Nigeria will soon beat Ethiopia as largest producer of pure honey—President Nigeria Apiculture
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FATAI Adeshina is a quantity surveyor by training. He is the managing partner of A & Shine International Ltd, a honey packaging company based in Abuja. Adeshina who is also the President of the Nigeria Apiculture Platform (NAP) speaks with The ICIR’s OLUGBENGA ADANIKIN and AMOS ABBA about the challenges of the Nigerian apiculture industry, the safety standards being implemented for honey in the country among other sundry issues.
Can you give an overview of the Nigerian apiculture sector?
The Nigerian apicultural sector is one sector that the Federal Government is very keen to see how it can bring it up and revive it. In the past, the sector constituted mainly 75 per cent traditional beekeepers which means they were using the unorthodox methods of keeping bees and when you keep bees in that way you cannot avoid external contact with the honey and some bit of adulteration may go into it.
As a group, our motive was quite clear, right from the word go, we wanted to see how we can produce pure and unadulterated honey. When we started it you will all agree with me that adulterated honey is not something that we can completely eradicate and introduce a change. The change will be difficult but at least we were able to get somewhere.
For instance, we, I mean A & Shine Honey introduced every measure we could introduce from having our own laboratory for on the spot check whenever we have a supply of honey. And we didn’t just begin to request that traditional beekeepers supply honey to us, we tried to train and give them hives to see how they can begin to produce in a modern way. We gave them assurance of off-taking honey at a good price by buying it off from them.
Despite that, we can’t still trust producers 100 per cent and in order to ensure that we don’t run into packaging adulterated honey, we decided to have our lab where they bring their honey for testing and whichever one we reject they take it back.
Is your laboratory certified by any professional body in Nigeria?
In fact, we got the recommendation of what to use in the laboratory. It is just for our own internal use. Whenever we require testing to be done we send it to an independent laboratory recommended by the NAFDAC. Whenever we are sending our own lab test to the NAFDAC we use our laboratory test to compare with theirs. So NAFDAC certified our lab while the external lab was also certified by NAFDAC.
Tell us more about your own laboratory here?
Our own lab is not a full-fledged lab, it is a lab for on the spot check. We conduct on the spot check using a spectrometer to test water content of the honey. Phining test is something we can do on the spot before we can off-take honey from the supplier. So that is not a comprehensive test and that is why we have to use an external laboratory. Once we know the specification of what you want to achieve. For instance, if you have a spectrometer and you know water content of honey should not exceed 20 per cent, you use it to check the water content and another one to check for adulteration. Those are the two tests we carry out here to enable us off-take. Once we accept the honey we send it to our external lab for complete analysis.
Under your leadership is there any regulatory standard that you were able to develop to ensure that other stakeholders within Nigeria’s apiculture adhere to?
Let me say that the Nigeria Apiculture Platform (NAP) did not just appear from nowhere. There was a continental platform, African Apiculture Platform (AAP). This continental platform was launched by the African Union in Uganda in 2014. The launch brought together all the 52 member states in Africa to discuss policies of honey, the standards of honey and some other parameters.
It would interest you that when that platform was launched in 2014 in Uganda, A & Shine was chosen as the first chair of that platform. It was on that premise that we came to the Nigerian government to persuade government to launch a national chapter to oversee all the other associations and ensure that they will liaise with the continental platform to get information from them to develop our own national chapter.
We are the first country to launch the national chapter while 19 other countries also came together to launch theirs but Nigeria was the first. It was launched in 2018, at Chelsea Hotel by the former Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh.
The Government of Nigeria considered it wise to set up an inter-ministerial committee by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture on honey production. The idea was to increase the production of honey in the country, ensure that the stakeholders are sensitized on pollination policy and then to care for the bees and for food safety so that what they use on the farm does not affect the bees.
Those are the four principal objectives. The Nigeria Export Promotion Council waded in to see how they can get Nigerian honey certified by the EU. They engaged a consultant from Uganda. It was a very expensive exercise and the consultant came to Nigeria twice to train stakeholders on what is called residual monitoring process for honey. That is the condition for export of honey to EU countries.
That is the stage that we are now with the Nigerian Export Promotion Council. The AAP also put several things in place such as developing policy for the continent and that policy is what we are also using to develop a policy for Nigeria.
Last month, the Federal Ministry of Trade invited stakeholders on the development of national policy for apiculture in Nigeria. It will interest you to know that the consumption of honey in Nigeria is put at 38,000 metric tonnes annually and our production is a little above 2,000 metric tonnes. You can see that it is a sector that has hidden advantage.
We have several retirees who have registered today on the NAP to be trained in beekeeping so as to have something to do.
Does that imply that currently the regulatory framework is still being developed?
It has been developed in Kenya. All we need to do is to buy into what has been done as a country. So, I would say locally, it has been adopted.
