Dr. Goria Elemo is the director general of the Federal Institute of Industrial Research Oshodi (FIIRO). In this interview with CHIKA IZUORA, she outlines how the Institute plans to help government actualize its industrialization plans to grow the economy with the development of over 250 Technologies.
You have a set objective to transform the economy through research. How much effort has gone into this?
FIIRO has developed over 250 technologies within its 61 years of existence and these technologies can be deployed in the 774 local government areas for massive job creation and economic stimulation through processing and raw materials of relative advantage in each of the LGAs for the micro, small and medium enterprise. The result of the survey has been documented in a quick reference book titled, ‘Investment Opportunities for job creation based on FIIRO research and development (R&Ds) and available raw materials in 774 local government areas in Nigeria’.
We pioneered research and development effort in cassava production in Nigeria which led to the development of over 25 commercial cassava products. One of such products is the development and utilization of High Quality Cassava Flour for Cassava wheat composite flour production for bread making which received Presidential attention in the year 2004. The institute in the last 20 years has been involved in the training of over 2000 master bakers in cassava bread production.
We are involved in the building of catalyst model factories operated under Public Private Partnership arrangement. This strategy is used by the institute to adopt a fast track commercialisation of R&Ds result. The catalystic model plants at Owode Ogun State (Cassava processing), Kano (Tomato processing) Ondo (Cassava Processing) are used to act as clusters in the six geographical zones whereby unemployed youth and Adult can process raw materials into shelf stable marketable products at minimal fees.
We have equally developed Soy-Ogi, a protein –enriched food for both adults and infants form local corn and soybeans. This technology has been adopted by many firms especially the multinationals in Nigeria to produce many brands of popular infant formulae in the market. This innovation has also created high demand for cereals and legumes as well as generating hundreds and thousands of employment in Nigeria.
The Institute has added to its credit the development of industrial Enzymes such as proteinase, glucoamylase, xylanse, amylase, pectinase, glycose. Glycoamylase and amylase in particular have been used as bread improver at the institute. Also, it has been established to be a good substitute for the bromated bread improver which has been banned for health reasons.
FIIRO has also developed the processing technology for bottling and preservation of Palm wine, Zobo and Kunu. This has led to the establishment of small-scale palm wine bottle industries . By so doing, FIIRO has on its own small way promoted foreign exchange earnings, as some producers have found foreign markets for bottled palm wine.
Again, we have introduced Ready to use Therapeutic foods like the High Density Biscuit for combating of acute and severe mal nutrition in children , Nutraceutical Products for the management of sickle cells anaemia patient and traditional soup to produce quick and fast meals.
In the area of paper and paper board, we helped to develop them with good mechanised properties, water oil and grease resistance and reduced air permeability for packaging application. We also helped in the development of hypoglycaemic extracts from blends of indigenous fruits for diabetics control.
Has these efforts translated to the desired industrialization aspiration of government?
Well, my priority on the commercialization of R&Ds result has since been on the shelf and there is the need to ensure that the end users have access to them. More so, this research and developments are of no use if they kept on the shelf and their viability are determined by their acceptability. Also, involving the private sector of the commercialization of the R&Ds results is to fulfil the federal government policy of encouraging local content and development of SME’s for rapid industrialization.
To this extent FIIRO has synergized with relevant organizations through the signing of Memorandum of Understanding, MOU’s, encouraging entrepreneurial development, collaborating with school and international organizations. Industries, to a large extent, have taken up many of FIIRO’s research and developments; for example, NASCO, HoneyWell Flour Mill, Spectra Foods, May & Baker and so on.
So far, we have achieved a lot on our commercialization drive by sustainable job creation through FIIRO R&Ds, entrepreneurial development, building of local industries, public private partnership and encouraging entrepreneurial skills in school curriculum.
However, due to the activities in the local industries, funding of the small scale industries are now much better and access to loan facilities made easier. Nevertheless, funding has always been a major challenge, which includes inadequate remuneration of researchers, high interest rate for loans that discourages Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and strong competition between multinationals and local industries.
Can you explain a little about the Cassava bread project?
Here at FIIRO, we have been working on cassava bread for decades. Since then there has been improvements. It tastes just like the normal bread everybody is used to and that was the whole idea; not to introduce an entirely new product but to manage what we have to taste and look exactly like what is existing. It has been managed through what is known as ‘recipe manipulation’ and ‘recipe readjustment’ along with the existing recipe.
There is no fear of rejection. The bread tastes exactly like any of other normal bread. In fact, studies show that people have not been able to detect which one is the cassava bread from the normal bread. We have the recipe and it is standardised, and because of that the FIIRO recipe has been adopted as the nationwide recipe and we have been doing a lot of training nationwide with Ministry of Agriculture to train master bakers in the baking of cassava bread at 20 per cent inclusion.
