By Dr Patrick C. Okoye
Nigeria is estimated to have a total cultivable land of 61 million hectares (Ha). Of this land, 33 million are in use. By 2010, approximately 11,979 Ha were estimated to be under traditional “organic” farming (GAIN Report). A large percentage of Nigerian farmers believe they practice organic farming by default based on traditional, manual farming and lack of expensive chemical fertilizers. However, true organic agriculture is based on “certifiable production methodology.” These numbers barely compare to the 2003 estimation for global certifiable farm production as indicated in the Figure 1. With Oceania showing over 10 million hectares of cultivated organic farmlands, Africa only had one-tenth million of a hectare.
Founded in 2004, the Organic Agriculture Project in Tertiary Institutions in Nigeria (OAPTIN) supports holistic and sustainable agro production. Another group is the Nigerian Organic Agriculture Network (NOAN), an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization, advocacy group) representing various stakeholders including growers, processors, handlers, exporters in Nigeria. Since 2014, several private partnerships have begun to coalesce by bringing together cooperatives and other interest groups in support of organic farming. These groups independently strive to encourage the development of organic farming in Nigeria.
What is considered Certifiable and/or Organic Farming?
General misconception tends to point to some “special technological” way of farming as “organic.” However, the simple explanation for organic farming is truly “holistic,” “natural” and “controllable change” to farm and farm produce. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defined organic farming as “…allow natural substances and prohibit synthetic agents…” A farmer using chemical pesticides and certain fertilizers may benefit from knowing which of these agents are synthetic and therefore, prohibited. A good source will the be country’s local authority in agriculture. Of course, countries may approach or control the use of chemicals and synthetic agents differently. Nonetheless, international bodies that harmonize organic farming (such as ISO, GOMA, FAO, etc) provide good opportunities to streamline that process. It is also important to recognize that not all certifiable farming is organic. The Table 1 shows a summary comparison between Certifiable Organic, Certifiable non-Organic and Convention (non organic, non certified) agro products.
Global Market Demand for Certified Agro Products
In the past 15 years, the number of certified food operations has grown from 17,647 to over 52,000 worldwide. At the same time, the number of certified food operations by regions as shown in Figure 2 showed that 70 percent of these operations are located in the United States of America. In addition, the global retail market for certified foods has been estimated at US$110 billion, with over 50 percent of the retail market in the United States of America. Overall, the global retail market for certified products has been projected to hit $200 billion in 2025 (Source: USDA Org Data Integrity, 2016).
Regulatory Framework for Certifiable / Organic Farming
Although no formal regulatory framework for certifiable and/or organic farming seemed to be in place in Nigeria, the Government has continued to encourage farming to practice holistic agriculture. Recently, the Government announced a laudable proposal to establish commodities certification centres in the six geopolitical region of Nigeria (Source: Agro News Nigeria). The government also provides several levels of subsidy and funding through the Bank of Industry (BOI), Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) and other local banks in Nigeria. However, with the absence of definitive regulatory framework for globally certifiable / organic farming, a lot of expectations are yet to be fulfilled.
In contrast, many other countries of the world such as Germany, Denmark, USA, European Union, Australia have well-developed regulatory framework and standards for certifiable farming. A few African countries including Ghana, South Africa, and Kenya had long established global standards for certifiable / organic farming. For instance, Ghana’s agricultural program presented a success story that dated back to 2005 when the Ghana Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) initiated a fact-finding program to study food trend in the country. In 2008, Ghana’s food revolution included establishment of national standards for certifiable / organic farming with 25 percent of organic production designated for export. In 2009, a total of USD$100 million in additional federal funding and subsidies were disbursed to growers, processors, and exporters. In 2015, Ghana adopted USDA’s coveted food program: HACCP.
Hazard Analysis and Critical Control points (HACCP Program) is the federal food program in the USA enforced by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). HACCP stipulates the food requirements for growers, processors, retailers, distributors and other handlers of food products. Today, Ghana enjoys 30 percent of its GDP from Agriculture with over 40 percent of its total workforce in Agriculture (Source: MOFA; USDA Org Data Integrity, 2016).
Organic Farming and Global Product Certification
Organic farming and agricultural product certification have had rapid and sustained expansion in the past 50 years. The ongoing expansion of these sectors has occurred alongside the transformation from alternative to mainstream food industry. The driving forces have been the global quest for food security; as well as the minimization of use of synthetic fertilizers or chemicals, growth hormones or genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). Nigeria is equally experiencing this “movement” but at a slower pace than many other African countries (such as Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Ghana), whose main national incomes depend primarily on agriculture rather than fossil fuels.
