History was made on the 7th and 8th of February 2017 as United Nations Industrial Development Organization successfully held the 1st Nigeria Food Safety and Investment forum. The forum brought together in one room the Honorable Ministers of Agriculture and Rural Development, Health, and representatives of the Honorable Ministers of Environment; Industry, Trade & Investment; Science and Technology, Food Safety Regulatory Agencies, the Food Industry, Research Institutions, Relevant professional bodies, Development partners, the Academia, Media, and the SMEs respectively. Other participants included the representative of the UNIDO Regional Director in Nigeria, Director & Officer In Charge, UNIDO, NQI Project Manager, NQI Project Assistant from Vienna respectively and National and International Food Safety experts.
The milieu of the forum was aptly set on the dwindling Nigeria economy and the urgent need for diversification of its economy to non-oil sectors. This was necessitated by the need to translate the massive investment by the Government and industries in the past five years into foreign exchange earnings, and the need for the small and medium enterprises to fully harness their potentials through products that meet and possibly exceed international standards. The Nigeria National Quality Infrastructure Project (NQIP) implemented by UNIDO and funded by European Union has been working assiduously with the Government and people of Nigeria to develop the five (5) quality infrastructure components that are imperative in the actualization of quality and competitiveness in the global market.
UNIDO has among other things, successfully established the Second Component of the NQIP, to establish National Accreditation Body, through collaboration with relevant stakeholders. The Nigeria National Accreditation Service (NiNAS) was established to grant formal recognition to Conformity Assessment Bodies (laboratories, inspection and certification bodies) that have demonstrated competence in carrying out the specified conformity assessment tasks. Accreditation when granted makes the output (results) of these conformity assessment bodies (CAB) accepted globally, thereby engendering confidence and trust in products and services certified by these laboratories, inspection and certification bodies.
The Food Safety and Investment Forum therefore provided an opportunity for NiNAS to showcase its services among stakeholders and interested parties, educate and promote the use of accredited CABs, and advocate for investment in food testing laboratories. The critical role laboratory testing plays in quality assurance and quality control, diagnosis and management of food borne diseases and regulation of food produce and products was a recurring decimal in the presentations and discussions. The Chairman, Board of Trustees NiNAS, was on ground and did not leave the participants in doubt of the need for accreditation in Nigeria. The lead Technical Adviser of the NQIP project, Dr. Hussein Shaukat nailed it by demonstrating that the quality infrastructure is incomplete without a national accreditation body. While Dr. Lawrena Okoro, Director Laboratory Accreditation highlighted how existing laboratories can be made more efficient and new investments in laboratory targeted to address the existing gaps, rather than the current trend of duplicating capacities which is obviously under serving the needs of the country.
For NiNAS, the best part of the forum was the exhibition booth which was deliberately designed with NiNAS logo and roll up banner and brochures to give NiNAS good visibility at this forum. These efforts paid off as NiNAS played host to the Honourable Ministers, Minister’s representatives, International Experts, Director Generals of Agencies and Companies, and Top Government Officials that attended the Forum. The CEO, Celestine Okanya and the International Expert, Stephen Cross took turns to explain to the dignitaries the benefits of accreditation and the value that the activities of NiNAS will bring to the public sector, and particularly in the regulatory regime for produce, products and services. NiNAS Staff present also had one-on-one interaction with 95 other participants who visited the NiNAS booth. The good wishes, excitement at the establishment of NiNAS, expression of desire to collaborate, extended invitations by the Honourable Ministers and Companies for more interaction, expression of the interest to participate as assessors and the excitement by the Conformity Assessment Bodies that accessible and affordable accreditation service is here made it all the more worthwhile.
Being the first ever exhibition participated by NiNAS, the management is not basking in the euphoria of the successful outing. Rather, it has gone back to the drawing board to ensure that NiNAS is well positioned to meet the expectations of its clients and interested parties. The management also uses this opportunity to congratulate the Government of Nigeria and UNIDO on the successful hosting of the forum and is looking forward to this forum being an annual event.