Four years after its ban, there seems to be hope in sight for exporters of hibiscus flowers to resume direct export to Mexico, following renewed economic ties between the two countries.

Hibiscus, also known as zobo leaves, estimated Nigeria’s biggest export market was banned by the Mexican government in 2018, following an infestation of pests in some of the consignments being shipped. from the country. The ban had left many exporters technically bankrupt, leading to job losses in the agricultural value chain.

Since the ban came into effect, the country has lost significant revenue as many exporters have suffered heavy financial losses due to the number of rejected exports from Nigeria.

The hibiscus flower in export markets holds great promise, especially for an economy looking to diversify away from oil.

According to industry players, hibiscus is a major source of income for the country, with Mexico importing about 85% of Nigeria’s hibiscus.

Despite its many uses and potentials, many don’t know much about it. Dried hibiscus flower is one of the main raw materials for the global confectionery industry. Besides the drink Zoborodo (Zobo) – a local drink for which it is commonly used locally, hibiscus can be served as a hot and cold herbal drink. It can also be made into jellies and edibles, among other things.

Hibiscus flower and leaf extracts have many uses and benefits whether in medicine or in industrial production. Medical experts have stated that consuming Zobo leaf-based aids in detoxification. It could lower blood pressure, cholesterol levels, prevent liver damage, reduce weight and treat flu. It is also used as an antidepressant and reduces blood sugar levels. It also helps darken hair color and slows down aging, due to its anti-aging properties.

Stakeholders claimed the country had lost revenue of around $140 million since the ban began. In 2017 alone, Nigeria exported 1,983 containers of hibiscus and earned $35 million in nine months.

Although several efforts have been made in the past to ensure the ban is lifted, the recent visit of a delegation led by the new Mexican Ambassador to Nigeria, Alfredo Miranda, to the office of the Minister of Agriculture and Development rural, Dr. Mohammad Mahmood Abubakar, not only renewed the economic bond between the two countries, he also ended the ban.

During the visit, Abubakar, who regretted that the suspension lasted longer than expected, which slowed the momentum of export activities around hibiscus, noted that the period was used to overcome many decisively the immediate cause of the export suspension, ensuring that on khapra days the beetle infestation of some of the hibiscus shipments disappeared.

He promised that the ministry would work closely with buyers and exporters through the Nigerian Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS) to facilitate the construction of dedicated hibiscus methyl bromide fumigation chambers.

In his address, Mexico’s Ambassador Miranda, who said his country is deeply involved in building the capacity of agricultural products, added that the value of hibiscus is worth more than $600 million, expressing his joy of doing business with the country through the ministry.

Prior to the visit, on several occasions, it was falsely reported in some daily newspapers that the Mexican government had lifted the ban, a rumor that hibiscus flower exporters had always denied.

It was inferred from experts that the country has not stopped exporting since the suspension took effect as is commonly believed, but exports through China, which acts as a buyer due to its direct link to Mexico.

Director of Laboratory Management Services, NAQS, Ebenezer Idachaba, who confirmed the development to the Guardian by telephone, said Nigeria had made reasonable progress in resuming export of the products.

He revealed that during the visit of the Mexican ambassador, some gray areas still outstanding were discussed at length. “We actually came to a very good conclusion, which was about an agreement to do the work… The gray areas have been resolved and we have to look at that work plan, what is needed now is to do the workbench and once that’s done, we’ll start exporting.

Idachaba, who revealed that by October or November this year, the country would start exporting fully, said, “Once we have the authorization instrument to move forward, which will be issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we will continue. We are waiting for October or November to resume. There is hope in sight.”

One of the exporters, Adedoyin Adesanya, who is the operations manager of AgroEknor – a hibiscus processing factory in Kano, who described the news as a good development, said it will really boost the industry of very significantly.

Adesanya revealed that the bone of contention was over the issue of the fumigation chamber. “We discussed the fumigation chamber that any product going to Mexico, especially the hibiscus flower, must be fumigated. Now that they have lifted the ban, they are now allowing exporters to ship the product directly to Mexico; it’s actually going to boost the industry in a very significant way.

“We must not forget that China has actually frustrated the business of this people because we are transiting through China and China is bringing it to Mexico, China has now decided to import from Nigeria in order to supply directly to the Mexico, instead of a single link trade, it’s a two link trade.

“With this fumigation chamber in place, it will be very easy for everyone to export, but it will require authorization from Mexico. If you really want to export, they’ll come and inspect your facility because there are steps you’re going to go through, to get the product accepted in Mexico, so that’s the bottleneck.

Adesanya revealed that setting up a fumigation chamber would cost between 50 and 60 million naira, making it a difficult task. “So how can a small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) engage in this area? So it’s for the big boys. This is precisely the challenge we have.

“NAQS is making one available in Kano in the free trade zone, but you know how the government policies are, it will be for the highest bidder, the issue of corruption also cannot be ruled out. Although they claim it is a joint thing between the government and the private sector, they need to make it more accessible to SMEs and let it be regulated so that everyone participates.

The Executive Secretary of the Association of Fresh Agricultural Producers and Exporters of Nigeria (AFGEAN), Mr. Akin Sawyerr, also welcomed the development, noting that it will create more gainful employment, bring in more foreign exchange to the country and , above all, will develop. into something much bigger.

He said: “The global economic climate at the moment is difficult. More and more countries need more and more trade. Nigeria is no exception. This suspension of the ban bodes well for Nigeria. It will create more good-paying jobs, bring in more foreign exchange, and most importantly, can become something much bigger.

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