Lagos – Nigeria on Thursday began to export yams to Europe and the United States, as part of moves to diversify its oil-dependent economy and earn much-needed foreign exchange.
Agriculture minister Audu Ogbeh flagged off the first consignment of the fibrous tuber from the port in the country’s economic capital, Lagos.
“Oil and gas cannot employ millions of people just like agriculture so we must work hard to move from oil to earning foreign exchange from agriculture,” he said on Wednesday.
Ogbeh told a news conference inspection charges on export produce would be reduced to encourage more overseas sales and greater competition.
“To make yam competitive, we will work on the packages and the right types of trucks to be used for transportation of the produce,” he said.
According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), Nigeria accounts for 61% of the world’s total yam output. Ogbeh said not all of it was consumed, causing waste.
But with food shortages in conflict-hit parts of the country’s northeast and food inflation nudging 20%, there are fears the policy could hit consumers in the pocket.
Yams, a staple grown across Nigeria, have gone up in price since last August when the country slipped into recession as a result of low global oil prices.
Nigeria relies on crude oil sales for 90% of foreign exchange earnings and 70% of government revenue.
But the worldwide oil slump slashed revenues, weakened the naira, pushed up inflation and stalled investment prompting the government to look to the non-oil sector to stem the tide.
“The (yam export) policy is going to compound our suffering,” said Lagos housewife Bolanle Akintomo.
“A tuber of yam that used to sell for between 63-95 US cents is now $3.2.
“With exports, the price will further go up.”
The National Association of Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Manufacturing and Agriculture said incentives were needed to produce enough yams for local and overseas consumption.
“There may be an increase in prices at the short-term but the prices will fall as more yams come to the market,” a NACCIMA official said.
Denja Yaqub of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), said the initiative could encourage farmers to increase output, earning foreign exchange for the cash-strapped economy.
“The policy will also make our agricultural produce competitive in the international market,” he added.
Yaqub said the government needed to reduce fuel costs for farmers, upgrade roads and improve storage facilities to cut waste in the supply chain and ultimately lower prices.