How Sanwo-Olu is driving Lagos as West Africa’s Champion in Coconut Value Chain — Interview (part II)

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Last week, Nigerian NewsDirect published a feature on the efforts of the Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu led Administration towards the diversification of the Lagos State’s Economy by leveraging comparatively on the Coconut Value Chain, which presently places the State at the vanguard of driving the Value Chain in West Africa. The premise was drawn from the recent disclosure of the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Sabo Nanono, that the revenue which accrued to Nigeria’s coffers from the export of coconut oil and coconut derivatives for Y2020 summed up to $150million with a projection of $250million for Y2021. It is on record according to statistics, that of the entire productive value, Lagos caters for about 70 per cent. Presently, the processing needs of a number of Countries in West Africa are met in Lagos. Besides processing capacity, the State has been making waves in the entire Coconut Value Chain which encompasses Production (cultivation), Processing, Commercialisation, and Utilisation architectures, with increased attention and responsive strategies channeled towards the industry by the present Babajide Sanwo-Olu led Administration. The views of a resource expert, the General Manager, Lagos State Coconut Development Authority (LASCODA), Mr. Olakulehin John-Oladapo, who in an interview with Nigerian NewsDirect commented broadly on all the major angles of the subject matter, were partly published last Friday. The excerpts partly published, covered  comments on the Production (cultivation), Processing, and Commercialisation (partly) lines of the entire value chain. Today, the concluding part of the feature has the excerpts bordering on other aspects of  Commercialisation and Utilisation of the Value Chain, corroborated with some other pressing matters. Excerpts:

Commercialisation (continuation)

Already export of coconut oil from Lagos State have been taking course, but the concern is to make this more visible. In this way, we are working very hard on creating an enabling environment for cultivators and processors to make the coconut value chain virile in the State. Activities in the commercialisation of coconut is increasing daily. We have dedicated markets in Badagry and Ojo, where the  activities carried out revolves majorly around coconut. At least, no less than six trailers of coconut fruits move out of these markets on daily basis for transactions within and outside the State. So, we want to strengthen the commercialisation of coconut in the spirit of making Lagos State a 21st Century economy. In this sense, we are going to be projecting stakeholders in the market to the world towards the benefits of the Lagos economy.

Utilisation

This is another major subject in the coconut value chain. Presently in Nigeria and Africa as a whole, coconut is grossly under-utilised. Over 200 products can be derived from coconut, but in Nigeria and Africa the concentration is majorly on coconut oil. Meanwhile, there are coconut flour, coconut milk, coconut charcoal, coconut water and several other derivatives from coconut. The health benefit of the fruit is another area of attention. However, with its nature of being covered with husk and shell, the processes to make the fruit readily available for eating, discourages many people, unlike apple, mango, orange and the likes. This informs why we came up with the Eko Coconut Bread. If you embark on a market survey, you will find out that presently the selling attraction for bread is in the choice of either coconut or butter bread. The spread of coconut of bread was a conscious effort by the State. It didn’t just happened by chance. Prior to this intervention, coconut bread used to be elites’ product. Hence, we looked at how the common man can also have a taste of coconut bread so that they can also enjoy the health benefits of the fruit. That informed the idea of coconut bread and we gave a sample by launching the Eko Coconut Bread. When stakeholders in the bakery industry saw the development, they embraced it and coconut bread has taken a pride in the market. Hence, you no longer need to be a rich individual before you can enjoy coconut bread. This forms part of the awareness mechanisms which we deployed. It is a deliberate design; it is not haphazard. So, we are pushing from the background. Ordinarily, the government may not be visible on the stage but the foundation had been laid and the bakeries without force or legislation have embraced the idea of inclusion of coconut into their products. There are several other areas with regards to utilisation. For instance, coconut flour was never visible prior to this administration, but we now have processors engaged in the production of coconut flour. Those having health challenges, can have coconut flour readily available to them for their diet. We are still working on the production technology so as to make it less costly, in order to in-turn make the product affordable to ordinary Lagosians to enjoy the health benefits as end users.  On utilisation, we have some investors coming in to invest in this line in edible terms. However, there are other forms of utilisation that are non-edible.  For instance, the coconut charcoal is apparently good and better than the wood charcoal in terms of energy quality. From the environment point of view, the production of coconut charcoal is conversion of waste to productive resources. Pursuing this will strategically address deforestation which is driven by wood charcoal. Just like the wood charcoal, It can also be used for water treatment. We are also pushing this ideology in the area of utilisation for local traders who make use of charcoal in their businesses to adopt the use of coconut charcoal and its attendant benefits.  If they can shift to using coconut charcoal, they will definitely help the environment too.

No part of coconut is a waste. From the husk alone, about 128 products can be derived from this part of coconut which include floor/foot mats, furniture materials such as fibre table. From the husk, there are two major derivatives you get, which is fibre and coir. These products are raw materials to so many other things. For instance, without this husk you cannot get coco peat and without this resource, you cannot practice green house. Coco peat is an export material if we can have investors that can go into massive production of it.

However, Lagos State is partnering with an investor to establish a Coconut husk processing factory in Badagry. The move is still at the conceptualisation stage. We have identified an interested private investor. The factory will basically centre 100 per cent on husk production and it is projected on completion that the factory will employ about 1,000 persons directly at a goal. It is a 10,000 metric tonnes per annum coconut husk processing firm. For this husk processing, we do not have to rely on other Countries for the supply. The raw materials are readily available here which is currently like a waste.

