Stories by Steve Agbota
Despite huge earning from oil proceeds, Nigeria remains largely an agrarian economy with agriculture accounting for about 50 per cent of employment.
Besides, cocoa, cashew, palm oil, rice, cassava and soyabean, one other major cash crop that has huge potentials to boost farmer’s income, the economy and create more jobs is moringa. But regretably, its full potentials is yet to be tapped in the country.
Few farmers, who once used their agricultural skills to feed their families, now have the opportunity to turn moringa farming into profit making, as the demand is highly huge in USA, China and other European countries.
Ironically, Chinese, Indians, Veitnamese and South Korea companies are all over Lagos looking for Moringa seeds, as a bag of moringa seed costs N150,000 to N170,000 depending on the weights. In Kano state, the Chinese usually pay a moringa farmers in advance far ahead of the harvesting period.
Moringa is a cheap seedling with high returns on investment and grows in every part of the country, but farmers are yet to appreciate the full benefits of the tree.
In Zamfara alone, a trader in moringa seeds rakes in N6 million every year because the seed has more monetary value than the leaves with a kilo of it sold for N1,800 to N2,000.
During the raining season, farmers can harvest at least three times a season, depending on the size of the farm. A farmer can also generate significant income to meet the family’s financial needs. With less effort, a small size of land can accommodate many stems that can within a short period grow and produce the seeds that can be used for export, where they are processed for both consumption and value addition.
Following its export recognition, non-profit and international development agencies have spent millions of dollars to encourage people across the African continent to grow and use moringa. The crop is being used by pharmaceutical, perfumery, trado-medical practitioners, and food industries as its leaves and other parts are useful as medicine for treatment of ailments.
Looking at the in-depth health benefits of Moringa leaves, stem, root, and seeds, scientific studies have shown that it contains specific antioxidants and health promoting ingredients that offer palliatives to malnutrition, hunger and diseases. The early leaves are edible and are commonly cooked and eaten like spinach or used to make soups and salads. It’s rich in many vitamins, including Vitamin A, several forms of Vitamin B, Vitamin C, Vitamin D and Vitamin E.
According to the Deputy Managing Director of Peniel Gera International Limited, a seed company, Ojiefoh Enahoro Martins, Moringa is one of the world’s most useful plants and fast-growing tree grown throughout the tropics for human food, livestock forage, medicine, dye, and water purification.
Being one of the world’s most nutritious crops, he said that the leaves of moringa have more beta-carotene than carrots, more protein than peas, more vitamin C than oranges, more calcium than milk, more potassium than bananas, more iron than spinach.
Martins explained that Moringa requires normal farmland preparation and a well-prepared seedbed. It has two varieties, which are Moringa oleifera and Moringa stenopetala which are the most commonly grown. Moringa oleifera is most widely cultivated but the new variety Moringa oleifera differ in growing habit, leaf, flower, and pod characteristics.
While planting, he explained that there is direct seedling, transplanting, and using hard stem cuttings. He noted that direct seedling is preferred when plenty of seed is available and labor is limited. Transplanting allows flexibility in field planting but requires extra labor and cost in raising seedlings.
“Plants 3-5m apart between rows and plants. If using raised beds, form beds with 2m-wide tops, and space plants 3–5 m apart in a single rows. On pest control, Moringa is resistant to most pests and diseases, but outbreaks may occur under certain conditions. For example, diplodia root rot may appear in waterlogged soils, causing severe wilting and death of plants. Mite populations can increase during dry and cool weather. These pests create yellowing of leaves, but plants usually recover during warm weather.”
However, he maintained that Moringa grows well in most soils without addition of fertilizer. Once established, the extensive and deep root system of moringa is efficient in mining nutrients from the soil, saying that for optimum growth and yields, fertilizers are applied at planting time: dig trenches around the base of the plant (10–20 cm from the base) and apply approximately 300 g of a commercial nitrogen fertilizer per tree. He said farmers should maintain a weed-free planting by regular manual process or herbicide.
“I personally advise regular pruning to promote and increase yields, and facilitate harvesting. If left to grow without cutting the main trunk, the fast-growing tree will grow straight, producing tall leaves and pods only on the primary stem.
Harvesting Leaves can be done after plants grow 1.5–2metres, which usually takes at least one year. Harves leaves by snapping leaf stems from branches. Harvesting young shoot tips will promote development of side branches. Harvest pods when they are young, tender, and green. They are eaten as green beans.
Preservation and market
“Farmers should store seeds in well-ventilated sacks in a cool, dry, and shaded area. Moringa seeds have both international and local market values. Since the introduction of Moringa, the price has been on 50 per cent increase annually because of new research and development of the usefulness. Between 2015 to 2016 price jumped from N50 per kg, which is N500, 000 per ton to 200 per kg, which is 2 million per ton. Our company has sold tons worth millions.”
He disclosed that Moringa tolerates a wide range of environmental conditions. It grows best between 25 to 35oC, but will tolerate up to 48oC in the shade and can survive in 98 per cent of states in Africa. This adaptable tree prefers a well-drained sandy loam or loamy soil, survive clay except under prolonged flooding and the tree tolerates a soil pH of 5.0.
