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Air Cargo Revolution: How Nigerian farmers would profit…

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BASSEY Ekpe (not real name, 33, loves apples. A resident of Ikeja, a Lagos suburb, Ekpe has eagerly eaten apples for well over 10 years. The catch is he does not know where these apples come from or how they get to him.

Therefore , it was really a surprise to him when  a little while ago, this year his eyes caught an inscription on the carton, on which the fruit seller near his home had  laid her adorable apples, when she went to buy them. It read:”Grown in South Africa!” South Africa! Then, the question that flashed in his mind was:”So, how do I get them fresh everyday?”

Well, perhaps, some of us can hazard a correct answer.” By Air”.Well, the issue really is that, for too long, Nigeria has been missing out on this lucrative trade in fresh agriculture produce which are daily freighted by air to various markets round the world in which they are  in demand.

South African grown fresh apples began appearing on Nigerian streets in 1999 shortly after the return of democracy to the country and the re-establishment of strong business and political relations.

Yet, it has been a one-sided trade—as far as fresh fruits and vegetables are concerned.”99 per cent of cargo aircraft flying into Nigeria, return to their places of origin—empty!”. The global trade in perishable farm produce is worth several billions of dollar per annum. In  2010,African countries participating in this trade recorded a  turnover of about N245 billion. The countries involved are South African, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Kenya ,Cote D’Ivoire ,Benin Republic and Ghana. Nigeria was completely missing on that list. Today, the situation is still the same. But from all indications things are about to change.

The current Aviation minister Princess Stella Oduah has set in motion a new air cargo programme that is expected to transform the air cargo sector and also provide immense benefits to Nigerian  farmers. The minister has undertaken a radical step of refurbishing and redesigning of 22 airport terminal across the country. She has also designated 13 of these as cargo terminals and has began the process of constructing additional facilities at these airports to make them function effectively as cargo airports. A few  months ago, a  new department was created in the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria ( FAAN) to spearhead the new drive for the development of air cargo sector in the Nigerian Aviation industry.

Furthermore, under the multi-billion dollar agreement signed by President Goodluck Jonathan on behalf of Nigeria with the Chinese government, five brand new world class airport terminals would be built in the country by the Chinese state-ownedconstruction company, CCECC. These new airport terminals have been designed with facilities for air cargo.

How farmers will benefit

The Aviation ministry and FAAN are currently laying the groundwork that would open a new world of opportunities for Nigerian farmers. The global market in fresh agricultural produce worth well over $5billion,about N1trillion annually is being opened up for Nigerian farmers. Fresh tropical fruits such as oranges, pineapples, mangoes, tangerine, paw paw,grapes ,cashew, bananas, vegetables, flowers and legumes grown in the country are soon to head to international markets in Europe and the US where they would compete with  similar produce from around the world. Nigerian fruits which are invariably grown organically and are delicious are expected to compete favourably well with others on international markets.

Air freight would make this possible. Access  to global markets means that Nigerian farmers would have greater demand for their output and perhaps, better prices. That is also expected to stimulate more agricultural production, which would in turn, boost the rural economy in the country. “There would be competition by farmers to produce more to feed the foreign and domestic market ,unlike what you have now”, says one analyst.

Nonetheless, there is a lot of work to be done. Support services such as cold storage containers will have to be provided at the airports.Specialised transportation for these perishables also have to be provided .And these services may have to be provided by the private sector, which is expected to buy into the new vision of the Aviation Ministry to transform Nigerian Aviation Industry.

The Aviation Minister has hosted a number of international road shows aimed at creating awareness in the international community about the possibilities of the country. The Aviation Ministry and parastatals are also in discussions with various chambers of Commerce and Farmers cooperatives round the country, to sensitize them to the possibilities available under the country’s new air cargo programme and to explore various options for collaboration to achieve the objectives of marketing Nigeria’s perishable agricultural produce to the world.

With 13 designated air cargo airports spread around the country,farmers  would not have to haul their produce over long distances by road, in order to find a market for them. For example, take the Enugu Airport. Cashew farmers from neighbouring areas would only have to get their produce to the airport ,from where these can be freight to different markets both in and outside the country.

Available statistics indicate that about 70 per cent of agricultural produce especially perishables such as fruits and tomatoes are wasted while trying to get them to several markets round the country. Air freight could dramatically reduce this wastage, and put more money back into the hands of Nigerian farmers once the current restructuring, reorganisation and provision of cargo handling facilities being undertaken currently is in place.

To the Nigerian farmers, a new dawn beckons!

Mr. YAKUBU DATI, Coordinating  GM  on Information &Communication, Aviation parastatals, wrote from Lagos.

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