Apart from this, we are bringing up youth. At the inception of this administration, the government also gave us approval to start training youth. We have trained youth whose primary enterprise now centres on developing crafts from coconut derivatives. There are those engaged 100 per cent in the art and craft of coconut shell. Presently, we have trained over 600 youth and another set of training newer batches is to commence. These are parts of our efforts in the utilisation pillar to ensure that the resources of coconut are optimised because nature has made it in such a way that there is no waste in it. So, there are no doubts about the recent submission of the Honourable Minister of Agriculture. However, there is always rooms for improvement.

We have the problem of non sustainability of programmes across successive administration in the character of governance in Nigeria, how do you think this course can be sustained to ensure the Country is not overtaken from this opportunity?

For Lagos State, we have an established Authority backed by law to promote coconut value chain. Hence, irrespective of the government, the Authority is existing and has been institutionalised. Therefore, for Lagos State, I do not see any issue arising from such. For the Federal Government, the Federal Ministry of Trade and Investment and the Ministry of Agriculture, according to what I know, are pushing coconut to be one of the national crops as well. This is to bring it to the status of such crops as oil palm and cocoa, so that there would a national interest in this regard. This is important to reduce the pressure on Lagos State which is standing in the fore of the value chain in Nigeria.

Looking at Lagos, thoughts have always been given to the land limitations of the State as a constraint to invest largely in Agriculture, don’t you think that as events unfold this will play out to limit the capacity of the State in terms of production (cultivation)?

In any case, Lagos State has strength in the downstream sector of Agriculture both in processing and marketing. We have the population strength for the marketing. However, when it comes to coconut, it is a bit unique. Despite the fact that we do not have expansive land, as of the last statistics, we are producing over 70 per cent of the national production. That goes to tell that we have land for coconut production. It is a simple analysis. From Badagry to Lekki coastline is 180 kilometres stretch of land. By law and nature, the only thing that can survive the wave of the sea is coconut. Hence, if we give 50 kilometres of the land to Port, Jetty Services, and Port development among other needs, we still have about 130 kilometres. If this stretch is harnessed, we are talking of thousands of hectares for coconut cultivation. Presently, it is not that there are no coconut trees left there, but the existing ones are old. So, we are trying to replace them with new ones. If in this stretch alone we have active and productive coconut trees, I can assure that it will support about 80 per cent of the processing need in Lagos. Even if we have half of that stretch occupied with coconut trees producing optimally at the average of 100 fruits per annum, this will conveniently sustain the processing needs. Apart from this, there are some islands which are not visible from Lekki, Badagry, Ojo, Apapa, until when you cross the water. Interestingly, the only vegetation in those Islands are coconut. All things being equal, we can’t think of development catching up in those Islands in the next 100 years. You can only get to these Islands presently by water. Similar topography obtains in Singapore which has one of the largest plantation of coconut in the world in one of her islands. So, we are making conscious efforts in the coastlines to rehabilitate the trees by giving seedlings to the community farmers. So, we are doing a lot in this regard to replace old trees with new ones which at prime will cater for the processing needs.

What wrapping recommendations would you give to further enhance the productivity of the coconut value chain?

For Lagos, the state government is doing exactly what is needed and expected In terms of the coconut value chain. The State Government is honestly doing a lot. I cannot think of any gap from the government; what we are expecting is from the private sector and the populace. What is needed now is the response of the populace. The Lagos State Government is creating the awareness and making eye opening adventures to opportunities in the coconut value chain. In response, we can have private stakeholders who would invest in the processing of coconut shell, husk and charcoal, among other utilising opportunities. While the State Government is doing all it should in creating the enabling environment, there is the general reluctance of people to investing in permanent crop cultivation because of the gestation period. For instance, during the COVID-19 pandemic, there is hardly anyone who will be talking about cultivating coconut. The attention rather would be on crops whose gestation period are for a very short time. However, the mistake not realised is that investment in coconut today, is investment in food security. If investment are not made into it today, how are we going to derive the benefits when the need arises? At the setting in of the COVID-19 pandemic, coconut could have been very vital in food security because, for instance, the energy you derive from coconut flour is about two or three times what you get from same quantity of cassava or yam flour. That is, if you are filled with yam or cassava flour and you are hungry in two hours, if you take coconut flour instead, the possibility of getting hungry may be for another six hours. Hence, if we had developed the coconut value chain in the last 20 years to a robust height where coconut flour is readily available, there would have been no issue sourcing for other flours which filling energy capacity are less to that of coconut. This is why in some International IDP (internally displaced persons) camps, coconut flour is part of their diet packages because of the energy. My advise is for the private sector and populace not to consider investing into cash crop as wasteful. Although, the gestation period may be long, however, the benefits overwhelm the cost put into it. For instance, if a coconut tree is planted and it survives, it may live for the next 80 years. So, it will take another 80 years before any one can start thinking of a replacement for the new coconut trees we are presently planting to replace the old trees along the coastlines. Hence, it is a worthwhile investment demanding contributions from both the public and private sectors. However, if attention is centred only on immediacy, discouragement may set in; but such investment for the long term is worth it. As a nation, we should be able to plan and think beyond limitations. Hence, the advice is for both the public and private sectors to beyond immediate consideration invest for future sustainability.