Repositioning yam as export crop in Nigeria: prospects, challenges


Nigeria is the leading producer of yams in the world. However, in spite of the huge production of the crop, Nigeria is nowhere in the map of countries that export yams.

This has been a recurrent concern raised by the Federal Government and other stakeholders in the yam value chain.

According to stakeholders in the yam sector, the major challenges facing the sector include; seedlings, poor quality inputs, threats of climate change like drought, floods and land degradation.

There is also poor product standardisation which limits access to profitable markets.

Other challenges are, limited access to affordable credit to grow yam business, inadequate rural infrastructure to facilitate transportation as yam is bulky and perishable, hence leading to huge losses.

To address these challenges, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) organised a workshop with the theme, “Prospects and Challenges of Yam Export in Nigeria”.

It brought stakeholders together to brainstorm and come up with strategies that would reposition Nigeria as a major player in the yam export.

The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry, Dr Ernest Umakhihe, at the workshop, said that besides food security, wealth creation was the most important form of guaranteeing the sovereignty of a state.

Umakhihe, who was represented by the Director, Federal Department of Agriculture, Mr Abdullahi Abubakar, said the theme of the workshop “Prospects and Challenges of Yam Export in Nigeria” was well captioned.

He said there was need to critically examine the factors militating against quality production and export of the country’s major commodities of which yam was one of them.

The Permanent Secretary said that in 2020, Nigeria contributed 67 per cent while Ghana contributed 10 per cent to global yam output.

“However, Ghana remains the second largest world exporter of yam for over 10 years and the highest in West Africa with 94 per cent annual export contribution.

“Ghana’s income from export of yam has grown from $18.48m in 2015 to $39.7m in 2021.

“If Ghana that produces only 10 per cent of global production can earn as much, Nigeria can earn six times more than Ghana based on her production capacity,” Umakhihe said.

He recalled that Nigeria’s first attempt at exporting yam was by Nasarawa State government in 2009 with 8.5 metric tonnes on 8th June, 2009 and within the same month another 66 metric tonnes were exported in two shipments.

“The next state that attempted was Oyo State but without success. It was only in 2017 that the Federal Ministry of Agriculture under the leadership of Chief Audu Ogbeh, former Minister of Agriculture, organised the first ever flag- off ceremony with a batch of 72 tonnes to the UK and USA.

“I believe these were done without proper planning before the execution. Aside the mentioned attempts, nothing much has been heard of the yam export from Nigeria. It is our duty to find out what went wrong and how to address it in this workshop.

“It therefore becomes imperative to put Nigeria in its right position by considering its contribution to global production,” Umakhihe said.

Dr Beatrice Aighewi, a Yam Seed System Specialist, at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Abuja station, said that export of yam was grossly unexploited partly due to inadequate information about export requirements.

“The seed is the starting point of improving our export, the produce is as good as your seed. Yam provides food and income to millions of people in Nigeria.

“Yam is a food security crop that has an enormous potential as a foreign exchange earner.

“Yam has a high socio- cultural status: new yam festivals, traditional marriages, burials, tributes to chiefs and ancestral ceremonies, with beliefs and taboos area under the crop,” Aighewi said.

According to her, yam has the highest crop production value in Nigeria although its production is only 40 per cent compared to that of cassava.

Aighewi listed top yam producer states in the country to include, Benue, Niger, Nasarawa and Taraba among others.

She advised that to reposition yam for export, stakeholders should have knowledge of improved varieties of the crop, improved knowledge on post – harvest handling and storage of the crop as well as tuber quality and requirements for exports among others.

Aighewi said that yam production should be prioritised to enhance government and private investments.

The yam researcher therefore called on the government to support the yam value chain with financial assistance for the yam market.

Prof. Simon Irtwange, National President, National Association of Yam Farmers, Processors and Marketers, shared similar view with Aighewi that yam was indeed a food security crop and had an enormous potential as a foreign exchange earner.

“If we are going to upscale production and produce quality yams that we can export, then we need to look at our production.

“Can we change from heaps to the ridges? In which case, we can bring in mechanisation and we will be able to produce yam in the size and shape required for export. It is not every yam tuber that is exportable,” Irtwange said.

Capt. John Okpaka, a stakeholder in the private sector, said certification and traceability of the yams meant for export were very important.

“There is need for a good system of yam production to be developed for export to meet up with quality. Let us look at agriculture as a business that must be private driven,” Okpaka said.

He also advised yam farmers and other stakeholders to form co-operative groups, understand and comply with the regulations concerning yam export.

The major constraints in yam production are, high cost and low supply of quality seed yam, low and slow rate of multiplication in traditional seed and food yam production system, as well as low yields.

Also, cumbersome regulatory requirements for certification and registration as well as lack of access to finance have led to low exportation of the yam crop.

Mr Jonathan Oladeji, Chief Executive Officer, Sonjade Nigeria Limited, expressed concern about the challenges along the yam value chain saying being able to trace the source of the yam for export was very important in repositioning the yam sector in Nigeria.

Meanwhile, the Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS) said there were procedures and certain requirements to meet before yam or other commodities could be exported.

“The Service is present in all entry points in Nigeria, anyone one traveling with any agricultural commodity must pass through NAQS procedures.

“‘Fresh yam tuber should be fully matured, that is what we are looking at, it should be stored properly even in a local way we don’t mind as long as it is not spoiled. It should also be packaged very well.

“Yam can be exported in both processed and un – processed (tuber) form,” the statement from the service affirmed.

NAQS urged all stakeholders to partner with it to ensure yam for export met international standards.

The yam stakeholders affirmed that the way forward to tackle the challenges and constraints facing the yam sector is to recognise that agriculture is a business, understand and comply with the regulations concerning export.

The experts recommended that producers and processors should form co-operative groups to work together, identify potential farmers and suppliers for exportation of yam production, as well approach the NAQS on any agricultural export issues.(NAN)

*PHOTO: Yams