Why Ghana, not Nigeria, is largest yam exporter in West Africa

Sep 02, 2019
For whatever reason President Muhammadu Buhari had chosen a new Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, the new replacement for Audu Ogbeh must sit up to embrace the responsibilities that are orchestrated by such position.
With food security, rural income growth and job creation amongst the top mandates of the ministry, the new minister, Sabo Nanono, must begin to find answers to issues like why Nigeria – despite being the largest producer of yam – is displaced by Ghana, to sit as the largest yam exporter country.
Going by the report from Food and Agriculture Organisation, FAO, reveals that Ghana accounts for over 94 percent of total yam exports in West Africa. Shocking, however, that Ghana’s yam farmers, put together, cannot produce enough yam to near the margin as the leading producer of the commodity.
First take-away
If this is so, there, perhaps, is a need for us to query the system and ask what factors have been responsible for this happenstance. If Nigeria produces about 70% of the world’s yam, what then is the clog in the wheel, hindering the country from tapping into this lucrative activity that can supplement oil revenue?
Experts say the report is false
Some experts during a round table discussion have said that the statement lacked the true reality of things in the yam market. For this group, they argued that it doesn’t matter who is doing the export. And, that what mattered is who the producer, is.
Careful observation has shown that the problem with Nigeria leading the export trade of yam has more to do with the country’s lack of structure, process and storage. The point is if there is anything special about Ghana on the yam export window it is how this 30 million population country is seizing the opportunity of their structured build up around the business.
The ministry of Agriculture and its agents needed to see what branding looks like in a typical Ghanaian yam market. One of the factors to be enumerated is Nigeria’s poor sense of packaging and branding. Unfortunately, these are not impossible things. Sincerely, what we have seen of packaging of yam in Ghana is enough to sweep one off the feet. In Ghana, yams are well packed like beverages, a complete shift of what we have here in Nigeria.
Largest exporter or re-exporter
Men in export business of Nigerian original have refused to accept Ghana as the largest exporter. According to their argument, Ghana has been buying in large quantities from Nigeria to pad it business. They have mentioned how Ghana actually purchases yam from Nigerian local farmers, how it is repackaged and branded as homemade.
They revealed that this has been possible courtesy of Nigerian porousborders. Aggregating all these concessions, we should ask the right question –why can’t Nigeria do the same to compete favorable with rivals.
What can we learn from Ghana?
The yam scenario has educated us on how much can be done from a significantly well managed limited stock or resources. In Ghana, there is a body of yam producers and exporters. They facilitate sales and its members can explore the trade opportunities under the banner of the organisation. Perhaps, our Agric. Minister can take a leave or two from the Ghana Yaminitiative.
According to the Ghana Yam and Exporters Association, the strategy was to assist members to ensure food safety or traceability. In doing this, on a commodity as yam, undergoing the following procedures go a long way to show seriousness of a stakeholder.
Ghana’s yam packaging procedure
Selection: – The yams are carefully selected on the basis of
Uniformity – yams with the same variety and sizes.
Yam should be firm and free from obvious defects, smooth and straight.
Yam should be cured 7-8 days at 30˚c (86˚ – 90˚F ) leaving it in an airy and shady place for a week with 90-95% R.H (Relative humidity).
Yam that is light in weight for their size must be avoided (rot can set inside without it being visible externally).
The Nigerian challenge
The yam challenge isn’t completely a unique one. It is, about, same challenge as faced by farmers generally operating in the country. Here we are, still struggling with;
Lacks of good storage facilities
Transportation system hiccups
Dearth of machinery
Large dependency on human limited strength
Outside all of this is the challenge of hike in price for local consumers.
Appraising stats
As far back as 1993, the world production of yam was pegged at 28.1 million tons where 96% of this came from West Africa with the main producers being; Nigeria, the world’s largest yam producer with 71% of world production; Côte d’Ivoire 8.1%; Benin 4.3% and Ghana 3.5%.
That yam takes the centre stage in the African diet can be easily noticed with varieties of food made from its tubers. The least, perhaps, is to mention the place of yam in the cultural, economic and religious aspects of Africans. This indicates that yam is one stock whose investment is worthy and, perhaps, why Ghana is tapping into it.
In 2007, worldwide yam production stood at 52 million tons, of which Africa reportedly produced 96%. Also, the lion share came from West Africa with approximately 94% of the total production. Also, we found Nigeria producing 71%, which was more than 37 million tons.
Point of reflection
Like the saying goes, man is the architect of his fate. If a 30 million population country with landmass about 3 states put together in Nigeria can lead the yam race, a country with over 200 million in population should be more promising. That it is the leading producer doesn’t suffice.
However, having been identified as the largest producer should be enough motivation to get the country started to review its strategies in areas of export management. 
But, will Buhari’s new minister ever consider this?
Itohoimo Udosen
Public Affairs Analyst
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