In 2016, that was what actually prompted the decision to create awareness among the populace. One of the ways that was done was that the platform embarked on bidding to host the first-ever international fair of apiculture in 2018. At that time, stakeholders from all African member states gathered here at the International Conference Centre, Abuja to showcase the stage honey has reached to date.
We also had some people from outside Africa who came in. To bid for that hosting right, there was a $5,000 bidding fee which the Federal Ministry of Agriculture gladly paid. To host that event at the ICC which was a lot of money, the ministry paid it off. That is to show you how eager they want this sector to develop.
This was how Ethiopia started and they are the largest producer of honey in Africa and the largest producer of beeswax in the world. We know Nigeria can do better because we have the land and the vegetation if we can put our acts together. And A & Shine honey is trying to set the pace.
There are a lot of potentials in terms of apiculture and beekeeping but how many members do you have on the platform?
Before Nigeria Apiculture Platform came into existence, we had the Federation of Bee Keepers Association of Nigeria (FEBKAN). We had other association to overseeing the apicultural sector but we decided to leverage on NAP because of the AU connection that is why NAP is appearing to look like it is taking over from FEBKAN.
FEBKAN was put together by the Federal Ministry of Trade and Industry while NAP was registered by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture which provided an office for us at the Central Business Area close to NAIC office.
Which is the recognized body?
As far as the stakeholders are concerned, NAP is a more recognized body for apiculture in Nigeria but we don’t want to dabble into the leadership tussle or who is overall. We have members of FEBKAN who are also members of NAP, it depends on the one you want to belong to.
This means that FEBKAN is majorly recognized by the Federal Ministry of Trade while NAP is recognized by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, AU and stakeholders.
Considering this difference in terms of leadership and membership, how do you ensure that apiculture in Nigeria is carried out in accordance with international best practices?
I don’t see any grey areas of disagreement in whatsoever we have…. In terms of monitoring, the platform is put in place to provide an environment of training for stakeholders and ensuring that whoever belongs to the various associations or platforms conform to the best standard practice. The AU has put in place a standard for the African continent. That standard has been passed over to the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON). The SON has developed a standard which we call Nigerian standard from that.The membership of that committee includes members of FEBCAN, NAP and other stakeholders in the honey business.
We came together to put up this standard document which has been circulated to all associations as an approved standard for Nigeria. It was coined out from the African standard and the international standard. The SON has started implementing those standards right from the time we had a meeting. It was about six or seven weeks ago.
We would like to find out if the standard were implemented six or seven weeks ago, how were you able to manage the stakeholders…?
(Interjects) We have the codex standard that is in use, that’s the international standard and the standard you are talking about is not too different from the codex standard we are just taking into consideration the peculiarities as they affect Nigerian honey.
What’s the major position or recommendation of this codex standard you just mentioned?
The major recommendation is what is accepted internationally as far as honey is concerned. In terms of water content, in terms of other properties as far as honey is concerned.
Do you know of any of your members or anyone because of sharp practices who has been sanctioned recently because of this?
To the best of my knowledge, we have not received any sanction.I know there was a publication about one raw honey which was published as a result of crystallisation of honey. They picked the honey from the shelf and realized that the honey has crystalised. But when you check into the details of crystallisation, you will come to discover that crystallisation is normal in honey.
Crystallisation is just a state where the honey congeals but once you put it into warm water it dissolves again. It’s not a peculiar situation, perhaps, the reporter didn’t go into research of crystalised honey, so they felt that honey must be sugar.
The way to detect if it is sugar is if you put crystalised honey and sugar in the sun you will notice that the honey will dissolve while the sugar will not dissolve. To the best of my knowledge, I am not aware of a honey producer in Nigeria so far that has been sanctioned for any sharp practice.
Does that imply that some of these traditional beekeepers need to be sensitised to ensure their bee production is up to standard?
That’s exactly what we are doing right now; to train the traditional beekeepers on the use of boxes rather than thatch grasses to keep bees. There is a project we are into presently in Edo State where 1,500 traditional beekeepers were trained by UKAID. It’s a DFID program and we signed a major off-takers agreement to off-take the entire honey that would be produced from those hives. That off-taker agreement was based on certain conditions we put across, namely; the traceability of those hives must be known, each of those boxes must have a GSP marking.
What is GSP?
It is giving the latitude and longitude location of those boxes so that when you plug it on Google you can know where those boxes are. When you go to the shelves and you find any honey that doesn’t meet the requirements you can check the batch and go to the producers to tell you where this honey has been harvested from and that is what we call traceability.
Traceability is a major requirement by the EU to export honey to the EU market and that’s where we are going into. We now have a set of beekeepers in Edo State, about 1500 beekeepers and more are being trained. We cannot start overnight, it has to be by gradual process and within the next few years, more people will embrace these standards we are putting in place.
