There appears no respite yet for Hibiscus flower exporters, as stakeholders wait for the green light to restart the export of the commodity to Mexico, adjudged Nigeria’s biggest export market.
For now, no date has been fixed for the lifting of the ban placed on the produce by the Mexican government since 2017. Investigations showed the ban has left many exporters technically out of business, causing job losses in the agriculture value chain.
Hibiscus flower in export markets holds great promise, especially for an economy that seeks to diversify from oil.
Despite its many uses and potentials, many do not know much about it. Dry Hibiscus flower is one of the key raw materials in the global confectioneries industry.
Aside from the Zoborodo (Zobo) drink for which it is commonly used locally, hibiscus can be served as a hot and cold herbal beverage. It can also be processed into jellies and edibles, among others.
The extracts from hibiscus flowers and leaves have many uses and benefits, either medically or in industrial production. Medical experts said consumption of Zobo made from the leaves aids detoxification. It could lower blood pressure, cholesterol levels prevent liver damage, reduces weight, treats flu, it is an anti-depressant, as well as reduces blood sugar levels. It also helps in darkening hair color and slows aging, having anti-aging properties.
In 2017 alone, Nigeria earned $35m exporting 1,983 containers of hibiscus to Mexico, being the hub of southern and Latin America. This was just within nine months of that year, aside from those exported to Europe, the United States, and South America.
But since the ban was placed, the country has lost significant revenue, as many exporters suffered heavy financial losses because of the number of rejected exports from Nigeria.
Deputy Executive Secretary, Federation of Agricultural Commodity Associations of Nigeria (FACAN), Mr. Peter Bakare said more than 40 containers of Hibiscus flowers were rejected in Mexico in 2018 as a result of impurities because some farmers used lower quantities of chemicals.
Experts claim the country has lost revenue in the region of $112.78 (N40.6b) since the ban took-off.
One of the exporters based in Lagos, Habeeb Hamed, who lamented the ban, said the development had crippled their businesses and has led to massive job loss.
“It’s about 29 months now that we exported last to Mexico, if you do the calculation, based on what we recorded before the ban, you’ll discover that we have lost about $112.78. We cannot wait for the ban to be lifted.
“To avoid rejection, which most exporters suffer, we have started paying attention to the process of preparation, packaging and storage of flower picked on our farms to reduce the possibility of contamination and to assure clients of our commitment to high quality.”
FACAN President, Dr. Victor Iyama, however, told The Guardian that the losses are not as pronounced, because the product is still being exported to other countries in Europe, Unites States, South America, and others, on daily basis.
“We are shipping hibiscus, though not to Mexico, very soon we’ll resume the shipping. The Nigerian Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS) is on it and very soon it will be over. We have been shipping to several countries, while we wait to resolve issues with Mexico.”
The Director, Operations, AgroEknor, one of the exporters, Adedoyin Adesanya attributed the ban to the problem of quality. “If the flowers are challenged, it will be rejected. The international market takes the issue of quality very seriously. Currently, the ban by Mexico is actually affecting us, because they account for 80 per cent of export from Nigeria and they are always ready to accept from Nigeria because of the quality.
“People go into the business without knowing the nitty-gritty. They get into exporting rubbish—stones, sands, and unwanted particles, with the aim of getting more money. When the Mexico door was closed, we had to survive, that is why we are doing our best.”
To tackle the issue, it was learned that the Mexican authorities reportedly declared that the hibiscus flowers must be fumigated in Nigeria before it’s ferried into their country. This has led to the use of methyl bromide by some farmers, as a precondition for the treatment of the product intended for export.
However, the solution appears to have sparked-off controversy in the industry. According to a statement credited to NAQS last year, the organisation disclosed that it has reached agreement with other agencies on the use of methyl bromide in pre-shipment preservation for quality and standardisation of the flower.
Major exporters under the aegis of the National Hibiscus Farmers, Processors, Marketers, and Exporters Association of Nigeria (NAHFPMEA), the body recognised by the government as representative of those in the business, had kicked against this development.
This is because methyl bromide, described as a dangerous chemical that could expose Nigerians to any form of danger, has remained banned in virtually all the countries.
In Nigeria, it was learned that the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) was a signatory to the Montreal protocol that globally banned methyl bromide because of its harmful effects on the ozone layer.
The Guardian learned from reliable sources that the raging controversy on the methyl bromide usage might hamper moves by stakeholders to get the ban lifted, as a faction of stakeholders is now in court, to stop the usage of the chemical by all means.
But the FACAN President, Iyama said there is no controversy on the methyl bromide issue. He said the standard regulation bodies would handle it amicably.
When The Guardian spoke with the Pest Management Specialist of NAQS, Dr. Dayo Folorunsho on the update, he simply said, “the ban has not been lifted.” When asked about efforts made so far to hasten the process, he directed The Guardian to speak with the body’s Coordinating Director.