SON making agri-business more rewarding

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Posted on August 25, 2016

Written by Chimeziri Franklin

“Can we see the lab report on the product?
“My product needs no lab report, Sirs,” replies the Nigerian, perhaps wondering why these oyibos wouldn’t just bid for the commodity straight on.
“In this country we don’t accept untested products. Products being imported must be accompanied with approving test report from an accredited laboratory – an internationally accredited laboratory.”
“Em-m! Ok, you have a lab where you can test it. Go ahead.”
“The laboratory charges you a fee of ten percent of the worth of your goods. Are you ready for that?
“I can’t pay more than five per cent”!
“Buddy, if we walk away, we won’t return. Without an accredited lab approval, we can’t buy even a bit of your stuff.”
“Ok, I surrender. Do I have to sign an undertaking to that effect?”
“For sure.”
The lab thoroughly investigates samples of the goods and eventually hands the oyibos an approving report. After a price is agreed, they pay the Nigerian for the goods less ten percent as agreed.
“What if the test report had been unfavourable”?
“We would never have bought anything from you and you would have had to ship your rejected goods back to your country – at your own expense.”
Hundreds of Nigerian exporters have met their ruin in the scenario I have just painted. Now national standards body SON’s response to the situation will gladden many stakeholders in agriculture. SON is improving its conformity assessment capabilities towards maximizing the acceptance of Nigeria agro-allied products by importing countries.
In the past SON certification of food and agro-allied products couldn’t open doors market’s doors overseas since the organisation had no ISO/IEC 17025: 2005 accredited laboratory; it tested products in foreign laboratories at huge cost – and had learnt not to do it unless its own life was at stake, but today its product certification is to be honoured around the world because its food laboratories have been accredited to ISO/IEC 17025:2005 by the international Laboratory Cooperation representative A2LA (short for American Association for Laboratory Accreditation). SON website says that the accredited laboratories provide assurance for trading partners that SON is competent to test foods, especially for food contaminants.
The national standards body is taking its conformity assessment drive further by strengthening its metrology base. Metrology is the science and technology that ensures that measurements are accurate. This field is critical to knowledge in agriculture, industry, commerce, health, sports and virtually every human endeavour. SON’s department of metrology and instrumentation operates a laboratory that is nearing its own accreditation.
That’s not all. The department boasts mobile units for calibration at distant sites. Thus, agro-business people could bring measurement accuracy and have their goods labeled accordingly before shipping out. Underscoring the importance of the field, SON acting director-general, Dr Paul Angya says “measurement inaccuracies or measuring instrument malfunctions bedevil commercial transactions and often result in outright termination of deals in international trade. Imagine how an exporter could be regarded in a foreign country where the bags of cocoa he presents as 2000kg each are all found to be significantly less than that!
SON’s head of metrology and instrumentation, engineer Obiorah Manafa enthuses that the standardization institution is going all the way to completing a centre of metrology excellence in Enugu. The facility which foundation was laid by the immediate past director general Joseph Ikem Odumodu will, when accredited, lay to rest every doubt trading partners may have about the ability of Nigerian institutions to guarantee measurement accuracy and the conformity of all products to standards and regulations.
SON’s increasing measurement and testing capabilities are already being utilized in standards enumeration. An exhibition on the sidelines of the launch of the accredited SON Food Technology Laboratories in late 2014 showed a range of new products that have for the first time in history had standards developed to govern their making. These products are processed cassava grains (garri), cassava flour, cocoa cake, tomato flakes, sesame seed, sesame oil and shea butter. Enumeration of standards for these products for which standards never existed gives Nigerian sellers the liberties and confidence that standards pioneering countries enjoy in the commercial arena while the standards they provided still prevail.
With the ILAC/A2LA accreditation of its food technology labs, and a buildup of metrology competences both of which are daily applied in standards enumeration and conformity assessment, SON is daily raising hope that successes and triumphs will continue to come to Nigerian agro-business people in the international marketplace.

Chimeziri Franklin is Associate Director.

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