdles of rejection.
He encouraged industries to focus on enhancing the quality of their goods and ensure they meet international standards. He urged the industries to collaborate closely with regulatory bodies like SON for guidance.
Farouk stressed, “The necessity of collaboration between industries, customers, and regulatory bodies cannot be overstated.”
Packaging, labeling and testing
The importance of meticulous packaging and meeting global standards cannot be overstated, he said.
Farouk highlighted, “The essence of proper packaging and adherence to international quality benchmarks is pivotal in ensuring the acceptance of Nigerian products abroad.”
He pointed out, “The use of fertilizers and pesticides, which contain chemicals, could lead to some of the food exports being rejected. I am not saying that fertilizers are not good, I am just saying that there might be some chemicals which those countries find harmful.”
Farouk observed that Nigeria possesses the potential to excel in organic agriculture.
“Embracing organic farming methods could give the nation a competitive edge in the global market.
“By reverting to, traditional, chemical-free agricultural practices, Nigerian farmers can produce goods that align with the growing global preference for organic and eco-friendly products,” he added
Also speaking on the issue, the Head of Department, Micronutrients, Good and Chemical Laboratories, SON, David Ikhenebome, said, another critical factor contributing to export rejections is the absence of thorough product testing before export.
Ikhenebome noted in his paper “Standardization as an Imperative for Industrial Development,” that without proper testing, Nigerian exporters run the risk of sending out products that do not meet the requirements of the importing countries, leading to rejection and financial losses.
He said, “As a manufacturer, it’s crucial to be certain about what you produce. One mistake can have significant consequences, especially in our society, where people believe any issues with products can be rectified. If something is wrong with your product and you haven’t tested it, you’re taking a huge risk.
“Today in Nigeria, people are demanding product recalls, something we’re not used to. In developed countries, if something is wrong with a product, it’s recalled.
“But in Nigeria, you might not survive even one faulty product because news spreads fast, and people abandon your products. Confidence is key. How do you achieve this confidence? Through product testing. Your products need to be consistent,” he added.
“Packaging has been at the forefront of product development as well as marketing efforts such that packaging and branding are critical marketing tools both in domestic and export markets.”
He said that the problem of packaging in Nigeria today is complex because innovation keeps on changing due to the market trend of consumer demand and behaviors while packaging and labeling strive to keep pace.
Ikhenebome added that the problems of Nigeria’s food export are impacting not only the business’s reputation but also the nation’s image as a reliable exporter.
Professor of Nutritional Biochemistry, Department of Biochemistry, Lagos State University, Prof. Adu Benedict, said meticulous considerations are needed to ensure the quality, safety, and market readiness of packaged items before export.
Prof. Benedict said, “When selecting a container, certain crucial factors come into play. Firstly, it must be approved by regulatory bodies like NAFDAC, ensuring adherence to safety standards.
“Additionally, the container must meet specific product-related specifications. It should be non-toxic, a fundamental requirement applicable to various products including medications and cosmetics.
Access to funding
Stakeholders at the sensitisation forum highlighted that one of the biggest challenges faced by SMEs in Nigeria is limited access to traditional funding sources, making it herculean for them to compete globally.
They earnestly pleaded that the government should prioritise MSMEs in the country, considering their significant number, estimated to be around 40 million.
The President of the Association of Micro Entrepreneurs of Nigeria, Prince Iche said, “We cannot ignore the importance of funding. I’m not sure if our ideas resonate with you, but the reality is that entrepreneurs in Nigeria have been overlooked.
“Let’s confront the truth: while the country is actively seeking foreign investors, local entrepreneurs, especially those at the grassroots level, have been neglected.”
Further, Iche explained, “These are the small business owners, like us here, who need government support to thrive. Our government should focus on empowering startups in Nigeria.
“This is the essence of entrepreneurship I’m talking about. I’m not trying to make sweeping statements; I’m speaking from our experiences.
Let’s face it, whether we accept it or not. We shouldn’t be surprised at how challenging it is. We talk openly, without sugarcoating, because it’s crucial for anyone listening to understand the reality. Nigeria’s entrepreneurial spirit is vibrant, but it is often disregarded.”
However, while acknowledging the challenges of the MSMEs, Farouk assured the industry stakeholders of continuous government support.
He affirmed the government’s commitment to enhancing infrastructure and creating an enabling environment for businesses to thrive.
Farouk emphasised that investments in infrastructure, including reliable power supply and transportation, are vital to bolstering the competitiveness of Nigerian products on the global stage.
On access to finance, he said, “banks are not charity organizations, once they know that you are doing something right, they would want to invest in their money.
President Bola Tinubu has committed to bolstering the MSME sector with N125 billion to mitigate the effects of petrol subsidy removal, stating, “We are also monitoring the effects of the exchange rate and inflation on gasoline prices. If and when necessary, we will intervene.”
He announced a N50 billion Conditional Grant initiative for 1 million nano businesses, aiming to provide N50,000 each to 1,300 nano business owners in all 774 local governments nationwide.