I remember in Tanzania there was a report of a certain defect in the honey found on the shelves but the government took it upon themselves to find the bottom of this defect. It was discovered that there was a particular plant that is harbouring certain bacteria that is proving too resistant to honey characters and they got rid of it. Tanzania today is one of the major honey producing nations in Africa.
Apart, from water what are other things you want your members to avoid while getting their honey ready?
Apart from water content, they should check for adulteration. It can be from people who may want to mix some other things with honey-like sugar cane and water and it is easily traceable. Anybody with conscience will be able to know that if you’re producing honey and it is being used in hospitals you must produce something that is pure. For example, our honey is acceptable in some hospitals especially in Maiduguri. We get regular orders from there because they found out that when they use it, it produces the required results.
There are about four or five tests that the external lab carries out on honey and once those tests are passed, it is not possible to have impurities there.
What are those tests?
Unless I have my lab technician around here, here we carry out the phining test, water content test but there are other specialized tests that are carried out by external labs on honey. We also have the HMF test to determine if the honey has undergone heating before it is being bottled. Once you heat the honey you destroy most of the nutrients.
Nigeria honey is certified to be one of the best honey in Africa, and even around the world. I remember we went to Dubai with the Nigeria Export Promotion Council because any time the Council is travelling for an international trade fair, our members are usually taken along to go and display their products.
We have represented the country in about seven to eight international trade fairs.
All our honey samples were impounded because they wanted to subject them to tests. Eventually they were released and certified fit for human consumption.
Nigeria’s honey has one major characteristic which we call poly flora honey because we are not restricting our bees from visiting specific flowers. We leave them to visit whatever flower that they want to visit so that makes our honey to look better than foreign honey.
Most of the foreign honey is over-processed that several of the ingredients that would really serve the interest of the body may have been destroyed. There was a situation sometimes our honey was purchased and they brought an international honey and the customer said no he wants A & Shine honey because if you look through A & Shine honey or honey produced in Nigeria you will discover that it is cold press. What I mean is that it not too clear like the foreign honey because it is not subjected to heat so all the ingredients that you need are still being preserved there in the honey and that makes Nigerian honey unique.
What is NAP’s specific role in the Nigerian apiculture industry?
NAP’s specific role is to ensure that no adulterated honey goes to the market and to ensure honey that is going out for consumption will meet the regulatory standard prescribed by the AAP which is being used by the NAP.
Correct me if I am wrong, NAP’s role in Nigeria’s apiculture industry is monitoring and regulatory and prior to seven weeks ago from the statement you made there was no adoption of a regulatory standard for beekeepers or honey producers to use in the country?
When you talk of standards, you are talking of standards acceptable in that particular locality. There are standards for honey but in Kenya, it was agreed that these standards should be moderated to suit your particular environment. Stakeholders must come together to say we will use bee veils, it must be like this because of the nature of our bees because of the aggressiveness of our bees if you look at the bees suits we have, there are very light ones, thick ones and the ones made of khaki.
When we came together we agreed that khaki will be best for Nigerian bee keepers to use. In processing, we agreed on the standards that will be used in processing honey, the standard equipment that can be used to process honey and then we agreed on several other parameters that are suitable for honey processing.
These agreements, are they in line with the AU adoption you spoke about that you said the SON domesticated and the other associations?
Yes, we are just making minor corrections or minor refining to suit our particular environment. The modification we are making is not to actually create a new type of specification for Nigerian honey. What is good for the white is also good for the black. When the white is saying that we don’t want moisture content to be above 20 per cent, it is because they realise that anything above 20 per cent the microbial level will be at risk. When it is below 20 per cent it is very impossible for microbes to survive in honey that is the main characteristics of honey.
The lower the water content the more impossible for microbial to survive in honey so we normally use the AU standard not tampering with key areas that would not make our honey to be accepted internationally.
Back to my earlier question, prior to seven weeks, there was no general consensus agreement between stakeholders in Nigeria?
The agreement that was in place has been that of the AU.
But seven weeks ago, what happened?
The stakeholders came together to look at this agreement we have been implementing to see what we should modify and send back to the AU that this is what is prevailing in Nigeria and this is what we want to adopt as Nigerian standard.
You must have people who have gone through a residual monitoring practice and that is what the Nigerian Export Promotion Council has been trying to put in place. Nigeria is currently undergoing the AU third country listing. It is an expensive exercise and it depends on the stake of the government concerning any sector.
As we all know, we have been focusing our attention on oil and nobody is looking any other way. Now, we want to focus our attention on apiculture. They have spent a lot to bring in people from Uganda. These are countries that have gotten their certification on EU standards and they brought them in to train members of NAP and FEBCAN on acceptable methods of producing good quality honey that will meet international standards.
