Nigerian Institute for Oil Palm Research (NIFOR), through its research on the Shea tree, has reduced its gestation period from between 15 and 30 years to seven years before it starts fruiting.
2nd Vice-President of the National Association of Shea Butter Producers in Nigeria, Mrs. Mobola Sagoe, disclosed this, on Thursday, in an interview, in Abuja.
She described the feat as very encouraging, adding that many people could now go into cultivation of the African shea tree (Vitellaria paradoxa).
She also said that the government could also set up shea tree plantations in the 21 shea nut/butter producing states.
She listed some of the shea nut/butter producing states as Niger, Kwara, Kebbi, Kaduna, Kogi, Benue, Ogun and Oyo states.
Sagoe, who is also a shea butter manufacturer, said Nigeria had the potential of generating over 800 million U.S. dollars from the over 700 tonnes of shea butter it produced annually if it was able to check the activities of smugglers.
“The shea tree is very unique in nature; it can grow up as high as 15 metres and takes about 15 years before a tree begins to fruit and about 25 years before it is fully mature. The tree can then produce fruits for the next 200 years.
“The tree has a 200-year life span and could produce more than 25 to 50 kilograms of berries annually.
“It is unfortunate that there is no backup in the country for it and being a generational plant, it is of great concern to the stakeholders,’’ she said.
Sagoe said that with the growing demand for firewood and charcoal in the country, the shea nut tree was facing the risk of extinction because many people were frequently cutting the trees, thereby reducing their availability.
She said that the Shea Butter Producers Association was striving to fight against the instability of the produce, while ensuring its value addition and stable pricing so that it could be profitable to shea farmers and shea butter producers.
“The association is doing a lot to improve the produce but the progress is still very slow and it could be better with the cooperation of government.
“As an organisation, we are not focusing on government alone; we need support from the locals, research institutes and multinational firms because the time has come for all to save the shea tree,’’ she said.
Sagoe noted that there was a growing demand for Shea butter and allied products across the globe.
She attributed the rising demand for shea butter to the fact that it was chemical free and could be used for a variety of cosmetics and skin care products because of its natural healing properties.
Sagoe stressed that shea butter also had some culinary properties, as it was an edible cooking oil which was also used by many confectioners because of its higher melting point and smoother texture.
She noted that the made-in-Nigeria shea butter was in high demand in countries like Japan and China, adding, however, that meeting the demand had been problematic because of the numerous problems facing the shea industry in the country.
She called on the government to intervene and assist in addressing some of the perceptible problems which included the lack of basic infrastructure, inadequate butter processing facilities and paucity of funds.
“Shea butter processing in Nigeria is mostly done traditionally by women in the rural areas and the procedures are quite tedious and time consuming.
“Government’s intervention and introduction of modern technology will improve the traditional methods of shea butter production, increase the yield and make it more appealing in the international markets,” she said.
Sagoe also emphasised the need for the government and other stakeholders to develop a shea value chain to boost wealth creation.
“It will ultimately create employment opportunities, generate income for the investors, government and producing communities; it will also create women empowerment and poverty reduction strategies, particularly in the rural settings,’’ she said.
Shea tree grows in several African countries such as Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Sudan, Guinea, Central African Republic, Burkina Faso, Chad, Ethiopia, Benin, Togo, Cameroon, Mali, Nigeria, Niger, Senegal, Uganda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo. (NAN)