Nigeria’s Rotten-Sweet Yams

Audu Ogbe, Minister of Agriculture

By Oji Odu

Ferdinand Akuso was not surprised after he discovered that about 70 percent of the tuber of yam which he was preparing to boil was rotten. “ I had to salvage what was left of the remaining 30 percent before I had something to eat of the yam that night. It was not strange because sometimes you may not know the rotten yams by mere looking,” he lamented. His experience is not isolated, as he only ate about 30 percent of the N500 yam.

Since the rejection of exported Nigerian yams by the United States of America (US), the issue has not left the front burner of discussion. While it has thrown up others and raised fears on the consumption of yams locally, some still believe that Nigerian yams are of great quality than those from other countries, as the Federal Government says that the set back will not stop the policy.

Reacting to the alleged rejection of Nigerian yams recently, Managing Director, Wan Nyikwagh Farms Nigeria Limited, Yandev Amaabai, who was one of the exporters of the said yams revealed that after the official flag-off of the policy on June 29, 2017, his yams were made to pass 12 ports before arriving the United States of America, USA.

While explaining why some of the exported yams got rotten, he debunked media reports that alleged that there was outright rejection of exported yams from Nigeria. According to him, all his exported yams were bought on arrival, which was because by all standards yams from Nigeria were far better in terms of quality and taste, and now they are out of stock.

Narating his experience, he said: “I moved my yams from Benue to Lagos on 25 and 26 of June, 2017, while the flag-off for the yams exportation was on the 29th June 2017, by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh. When we got to Lagos, I discovered that we needed certain containers to export the yams. I discovered such containers were not available, so we were given a space at the port to pack the yams.

“After the flag-off, I was able to get the required container. So my yams were loaded on July 7, 2017, and left Nigeria on July 9 to the United States of America, USA. The yams did not get to US until Sept 1, 2017. Movement within the ports took us more than two to three days. To move a container from Tin Can Port to Apapa Port, just a close distance was hectic for us. “My yams went through 12 ports before it finally got to US, and if we can get ships that are going direct route, that will have been better and the cost will also be reduced.”

Amaabai regretted that a particular government agency that was supposed to educate yam exporters on how to package and handle yams before export lacked the capacity to do so.

“…We were asked to cut the bottom of the yams and put wax, but when we got to US, we discovered that that was not necessary. The moment you cut the bottom of the yam, it makes it rotten quicker. Then we packed our yams to the warehouse. So, wherever this story is coming from that America government says that yams exported from Nigeria are not good, I don’t know about that,” he said.

He stated that one could see yams exported from Ghana . “I have pictures as evidence to show in case of any doubt. There is no way these yams could have been 100 per cent okay because of the time wasted to ship them to US. So some of the yams when we arrived US were actually not too good again, but most of them were good and we sold all out. So far, it was a successful story. I believe this is a learning process. I have learnt a lot. Next time, I should be able to cut the cost at least half of what I inquired from this last experience”, he added

Are Nigerian yams really of better quality? Besides the said long period of time wasted before the exported yams reached the US, the Magazine’s findings reveal that it takes about one week or a little more for Nigerian yams consumed locally to rot. Definitely, they are not the same as those that were exported to the US which must have longer life-span.

Speaking to the Magazine on the issue, Mrs. Iyabo Adekunle, a yam seller said: “ Frankly, I can tell you that the local yams which we sell for consumption do not last long before they get rotten. We found out that this is because of a factor like poor storage facilities.

“ Also, they get rotten quickly under unfavourable weather conditions due to too much fertiliser and pesticides used during the planting of the crop. Because of this, we do all possible to make sure that we sell all, if not most of our yams, sometimes, at great losses because we are left with no other option than to consume them,” she lamented.”

Visiting the yam section of the Mile 12 market, The Source observed pieces of yams were put up for sale. The said pieces were salvaged from yams that were rottening. Were the prices low? Unfortunately, No.

The Magazine found out that while the price of an average full tuber of yam went for between N450 and N600, the salvaged pieces went for between N250 and N300. There is always a clear difference in their taste. The near rotten ones have a poor taste because they have been infested by micro organisms.

In a chat with Mrs. Joy Okon, a Housewife, she said: “ It is a pity that Nigerians now patronise half rotten yams due to the economic situation, and not minding the poor taste and that dangers it may pose to human health.

“ These yams are bought to be consumed immediately otherwise they will also get rotten like the areas that were cut off. It is, indeed, pathetic.”

Medical reports from the Magazine’s findings show that consumption of rotten or near rotten yams may lead to Solanine poisoning which is primarily displayed by gastrointestinal and neurological disorders. The symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach cramps, burning of the throat, cardiac dysrhythmia, nightmares, headache, dizziness, itching, eczema, thyroid problems, inflammation and pain in the joints. This means that Many Nigerians are at risk.

Meanwhile, the federal government may prosecute the agents who caused Nigeria’s yam consignments to the United States to be rejected, raising concerns that the rejection of the commodity may lead to payment of insurance claims to yam exporters.

Some yam exporters have been pestering the insurance firm for compensation to cover the substantial losses from the rejected exports.
It is in the light of this development, according to highly placed sources, that government is thinking of prosecuting the agents behind the export.

The agent is accused of negligence by choosing to transfer the yam consignment to another part of the country after certification instead of bringing the items to the port.
It was in the process of picking other yam consignment in another location in the northern part of the country that the 20-day period of handling the goods before export was exceeded, leading to the compromise of most of the yams and their damage.

“It is a case of poor handling of the yam by the agents after they were certified by government agency coupled with the fact that he tried to save cost by diverting them to another point to enable him load other consignment marked for export, instead of transferring the goods to the port. That invariably made some of the yams to become rotten, leading to their outright rejection when they landed at their final export destination,” a reliable source revealed.

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