By NKECHI ISAAC,
Rattan, which belongs to the palm family, is an exotic wood material which can be shaped into intricately designed furniture such as chairs, tables, beds and other fanciful items because of its flexible nature. Africa and Asia export rattan products worth about US $6.5 billion per year. Despite the humongous economic potential of rattan, Nigeria’s export of finished products generates less than US$ 5m as a result of low quality of finished products. In this interview with NKECHI ISAAC, the director-general of the Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC), Prof Hussaini Doko Ibrahim says if improved upon, the sector can contribute over N30bn to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product annually. The excerpts.
What are rattans?
Rattan (from the Malay rotan) is the collective name for the roughly 600 species of palms in the Calameae family. The word rattan is derived from the Malay “rotan”, the local name for climbing palms. Most rattans are forest species. They are climbers that use thorny stems and leaves to hold on to the supporting structure of other plant species. They are spiny palms found in the tropics and subtropics and are the source of cane for the rattan industry. Most of the canes originated mostly from Southeast Asia and Africa.
Is rattan the same as bamboo?
There is a common misconception that bamboo and rattan are the same. Rattan and bamboo are drastically different materials. For instance, bamboo is hollow and does not bend while rattan is a solid wood material. Despite being one of the world’s strongest woods, rattan is flexible and can be shaped into intricately designed furniture.
What is the status of rattan availability and its industry development in Nigeria?
Presently, the Nigerian rattan industry is not as developed as obtained in most parts of Asia. However, if adequately managed and overhauled it can contribute about N30 billion in foreign exchange equivalent to the economy annually. In view of the employment generation potential of rattan harvesting, transportation and processing, several studies have been carried out on rattan occurrence, harvesting and utilization in Nigeria. Under technical assistance of Breda, Netherlands, a study was conducted on the rattan assessment at Ejirin and Lagos Peninsular in the 80s. Other studies have also been carried out.
The Raw Material Research and Development Council in collaboration with the department of wood products engineering, faculty of technology, University of Ibadan, carried out a national survey on rattan resources occurrences, availability, distribution and utilization in Nigeria. The report indicated that about 600 species of rattan occur throughout their natural range in the tropical forests of Asia and Africa. Its distribution is observed to be limited to tropical and subtropical Asia and the Pacific where 10 of the 13 known genera are endemic. In equatorial Africa, four genera occur of which three are endemic. Also, four genera of rattans were observed in West Africa. These are Laccosperma (formerly Ancistrophylum), Calamus, Erymosphatha and Oncocalamus. In Nigeria, 10 species of rattan have been identified.
The study also indicated that rattan is widely distributed in the mangrove and high forest vegetation zones of the Southern parts of Nigeria. It occurs in Bayelsa, Edo, Delta, Imo, Anambra, Rivers, Ondo and Cross River states. Rattan processors, however, are concentrated in the major towns. Two of such notable concentration points are Mende (Maryland) in Lagos, Lagos State and Obrikom in Onelga local government area of Rivers State.
They are largely, highly organized centres with some levels of sophistication in the products manufactured from rattan. The report also indicated that the major products of rattan in Nigeria are chairs, tables, beds and other fanciful items which if improved upon can be major export items from the country. It further highlighted that the rattan processing stages in Nigeria are mainly peeling, splitting, steaming, dyeing, sanding and finishing. Steam chambers are often used to soften the stems so that they can be bent. To improve the surface appearance, gray-brown canes are also bleached with hydrogen peroxide or other chemicals for a better finish. The report recommended that the processing method should be overhauled to include grading, curing and deglazing as parts of the process line.
What is the export statistics for rattan products?
Worldwide, more than 700 million people trade in or use rattan. Global trade in unprocessed and semi-processed rattan has been estimated at between 70,000 and 90,000 tonnes per year valued at between USD 60 million and 75 million. In 2018, trade in rattan products, such as seats, basketwork and wicker products, was estimated at USD 5 billion. China and Hong Kong are the main importers, accounting for more than 90 per cent of the total imports. Indonesia, Myanmar and Vietnam are the main suppliers of rattan.
Africa and Asia export rattan products worth about US $6.5 billion per year. Cameroon and Gabon export rattan products to France while Ghana is supplying a high proportion of the United Kingdom market. In Central Africa, the commercial trade in rattan products is worth more than US 10 million dollars per annum, while in Nigeria, export of finished products generates less than US$ 5m as a result of low quality of finished products.
Can you tell Nigerians the challenges of the Industry?
Generally, the wood products sector among which is the furniture subsector is facing hard times as a result of scarcity of the major raw material, which is wood. It is, therefore, expected that rattan would provide an excellent alternative to wood and therefore be used to reposition the sector. However, globally, the thriving international and domestic trade in rattan and rattan products has led to substantial over-exploitation of the wild rattan resource. This coupled with the loss of forest cover through logging and agricultural activities, are threatening the long-term survival of the industry.
In Nigeria, the sustainable exploitation of the rattan resource is also hindered by the lack of a sound taxonomic base. In addition, absence of resource tenure also precludes any attempts at long-term and sustainable harvesting. The fact is that any interested person can harvest rattan as he or she requires. This prevents effective attempts at long-term management of the plant in the wild and subsequently erosion of the resource base. Thus, effective mechanisms have to be put in place to ensure sustainability of the resource, not only in Nigeria, but also, in other parts of Africa and South East Asia.
To protect the rattan industry, there is urgent need to enthrone sustainable management principles. The first step will be to determine the extent of the rattan resources of the country. To control harvesting of rattan, there is need for licensing rights in order to promote adequate management of the resource. Another major imperative is the need to develop rattan plantations. To achieve these, there is need for adequate policies to be instituted. Domestic forest policies can give incentive for plantation establishment by providing tenured security to rattan gatherers and planters, credit and technical assistance for plantation development and favorable harvesting and marketing management arrangements.
What are the plans of your organization for the industry?
Notwithstanding in Nigeria rattan development is a mandate of the National Institute for Oil Palm Research (NIFOR), the council will be strengthening its collaboration with NIFOR. This will be to intensify R&D in rattan silviculture and ecology, seedlings development, plantation technology, development of innovative technologies for low-cost mechanization and automation of rattan processing lines. Emphasis will also be placed on resource assessment, conservation and innovative design of products. As part of the collaboration, we would also investigate the properties of rattan species in order to facilitate assessment of the utilization potential of currently non-commercial species and protection of rattan products with environmentally acceptable preservatives.
What is your last take on the industry?
Development of the rattan sector is one of the most enterprising solutions to poverty alleviation, employment and foreign exchange generation in Nigeria. The optimal development of rattan industry has a multiplicity of advantages. Among this is rural development as rattan harvesting is a rural based activity. Empowerment of the collectors, which are mostly rural famers, will significantly impact on the rural economy. Also, another inbuilt advantage is employment generation. Optimal development of the industry will substantially increase its employment generation potentials. Presently rattan-based economy in Nigeria employs about half a million people.
According to FAO, the industry has the capacity to employ more than one million, five hundred thousand people in the upstream and downstream sections of the industry. Likewise, Nigeria can generate more than 20 million USD from the export of exquisite rattan furniture. Consequently, the council will like to use this opportunity to encourage harvesters who are mostly farmers to be involved in plantation development. Also, investors with adequate financial resources would be assisted to establish in rattan processing facilities. These could be state of art processing facilities for the production of exquisite products directed at the export market. The council is ready to provide the required technical assistance in this direction.