Agriculture imperative for wealth creation, economic growth
By Chinyere Anyanwu
The Lagos Zone 2 of Christ Embassy recently held its Reach Out Nigeria 2016 Public Lecture with the theme, “Agriculture and Exportation: Taking Advantage of Opportunities”, leaving participants at the event with the conclusion that agriculture as well as export of excess farm produce remain Nigeria’s only option to surviving recession and attaining economic growth.
The lecture, which held in Amuwo Odofin, Lagos, was aimed at empowering participants and the general public with the knowledge that will enable them to take full advantage of the agricultural potential of the country for wealth creation, combatting unemployment and ensuring food security.
The convener of the programme, Zonal Director of Christ Embassy Lagos Zone 2, Pastor Vale Odu-Thomas, in his opening remark, said the public lecture was the church’s own contribution to government’s efforts at diversifying the nation’s economy through agriculture.
Odu-Thomas stated that Nigeria has “the most diverse agricultural resources than any nation of the world. There’s barely anything that cannot grow in Nigeria except those that grow in temperate regions, yet we say we cannot feed our people. I think that’s a misnomer. We are talking about agriculture and exportation – two very key things that can be the game changer for our country.”
He added that the Lagos Zone 2, through the programme, brought together stakeholders in the agricultural produce chain to educate the public, especially the youths, on the opportunities available to them in the sector, saying, “if they apply the information they would gain from this programme, they’ll be feeding themselves, their families, their immediate communities and they’ll have money from export, and beyond that, they’ll be able to feed the Nigerian population. We won’t spend money importing food and that’s an advantage for the economy.”
Speaking at the lecture on the topic, “Agriculture: A Doorway to Financial Prosperity”, Mr. Kingsley Young, the Chief Executive Officer of BBB Agro Ltd., noted that though food is a basic need of all humans, Nigeria is not meeting its demand for it despite the huge investment in agriculture from the Federal Government level to the individual.
Young said, “as a matter of fact, match it side by side, all we invest in agriculture, same way we import food to that degree – N1.2 trillion, N1.3 trillion daily. Now, if we want, we can cut it back. If those of us here actually put to practise what we will learn from this lecture, in the next six to 10 months, we can recoup over N100 billion of the import bill. You will be delighted to know how cheap it is to come into farming.”
Highlighting the steps to creating wealth and attaining economic growth from agriculture, the BBB Agro Ltd. CEO stated the need to reunite people with their roots, lamenting that 150 years ago, 70 – 90 per cent of the country’s populace were farmers and fishermen but that with the shift of focus to education, certificates and crude oil from the 50s and 60s, a lot of things changed, adding, “we embraced education and certificates don’t do the job; what does the work is the man that is ready to work.”
He harped on the importance of educating people more on farming and its benefits as well as the need for data mining and mapping, adding, “we are creating a system now that enables each person to know what the other person is doing in other locations. We have people who are investigating every farmer by name, what you are planting this season; we support you, put you on our chart, and everybody knows what is ready. If you ask, who has tomatoes, you will see it there.”
He equally spoke on the role of agriculture industrialisation in the wealth creation efforts of the country, saying, “if we do all these – processing, packaging, preservation and distribution – in Nigeria, do you know how much that will generate for the country? Food will saturate the country. They say Nigeria is putting the cart before the horse by exporting its raw foods abroad. Undoubtedly, raw food has value but processed food has 100 times more value but because of our hunger for forex, our produce are under-priced at the international market. Is that a fair pricing? It’s not.
FG to distribute 900m high yielding palm seedlings to farmers
The Federal Government is to distribute 900 million seedlings of high yielding palms to farmers in the coming weeks to boost palm oil production in the country.
Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, made this revelation last week, when the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development paid him a visit as part of its oversight functions. He said that currently, there is 250,000 tons of palm oil shortage to meet local demand, adding that the planed distribution is to meet and surpass the current shortage.
Ogbeh also stated that the price of rice would begin to fall from November this year, as more Nigerians are responding to the call to return to agriculture, as a result of Government’s policy on importation of rice.
He emphasized that Government could not be involved in rice importation, as being speculated in some quarters, adding that his Ministry would not encourage such a thing that would be detrimental to local production.
“We will not encourage rice importation, and there is no way our Ministry or Government can be involved in importing rice, when we are working hard to be self-sufficient in local production. By November, when full-scale harvest starts, rice prices will fall”, the Minister said.
The Minister further informed that the late passage of this year’s budget had slowed down budget implementation, adding that capital expenditure has begun, and about N80 billion was waiting to flow into the economy through contracts to be awarded soon.
Ogbeh used the opportunity to call the Senators to impress it on State Governors to encourage agriculture in their States to complement Federal Government’s efforts in the sector.
“You may be surprised to know that only six to seven States in Nigeria are showing enthusiasm in agriculture. Some by nature don’t seem interested, while others just can’t connect with what we are doing at the federal level.”
Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, on his part stated that the $22 billion annual food import bill had led to the astronomical rise in the cost of rice and other commodities.
He cautioned that if Nigerians fail to produce some of the items being imported by December this year, the prices of such items could skyrocket.