Dogonyaro Empowering Nigeria


Usman, Sule Machika

This must be breaking news! Certainly, it is breath-taking breaking news!! For so long Nigeria has been fighting desertification without much result. For so long the nation has been attempting agricultural revival without success. For so long the northern states of Nigeria have been trying to “re – awaken the giant of Nigerian economy: the agriculture of northern Nigeria” without any impact. For so long Nigerians have been awaiting an economic reform programme that never saw day light. For so long Nigerians accepted succinct blueprints of government policies without judicious – result oriented implementation. For so long the nation has been searching for means to balance Nigeria’s lopsided mono-economy without any viable sign on the horizon. For so long Nigerians have been expecting a break through in biotech to solve the onerous and numerous problems of Nigeria without avail. Hmm! For so long……. All these seem to have kept eluding Nigeria. In this passing sentence, Dr Bala Usman captured the feelings of many Nigerians, when he said, “I am one of those who have been looking forward to our governments to come forward with a national development plan for the whole country.” The picture indeed was grim, mortality rate of children under five stood as high as 105 per 1000 births. Education was dangerously declining and there is an estimated 60 per cent of Nigerian children roaming the streets. About 80 per cent of Nigerians lived below the poverty line. The state of infrastructure was simply terrible. The public sector was riddled with ineptitude and corruption. Nigeria staggered under an external debt of over $30 billion and not surprisingly, wallowed at the bottom of the UNDP Human Development Index. I am sorry if I am sounding like the Khaki boys in their opening speeches after a coup de tat, but that is the picture as bleak as it is. Unemployment is still high, placed at 10.8%, translating into 6.4 million people unemployed by 2003. The GDP’s average growth rate of about 3.6 per cent is still lower than the minimum of five per cent required for preventing poverty from worsening and the seven per cent needed to meet the Millennium Development Goal’s target of halving the incidence of poverty by 2015. The coming of democracy did not change much at least not to the down trodden, even when the government of the day pledged to fight corruption, revive the economy by promoting investment, reducing unemployment and alleviating poverty, Nigerians just grimed sadly, silently and in pain. They knew that rebuilding Nigeria was not going to be easy. The drumming of statistical achievements by the government did not lessen the burden of Nigerians. The Obasanjo administration insisted that things have improved; they said that industrial capacity has doubled from 29 per cent to 50 per cent and an estimated 3.5 million jobs have been created. They also argued that income level has also grown by an average 3.6 per cent, against 2.8 per cent in 1999 and the Foreign Direct Investment in the non-oil sector had grown from almost zero in 1999 to US$ 2 billion in 2003. Some achievements you may say, but unfortunately, they did not reflect in the lives of the masses. As such, public support for and trust in the Obasanjo’s administration began to weaken in his first term in office, the people’s trust in institutions and leaders declined significantly by 2003 and the President’s approval rating was said to have dropped from 72% to 58%. The poverty-stricken masses insisted that ‘sai mu gani a kas’, a Hausa proverb meaning until we feel the impact of the gains. They aren’t wrong, considering that these achievements came at the most severe trying period, in the face of the challenging endemic poverty. The government on her own, did acknowledge the reality and to contain the caustic impact of Nigerian’s poverty, in the opening months of his second term in office, in 2003 President Obasanjo launched a comprehensive, ‘home grown’ poverty alleviation programme - The National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS). The programme highlighted socio-economic developmental aspirations, the public sector reform, enabling a robust private sector-led economy and social programmes for the purposes of reducing poverty, creating wealth, generating employment and re-orientating national values. Tall goals, you must agree. Even those of us of younger generation, within the shorter side of average divide line, without being as scholarly as Baba Bala Usman and without his ability to analyse the technical and grammatical usage of strategy, as spelt out in the Prof Soludo led team’s programme, we knew that achieving those goals by no means wont be simple. More so in Nigeria’s morally decayed society. Nevertheless, even the learned Doctor, agreed, “What is important is that, there is a deliberate, and thought – out attempt, by the governments of Nigeria, to take the country somewhere. Secondly, it is important that, the governments commit themselves to an officially and publicly defined plan of action over a number of years”. A fundamental feature of NEEDS in its component strategies, is providing the enabling business and regulatory environment to enable the private sector to invest in and manage ventures that would stimulate and support socio economic and political development of the nation. NEEDS is therefore a broad based Public Private Partnership (PPP) initiative which all stakeholders in the developmental process are expected to play a part in the optimal implementation success. Government has accepted poverty as a development challenge that deserves national priority attention without which the country runs at the risk of failing to attain the Millennium Development Goals. With many Nigerians living in less than a dollar a day, the need for a national poverty reduction strategy is long overdue and that have been one of the biggest disappointments for many on the first term of the Obasanjo led government, the failure to develop a viable economic reform programme. The NEEDS programme as conceived, is open and participatory to all the array of stakeholders. Agriculture and natural resource management are the principal linkage for livelihood of the rural poor and sound investments in these sectors is the key to implementing NEEDS, strengthening the rural economy and reducing poverty.

