Calls for inter-agency collaboration to encourage importers
By Gabriel Ewepu
An agribusiness firm, Fruits and Veggies Global Limited, yesterday, expressed frustration and blamed the poor port system over N29 million spent to import seeds.
This was disclosed by the Chief Executive Officer, Fruits, and Veggies Global Limited, Steve Bawa, in an interview with Vanguard, while speaking on poor synergy among government agencies at the seaports, which discourages importers.
According to Bawa in 2019, his company made an application to bring in seeds, and the National Agricultural Seeds Council, NASC, and Nigerian Agricultural Quarantine Service gave it approval.
He said, “We couldn’t bring in those seeds in good and we didn’t know about the new requirement needed for NAFDAC to approve the Form M.
“So we went to NAFDAC, and the office in Jos nobody seems to know anything, and then we got in touch with their people in Abuja and they told us the procedure, and it was such a lengthy procedure.
“By the time we were done with the approval and we got the CBN to approve the Form M the season for potato had gone.
“So we lost that season, and it took us about over two months for us to resolve that issue because it was strange for us we have not heard from the Seed Council to say we don’t know anything about this can you people clarify this, but what we understand is we have no business with NAFDAC concerning the importation of seeds.
“We went to Quarantine Services and we asked both of them to intervene because this is going to be certainly a disastrous requirement for seed companies.
“Nothing happened, and we have to go through the process, and like I said it was too late for the exporter to send the three containers of seeds we were importing. “We started this process on October 19, and those seeds supposed to arrive in Nigeria in December because we needed them to plant in January.
“By the time December was up, there was no opportunity to be able to bring in those seeds. Now, we lost that season, shortly after that the Coronavirus came in.
“We couldn’t get any of those seeds in 2020, so throughout 2020 nothing came till December 2020 that was when those containers actually arrived because they have to give us new varieties, sets, and production.
“By the time we got those seeds in December, the ship berthed around early December, and we didn’t get those containers out of the ports until the first week of January for four months.
“The most annoying thing with the port system is that the Nigerian Customs Service said we need to come to pay duty and how can they know that they are seeds, and we said the only way we can prove that they are seeds their documentation because there is no way we can prove the documentation from Seeds Council, Quarantine Services, and the exporter because seed trade is a global business.
“The documentation will normally state whether is for planting or is meant for consumption, and we stated that if you go and physically want to smell the smell will show what is used to keep the seeds under proper condition until it is planted for production.
“The Customs delayed us for like three weeks, eventually we got in touch with their superior officers and they actually asked them to release the seeds.
“The total value of those seeds from Germany to Lagos cost us about N30 million for the three containers. We paid N29 million to get those containers out. What kind of country will really succeed with that kind of thing? It is a disaster. What cost us the same amount of money we are spending to bring them from Lagos to Jos.
“Of course, when the seeds came out it was impossible for farmers to afford. Two, we lost some of the seeds because of this challenge. We paid N2.2 million to transport one container from Tin Can to Ejigbo in Lagos, and it used to be N80, 000, and how are we going to grow? We in business are scammed here and there, and nobody seems to care. When we talk about food security in this country we must be joking. We lost 10 tonnes of seeds out of the imported 75 tonnes.
“We are still counting our losses. We are an off-taker; we give farmers the seeds and we off-take, and they were using community seed producers that were registered with the Seed Council. So that is the scheme we are using.
“We spent N20 million to import those seeds and we spent over N29 million just to get those seeds from Lagos to Jos, already that is a loss, and we are still counting and we have not finished, unfortunately.”
However, he expressed discouragement and said, “Humanly, I am discouraged, but we have a passion to support farmers to ensure that they get it right.”
Meanwhile, he (Bawa) recommended that NASC should interface with NAFDAC, Nigeria Ports Authority, NPA, as well as the Nigerian Customs Service as they are government agencies, “and really to a large extent are stressed of this process they have put in place, let NASC interface, intervene and engage with them so that they can as much as possible support the industry rather than create bottlenecks so that people do not get quality seeds.”