By Nkechi Isaac, Abuja
Kenaf (Hibiscus cannabinus L.) is a multi-purpose bio-economic crop. It is a fast-growing, annual crop that belongs to the Malvaceae family. It belongs to the genus Hibiscus that comprises about 400 annual and perennial species.
Considering the current global environmental challenges, the need to return green or bio-economy has become imperative. There are four major motivations behind this. Bio-economy will lead to improvement in the quality of the environment; improve agricultural production and productivity, national food and social security and a stronger and sustainable economy. It is an open and innovative approach that involves collaboration of different stakeholders, fostering dialogue and cooperation at a global level.
Kenaf as a renewable commodity, present an unlimited opportunity as a promising source of energy, food and industrial raw materials. Kenaf bio-economy represents one of the most promising ways to secure sustainable economic growth and industrial development and environmental amelioration resulting from population growth and over dependence on petroleum resources. Therefore, development of kenaf bio-economy in relevant nations like Nigeria, will lead to green growth of economies.
On the basis of industrial application, kenaf is used for cordage, woven and non-woven textile products. Kenaf bast and core fibers are used as reinforcing fiber in bio-composites. It is also used in particle, hard, and insulation boards, compression-molded products, laminates production, etc. A blend of 40 per cent kenaf fibers could be substituted to wood flour fillers and combined with virgin plastics such as polypropylene or recycled low density polyethylene. Also, compared with other natural fibers, kenaf yields on average twice usable fiber.
Speaking on Kenaf development in Nigeria, the national president of the Kenaf Producers, Processors and Marketers Association of Nigeria (KEPPMAN), Hon. Hassan Abubakar, said it is used to improve soil and water quality, and has been shown to present the highest nitrogen and phosphorus removal rates especially during the summer and fall. Kenaf leaves are rich in crude protein, adding the leaves contain 14 – 34 per cent protein while the stalk contain about 2 – 12 per cent, stating the leaves are used as human food, similar to spinach, in India, Haiti, and in some areas of Africa.
Abubakar said the development of kenaf bio-economy in Nigeria is highly plausible and very attractive as Nigeria has over one million hectares of land suitable for the cultivation of kenaf in about 18 States of the Federation, adding these include Adamawa, Bauchi, Gombe, Taraba, Plateau, Kwara, Kaduna, Benue, Kogi, Niger, Nasarawa, Lagos, Ogun, Osun, Oyo, Ekiti and the FCT.
Giving the interventions of the Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC) in promoting the Kenaaf value chain, the agency’s director-general, Prof. Hussaini Doko Ibrahim, said one of the major industrial uses of kenaf which the Council is most concerned with is the production of jute sacks for packaging agricultural raw materials for export and domestic use.
He pointed out it is imperative that efforts be made to revisit the production of jute sacks in Nigeria due to the collapse of the first national initiative on jute sacks production in Jos and Badagry by Nigeria Fibre Company (NIFINCO) and Nigeria Fibre Production Limited (NNFPL) around 1971 and the increase in jute sacks requirement from 2 million pieces to 5 million pieces.
“This is more important as the cost of jute sack importation is about N2.75 billion in foreign exchange equivalent on an annual basis. The situation is becoming very pathetic as a number of commodity exporters have resorted to importing second-hand jute sacks from Ghana. This has contributed to further rejection of many agricultural produce being exported from Nigeria,” he said.
The RMRDC boss explained the council has initiated, maintained and sustained a number of projects to promote the industrial production and utilization of the plant to promote kenaf bio-economy in Nigeria.
“The first initiative of the Council was to boost kenaf availability by promoting its production. In collaboration with stakeholders, most especially, the Institute of Agricultural Research and Training, (IAR&T) Ibadan, the Council promoted kenaf varietal development and domestication of improved varieties of imported Cuba 108, Cuba 2032, Everglades 71, Guatemala 3F. This was followed by multi-locational-field trials of the imported improved kenaf seeds in the South-West Geo-political Zone during which only Cuba 108 was found to be most adaptable to the local environment and cultural agronomic practices. Likewise, the collaborators embarked on the design and fabrication of kenaf decorticating machines at OAU, Ile- Ife and IAR&T, Ibadan and the establishment of Pilot Kenaf Farms and Processing Centres in Oyo and Niger States in 2012 and 2014, respectively. This was followed by multiplication of improved kenaf seeds across the producing states in the country between 2017 and 2019,” he stated.
Ibrahim averred that while promoting kenaf production locally, the Council simultaneously in collaboration with stakeholders, organized investors’ fora on kenaf development and utilization in all the six zones of Nigeria.
According to him, the primary aim of the fora was to promote investments in the processing of kenaf into yarn and the establishment of jute sack production plant in Nigeria, adding it has become imperative in view of the global best practices for agricultural commodities packaging, transportation and export.
The RMRDC boss said it is in view of the importance of ensuring sustainable availability of planting materials, the Council, also, in January 2020, distributed about 2.5 tonnes of improved seeds to farmers for further multiplication, adding the Council has been able to establish the productivity and profitability of kenaf production under farmers` condition, saying it has provided the framework for commercial production of kenaf in Nigeria and stimulated the interest of farmers to engage in large scale production of the crop through the programme, stressing there is now improved kenaf seeds for farmers across the country through these efforts.
Similarly, the head of Kenaf and Jute improvement programme, IAR&T, Ibadan, Dr J. Adetumbi, said the institute has developed several varieties of kenaf.
“These include Cuba 108, Ifekan 400, Ex Funtua, Tianung 1, G45, Ex Giwa, and AU 64. In addition, the technology for the design and fabrication of kenaf decorticating machine is now available locally. With these achievements, the country is ripe for sustainable development of kenaf bio-economy in Nigeria. However, this is only achievable if investors are ready to invest in kenaf processing in Nigeria,” he added.