Quality Control (QC) for Certifiable / Organic Farming: Sanitary and Phytosanitary Process
For farm groups, processors, exporters that engage in or plan to go into certifiable / organic food production, quality control testing and inspection are key aspects of the process. Local food inspectors from NAFDAC and Nigerian Agricultural Quarantine Services (NAQS) are routinely involved in one way or another in the sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) testing of food product. Although these SPS requirements may comply with local and national requirements, the results could still fail to meet internationally harmonized standards for foods. Clearly, in such circumstances, global certification requirements should be considered as the threshold for international compliance. Several areas of global SPS that are considered important in food quality control include but not limited to:
1. Use of Quick, Easy, Cheap, Effective, Rugged, and Safe (QuEChERS)
2. Accreditation of Residue Testing laboratories
3. List of Prohibited Pesticides & herbicides (synthetic/semi-synthetic)
4. Discouraging the use of antibiotics in livestock and aquaculture
5. List of Prohibited Fertilizers
6. Use approved & validated QC methods
7. Sample handling, preservation
8. Microbiological and analytical testing (including residues, impurities, livestock pathologies).
9. Documentation / Reporting of farming, processing, handling operations.
Prohibited Pesticides, Synthetic Agents, Non-synthetic Substances
A short list of prohibited substances in organic and certifiable agro production is presented below:
1. Prohibited Pesticides for USDA Residue Testing:
1-Naphthol, 3-Hydroxycarbofuran, 5-Hydroxythiabendazole, Acephate, Acetamiprid, Acetochlor, Aldicarb.
2. Synthetic substances allowed for use in organic crop production:
Algicide, disinfectants, and sanitizer, including irrigation system cleaning systems, alcohols, ethanol, isopropanol.
3. Non-synthetic substances prohibited in organic farming:
Ash from manure burning, Arsenic, Calcium chloride (brine process is natural), Tobacco dust (nicotine sulfate).
Leveling the Playing Field
Global food production and distribution has maintained a steady growth pace with more people in the developing and developed countries seeking and consuming certifiable products. The march to certifiable / organic products needs to begin with the end in mind. Today, the Nigerian farmer wants to sell crops at premium in the world market. The challenge is on how to get these crops and livestock to comply with global standards and compete with similar crops from Ghana, Brazil, Peru, Scotland, Italy, Spain, and the USA.
Globally adopted standards allow all countries of the world to sell foods in the same orbit while maintaining traceability and sustainability programs within their respective regions. The global standards for certifiable agro products are also supported by factors such as market forces, proper crop and livestock selection, regional government support through enforceable regulatory framework, subsidies and grants. Finally, farmer groups, processors, exporters etc. band into cooperatives and trade groups to maintain and sustain their certifications through globally recognized international certification bodies.
Nigeria’s march to globally acceptable agro production should include a national certification program that would advocate for certifiable / organic farming program. Such federal program should underscore the need for regulatory framework, global harmonization with known international standards, food security, traceable and sustainable farming practice that should be enforceable under federal laws.
In conclusion, the global market for certified agro product has more than doubled since 2007, with the United States of America as the largest single market for certifiable /organic agro products. The global retail market for certified products is estimated to hit $200 billion in 2025. In order to achieve globally acceptable certification, crop and livestock selection, agricultural sustainability program, traceable farm inputs, documentation, regulatory compliance, and supplier reliability are the cornerstones that must be defined and maintained. These expectations are achievable and supportable with the establishment of a national certification program. Finally, government intervention through farm subsidy, grants, rebates, is vital for food security and the success of agricultural certification program.
About the Author:
Dr. Patrick C. Okoye is Product Certification Consultant with Griffin Gamma, LLC, a USA-based firm specializing in agricultural product certification, product quality control and compliance.
Dr. Okoye earned his Bachelor of Pharmacy from University of Nigeria Nsukka and Doctor of Philosophy in Pharmaceutics from Arnold & Marie Schwartz College of Pharmacy, Long Island University, NY. He started his career as a Research Pharmacist in areas of drug design, product quality and safety, manufacture of drug, cosmetic, personal care products, and medical devices. His work experience included developing products using natural and organic ingredients for skin care and cosmetic application.
Griffin-Gamma is a certified distributor of Fair Trade products such as Shea Butter, Ginger, Palm Oil, Cocoa and many other products. Griffin-Gamma LLC., assists growers, exporters, and importers of agro products with product certification process; deployment of training modules; quality control/management systems; and development of sustainability programs.
Agro Product Certification and Sustainability Program: Pathway from Nigeria to World Markets, is a special feature on Agro News Nigeria intended to highlight certifiable farming and opportunities for agro product certification in Nigeria (Dr. Patrick C. Okoye, Griffin Gamma, Inc., email@example.com).