Is there any economic advantage attached to this innovation?
In terms of foreign exchange saving, a whopping sum of N127Billion will be saved at 20 per cent substitution of high quality cassava flour in wheat flour. This figure will, however, be N63.5Billion at 10 per cent substitution. Again, matter how you look at it, whether in the short term or in the long term, bread is going to be cheaper and affordable through inclusion of cassava flour. Prices of bread could be reduced by 20-45 per cent at 20 per cent inclusion in the long term, if policy adopted.
We have carried out consumers’ acceptability studies on cassava bread produced at various levels of inclusion of high quality cassava flour and the response is very encouraging. But also, one may not rule out some resistance from some quarters due to reluctance to change but change is one thing that is inevitable. Some have actually said that cassava bread would cause diabetes or aggravate diabetic condition but as scientists, we have been able to debunk this through Glycemic Index (GI) studies using human samples.
The subjects consumed the cassava bread and we monitored the effect on the blood glucose. Interestingly, at 20 per cent inclusion, even at 10 per cent inclusion, there has been a slight drop in the GI for both bread than it is with bread baked with 100 per cent wheat flour. So there is no threat and it is not the cause of diabetes. Rather, I will even say it is better to use it for management of diabetes. Cassava bread is safe just like wheat bread for human consumption.
Are there plans to export cassava?
It will get to a time when we are definitely going to have more than enough cassava we can export. Presently, there are demands in the export market for cassava but because it is our food security crop we are using it extensively for foods like garri, fufu. So, it is not easy to meet export demand but by the time the value chain is pulled, there will be need for us to increase production. A country like China is in high demand for our cassava.
You are the pioneer female DG of this institute; has that presented peculiar challenges and how have you been able to surmount them?
It is a singular honour that has strengthened my desire to vigorously seek to improve on achievements of the institute for rapid and sustainable economic development. FIIRO as an institute has undergone repositioning and as the DG, I have received total support from my management team and the entire staff of the institute.
Surmounting challenges has also been through the effort and contribution of all. In this society, women fight for relevance because they are usually relegated to the background. Being at the helm of affairs as a woman has been fulfilling as it has brought out the best in me, first as a professional and then as a woman. I object strongly to gender inequality and I believe in empowering women to be economically and politically independent. Women have been known to play significant roles in all spheres of live and I urge them to keep it up.
Before you came to FIIRO as Director (Food and Analytical Services) you were in the academia and later at the Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC). How did the experiences from those sojourns shape your priorities of office as DG FIIRO?
As a researcher from these backgrounds, I’ve always known undoubtedly that science and technology is the hub on which the wheel of development and economic growth of any nation revolves. My priorities have been centred on commercializing research findings and industrializing through the participation of the SMEs, and other stakeholders.
What are key challenges facing the Institute?
One of the most crucial challenges is lack of adequate fund for research and development. Presently, there is no budget line for research and development funding. We are constrained to fund R&Ds from the meagre overhead. Secondly, Inadequate electricity supply; some of our laboratories equipment require 24hours electricity to maintain them otherwise you need to re-calibrate each time power is off and on and sometimes we result to taking samples (especially enzymes) home for keep under refrigerated condition.
Thirdly, Non –Competitiveness of Remuneration o Research Scientists, Researchers in the Research Institute are not well remunerated thereby resulting into brain drain and lastly the lack of constant training and retraining of staff, irregular attendance of local and international conference/seminar/workshops. These have made our researchers to below their professional colleagues all over the world.
Funding is a major challenge in Research institute in Nigeria; yet you have always managed to keep FIIRO going. How are you doing this?
Although getting fund to run the institute has not been easy because there is no budget line for R & D, this has constrained the institute to fund R&D from the meagre overhead. Also, the institute provides technology transfer training to SMEs on daily basis and also write feasibility study at minimal fees. Also, we fabricate equipment that are ready for take up to interested manufacture. The institute is currently in collaboration with universities, polytechnics, research institutes, government agencies, non-governmental organisations and industries. To mention a few, Bank of industry has always assisted to make fund accessible to most of the entrepreneurs that undergo trainings in our institute, though with our recommendation.
Also, we are presently working with Master bakers and Federal government for the commercialisation of our Nutraceutical products for sickle cell anaemia patient and therapeutic products for management of malnutrition in children. Despite all this measure put in place by the institute, the fund available is still not enough to carry out a lot of project. The Government need to increase investment in Science and technology through appropriating and releasing funds for the sector.
What are your future plans?
We aspire to commercialize all FIIRO developed research and development results and we intend to establish cottage industries in all the 36 states of Nigeria. FIIRO will continue to serve as pillar and source of reference point s for technologies transfer and we also want to train more entrepreneurs on our R&Ds. This will in a long way reduce the importation of items that can be produced here.
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