Nigeria’s Yams Go Abroad
It’s ok, you can laugh. Even I had a bit of a chuckle when I saw the headline. But hey, we have to give Nigeria credit though because the country’s finally doing something about its desire to diversify its economy – exporting 72 metric tonnes of yam to Europe, the UK to be exact, an action which took place during the 2nd half of August.
This is the first formal export of Nigeria’s yams to the UK – which puzzles me because I could’ve sworn that the yams I eat whenever I’m in the UK are from Nigeria. They look Nigerian. They taste Nigerian. So to discover that they’re not….hmm… Questions have arisen as to whether exporting yams will leave Nigerians hungry but government officials don’t think so. While acknowledging price hikes in some parts of the country, they insist that Nigeria isn’t short of food.
The yams were shipped in three containers (all 3 added up to 72 tonnes) with two other shipments (a separate load) already made in February, and one of the two arriving New York on the 16th of August. So New Yorkers visiting a shop that sells African foods should now see something, one thing at least, from Nigeria…yams. This consignment – the 72 tonnes – is strictly for the UK.
According to FAO, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, more than 90% of global yam production is thanks to Nigeria, with the white yam (Discorea rotundata) and yellow yam (Dioscorea cayenensis) indigenous to West Africa (the area stretching from Côte d’Ivoire (also known as Ivory Coast) to Cameroon). So to walk into a store and not see yam from Nigeria is a bit of an embarrassment and raises the question “where do all those yams go?” Are they that badly preserved that they just sit there and rot, or do Nigerians really eat them all? Over the next 3 years, Ghana hopes to make $4 billion in revenue from yams – and they aren’t even the yam growing powerhouse that Nigeria is. So if Ghana’s able to earn that much forex in yam exports, Nigeria has no business lagging behind.
Regarding what happens to all the yams Nigeria produces, don’t worry. They don’t eat them all. Most of it’s lost to poor yam preservation methods. So the government intends to provide solar coolers in yam producing areas in order to allow harvested crops be optimally preserved at 14 degrees celsius (or 57.2 degrees fahrenheit). So not frozen but well maintained at an even temperature, ensuring that the yams are edible all year round and possibly over the next 2- 3 years. This storage capacity’s important because some countries rejected Nigeria’s yams when the same effort was attempted prior.
Before rejoicing too much though, this affair with the yams may be in jeopardy. Yam production is labour-intensive, cost prohibitive (the cost of planting materials alone make up to 60% of production inputs) and demanding (even when you ignore the cost of planting materials, they can be hard to find). Assuming we ignore the cost and availability of planting materials (after all the government’s involved), there leaves labour. The pool of young people willing and able to farm is shrinking as many move to the cities seeking other forms of employment. You could bring up mechanization and you’d be right because it’s a valid option. However, yam production isn’t really suited to large-scale mechanized production which leaves us with that shrinking pool.
Not to worry though; the Nigerian government has ideas. It intends to go down the mechanization route and has even designed a yam ploughing machine that’s able to get the job done once attached to a tractor. Why a new plough? The current ploughs don’t work as needed, if mechanization’s to be a viable option. Also, the government’s determined to ensure that food production within its borders meet the finest standards and hopes to also export yams to countries across the continent. Obviously, Nigeria means business with this food exportation affair as it intends to export whatever’s needed by other countries – – pepper, ginger, you name it — thereby earning more forex, which hopefully isn’t all spent on importation.