Essential oils also known as volatile oils are derived from sections of plants. Some plants, like orange, mint, eucalyptus, citronella, pepper mint, lemon grass, clove, lime, spearmint, lavender, rose, cedar wood, etc. are sources of several types of essential oils. They occur in different parts of plants, e.g. roots (vetiver), bark (cinnamon), heartwood (sandalwood), leaves (bay), herb (peppermint), seeds (nutmeg), flowers (rose and jasmine).
The demand for essential oils industry is increasing across the globe due to rising utilization in multiple therapeutic practices. Pharmaceutical industry has gained momentum in recent years and it is envisaged to witness a growth rate exceeding 8.0 per cent. Essential oils and volatile constituents are gaining traction in treatment of cancer cardiovascular diseases including atherosclerosis and thrombosis. Widening R&D as transdermal drug delivery enhancement, and tailor drug synergies acts as potential growth opportunity for essential oils industry. Also, increasing applications in aromatherapy coupled with rising demand for fragrances and flavours in food and beverages and personal care drove the essential oil market growth over the period. By far, the bulk of demand and usage of essential oils is accounted for by the flavours and fragrances industries.
Despite the rising demands of essential oils and the immense benefits for economic development available in the sector, Africa, regrettably, is not regarded as a major global source of most essential oils as a result of the constraints largely related to the weakness of the value chain and supply. Those essential oils that are exclusively sourced from Africa are usually linked to a limited number of aromatic plants that are indigenous to the continent and which still are only found there. The use of natural products such as essential oils provide high value niche crops and plant-based products that can provide income generating opportunities for African communities.
Speaking to LEADERSHIP on opportunities available in the essential oil sector, the chief executive officer of Jola Global Industries Limited, Dr. Moses Omojola, said Africa, and especially Nigeria could tap into the global essential oil market size valued at USD6.63 billion in 2016.
According to the chartered chemist and essential oil experts, the nation can diversify its economy to boost its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by developing the essential oils sector, whose global demand is expected to reach around USD9.80 billion in 2020, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 9 per cent between 2015 and 2020.
On the development and utilization of essential oils in Nigeria, the president, Castor Producers, Processors and Marketers Association, Mr Lawan Ali, said they are used in many industries (pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, food and beverages, spa and relaxation, cleaning and home, etc.).
The castor seed farmer pointed out that despite the availability of basic raw materials (citrus, eucalyptus plant, lemon grass, flowering plants such as gardenia, ginger, guava, etc.) in Nigeria, the production of essential oils is negligible and the bulk of essential oils used in the industries are imported, even as he underscored the need to promote investment in the production of essential oils in Nigeria.
“Despite the availability of arable land for the production of essential oil yielding plants in Nigeria, more than 95 per cent of essential oils required locally are met through imports. This has led to lack of development in the production of raw materials, processing, packaging and marketing of essential oils in the country. Essential oils are generally high-value; low-volume commodities and essential oil yielding plants can easily be grown and processed by small-holder farmers and processors,” he added.
Reacting to the development, the director-general of the Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC), Prof. Hussaini Ibrahim, said the council had been in the vanguard of promoting the development of raw materials for essential oils production and the technology for processing them in Nigeria.
Speaking exclusively to LEADERSHIP, the RMRDC boss said plan to promote the cultivation of these plants at all levels by the council was underway.
“The council in 2018 initiated a project to identify all essential oil producing plants in all the ecological zones in Nigeria. The project has reached an advanced stage and when completed, adequate information will be made available to the investing public and farmers on essential oil plants species indigenous to Nigeria. After this exercise, the council plans to collaborate with relevant research institutes to isolate and determine the type and quality of essential oils in all the essential oil bearing plant species.
“At present, only ginger has received serious attention as RMRDC has distributed improved planting materials to farmers in Kaduna State. Also, the farmers have been trained on agricultural best practices for ginger cultivation in the north west part of the country. This development has led to increase in yield per ha of ginger farms in the state. Work has continued on the production of improved varieties of other plant species that have the oils in adequate and sustainable quantities,” he said.
Ibrahim also said the council in its effort to develop the essential oils industry in Nigeria, collaborated with National Research lnstitute for Chemical Technology (NARICT), Zaria to design and fabricate essential oils extraction plant.
He added the council also partnered Nasarawa Polytechnic, Lafia to design and fabricate essential oil extraction plant, saying the test run for the two plants showed that they are technically feasible and economically viable with 40 per cent return on investment and a payback period of 2 – 3 years
“The NARICT plant uses kerosene as fuel and has an output capacity of 0.864L/h while the Nasarawa Poly plant uses gas and has an output capacity of 0.094L/h. Both plants are using eucalyptus and lemon grass as raw materials. A public presentation of the two essential oil extraction plants was held recently to commercialize the technology and attract investment.
“The council is at present working with the University of Lagos for a new design and development of a small-scale essential oil extraction plants. The project has reached an advanced stage and it is my hope that before the end of the year, the locally designed and fabricated essential oil plant will be ready for commissioning,” he added.