Yam is not merely a staple food in Nigeria; it represents cultural identity, celebration, and sustenance for millions of people. It plays a significant role in religious ceremonies, traditional festivals, and family gatherings. Additionally, yam cultivation provides employment opportunities for rural communities and contributes to food security.
Although West Africa accounts for over 90 per cent of the global production of yam and Nigeria produces more than 37 metric tonnes, Ghana has remained the second highest world exporter of yam for over 10 years and the highest in West Africa with 94 per cent of annual export contribution despite its 10 per cent contribution to the global yam output.
Conversely, most of the yam production in Nigeria often goes to waste annually due to poor post-harvest management.
Recall that Nigerian’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 the minister, Chief Audu Ogbeh, organised the first ever flag off ceremony with a batch of 72 tons to UK and USA. However that exportation was done without proper planning before the execution and ended in sad note.
Since then, nothing much has been heard of the yam export from Nigeria.
Findings show that the level of yam processing in Nigeria is relatively low compared to substitute crops such as cassava.
According to experts, in Nigeria, the key challenges to processing include; the high cost of yam, especially the white yam variety used for processing poundo yam, fragmented value chain which limits linkages between farmers and processors, high cost of high quality yam processing equipment and power generation
Other problems linked to low exportation are, cumbersome regulatory requirements for certification and product registration, lack of access to affordable financing, and difficulties associated with building a distribution network.
Enhancing yam value chain will therefore involve collaborative approach towards addressing the barriers to yam processing that transform the yam value chain, thereby improving the livelihoods of thousands of farmers, reducing post-harvest losses and enhancing the availability and affordability of yam products through the release of innovative new products.
At the instance of most of these challenges including the fear of foreign yam creeping into Nigeria markets that the ministry of agriculture and rural development recently expressed concerns that if concerted efforts are not in place to ensure yam exportation, Chinese yam may soon be found in Nigerian kitchens thereby creating more unemployment for Nigerians and reducing the income that comes to our farmers.
Recently the ministry of agriculture and rural development organised a workshop with the theme, “Reposition Yam as Export Crop: Challenges and Prospects”, that brought stakeholders together to brainstorm and come up with strategies that will reposition Nigeria as a major player in yam export.
Permanent secretary, Dr Ernest Umakhihe told participants at the workshop that it has become imperative to put Nigeria in its right position by considering its contribution to global yam production, considering the country’s comparative advantage in the value chain.
According to him, Nigeria remains the leading producer of fresh yams, yet it was unfortunate to note that despite the huge production, Nigeria is nowhere in the map of countries that export yams.
He said, “I consider this workshop as being very timely as Nigeria is diversifying its economy towards non- oil export commodities. In this regard, agriculture remains the best option. Nigeria has a comparative advantage on yam and therefore deserve to create wealth along its value chain.
If we must achieve the enormous task of repositioning yam for as an export crop, we must also take deliberate action to take yam production, processing and marketing to the next level in line with international best practices”.
“This enormous task involves incorporating major stakeholders in yam value chain, partnering and collaborating with complementary organizations both nationally and internationally, as well as establishing the process and regulations to ensure competitive and profitable yam business. This will boost the income and improve the standards of living of yam farmers and bringing prosperity to all yam value chain players”,the perm sec added.