Nigeria is now undergoing its EU third country accreditation and certification in order to certify its honey by the EU and the target date is 2020.
They are coming in for their third visit to see what we have been able to put in place. To meet all these certification standards, there are things to be put in place. If the government wants to do it and there are things that if they are not put in place you don’t get certification just like any other farm produce.
Can you cite instances of things to be put in place?
I just mentioned that residual monitoring standards must be put in place. Traceability of the honey must be put in place and that traceability is what I said is happening in Edo State.
Your organisation only builds the capacity of beekeepers and not monitoring. Who has been setting the microbial standards of honey when there is no national guideline?
That is where the NAFDAC and the SON come in. Where the SON sets the standard, NAFDAC ensures that those standards are met. The NAFDAC has all the equipment that you need for the testing of honey likewise SON. And every two months, SON pays a visit to our factory to pick samples and test our honey and ever since they’ve been coming they have never returned any of our honey to say it has failed their tests.
We just wrote to Director General of SON to tell him that we are aware that the organisation has all the equipment but it is not affordable for every honey processor. So we are asking, can you now put a system in place where we will send our products to you and you test and you put your stamp on the test result for onward forwarding to NAFDAC? With that, we don’t send products to lab even though they are certified and the results will be taken because they are certified lab.
If it is SON setting the standards for honey and NAFDAC regulating it, then if we get our results from SON we are sure that when we send it to NAFDAC it will have no issue because there will be seal of SON on the results.
That is where we are heading. We have requested to have an audience with the DG of SON to put this message across to allow all NAP and FEBCA members to send their honey products to SON for testing and we will send that result to NAFDAC.
In the past, processors would send their products to external labs and that result would be ready before it would be sent to NAFDAC before NAFDAC then sends it to their labs for testing. But we have realised that we are disadvantaged because of the charges since there are very few certified labs. So NAFDAC is saying don’t take your honey samples to external labs bring it to us.
That is what has been happening in the last few months. What we would have loved is a situation where we get our results from SON that is setting the standard and use that result to send to NAFDAC. All we are interested in is to ensure that we get the best quality honey produced and whatever is coming from our factory is the best.
It appears that Nigeria does not have a strict regulatory national policy to regulate apiculture in the country or what is lacking ?
The standards are not just being enforced. The NAFDAC has the standards for honey and that is the one it is using. We are not forcing anything on them, we are using the judgment of NAFDAC as the final arbiter, so we send our products to them and if it meets their requirements they give their approval.
Is this NAFDAC standard also drawn from the AU domesticated standard for honey?
The domesticated version of the AU standard once approved by SON would be forwarded to NAFDAC. So whatever stringent measure NAFDAC has been taking in testing is going to be adjusted either forward or backward.
Does it mean there is no agreed standard between SON and NAFDAC?
No, I am not saying there is no agreed standard. There has being a standard but the AU is now saying let every country come together and see what adjustments they can make and then take that as their standards for honey. In other words, it means if we have Nigerian standards for honey, it means if we meet those conditions then we can sell our honey within the country but if you want to export then you have no alternative but meet the international conditions.
Ghana, Cameroon have their own standards for honey, is there a standard in Nigeria for honey?
Ghana and Cameroon have undergone the residual monitoring process and training and they have met the vital conditions that the associations there are now passing to their members but we have not gone through the process…
And we have not met those conditions?
It’s not that we have not met them, we have not gone through the process. We use the international codex standard…
So we don’t have a standard?
Yes, we don’t for now because we are still in the process.
Research has shown that microbial contamination in honey can affect its quality and safety?
The prevalence of microbial contamination in honey is because the water content of the honey is above 20 per cent. When you harvest honey, it is sealed by the bees thereby reducing the water content of the honey so microbial action cannot take place which is why honey is used for embalming bodies.
If you had come earlier, one of our suppliers brought honey to us that has high water content. Initially, the water content was 16 per cent but after several hours the water content increased due to fermentation and we had to call him to carry his supplies.
Water content is a major determinant of the growth of microbial activity in honey and that is why we take it seriously. We didn’t have children until after 25 years in marriage and after a surgical procedure when the wounds did not heal a doctor recommended pure honey which was very effective.
What advice will you give to your members as 2020 is the year when the EU monitors will be coming to assess the apiculture sector in Nigeria?
Apart from the project we are handling in Edo State, we are also providing about 4,000 beehives to a certified organic bee farm in Kaduna State to begin to produce organic honey. We have about 18 hectares of land that we have earmarked for beekeeping and we are going to empower several of these traditional beekeepers. We have been going to farms advising farmers to keep bees not for the sake of honey alone but for pollination that can improve the yield of crops.
So I believe we would get to start exporting to the EU. And this year, we would scale through.