Indeed in the face of long-time sufferings, Nigerians perceived NEEDS as another deception and not without justification, the poor performance of past development programme is an indelible experience. They therefore, with good reasons received NEEDS with great doubt. On so many occasions, they were made to make sacrifices in vain, in the name of economic reform programmes that failed to meet their expectations. However, the recent events happening around me imposed a rethink about NEEDS. I needed a deeper look at the unique values, benefits that the NEEDS programme were said to offer, and the revelations were startling. My little findings led to this summary, “NEEDS seeks to achieve poverty alleviation and economic revivalism by stimulating what the finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has described as the ‘well acknowledged creative energies of the vast majority of the population’. The public sector has to be transformed into an efficient and responsive instrument for delivering services to the people and the private sector empowered to become competitive and lead the growth process. The weak and vulnerable groups must be strengthened and value-orientation of the people reshaped to de-emphasize over dependence on government, promote hard work, entrepreneurship, discipline, honesty and respect for traditional values. Four clear goals have been outlined. They are the creation of wealth, generation of employment, reduction of poverty and re-orientation of values,” Nigeria Today (Magazine), June Edition 2005. Why the curiosity over NEEDS programme? ‘DOGONYARO’! Surely you know ‘Dogonyaro, don’t you? The neem! ‘Dogonyaro’ is a popular tree seen all over the country; however, it is more abundant in the north and particularly in the states more threatened by desertification. I see it as a ‘necessary evil’ for a long time. The tree had been a necessity at least for the people of the north because of the desert encroachment. Dogonyaro is one of the trees that can survive the harsh condition of northern Nigeria. It was chiefly used in fighting desertification. As stated earlier, Dogonyaro is common in Nigeria’s northern border states, Dogonyaro is therefore, most abundant in Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara, Katsina, Borno and other states at the border areas. However, the experience of ‘Dogonyaro’ is felt across the nation.

It bears ‘fruits’ with reckless abundance, annoyingly inedible ‘fruits’. More annoying is sweeping the Dogonyaro seeds, which litres the ground in multitudes. In fact, it had been a worrisome problem for me, the environment is hardly ‘sane’ because of the environmental sanitary problem of Dogonyaro, particularly during the tree’s seed shedding season.

The seeds, as you may have known are so tiny and too difficult to pick and even more cumbersome to sweep, especially in the sandy areas of the north, where they easily get stuck as if implanted in the sand. Many would have liked to do away with this troublesome and indeed useless tree! Hmm, many would have gotten rid of it but for use against desertification. Unarguably, Dogonyaro is a million times better than the wrath desertification, which approaches the northern belt at a ‘supersonic speed of hundreds of kilometres per second’. An exaggeration? No! Desertification threat had been a concern of not only the Nigerian government but that of United Nations’ various Agencies saddled with global ecological problems. Nigeria has grabbled with a number of important initiatives in the area of environment since Rio in 1992. A number of policies and action plans have been put in place to combat environmental problems – National Environmental Master and Action Plans, National Environmental Policy, National Agenda 21, National Forestry Action Plan, National and State-specific Environmental Awareness Master Plan, National Action Plan to Combat Desertification (NAPCD); First National Communication on Climate Change and National Biodiversity and Action Plan. In spite of these initiatives, environmental hazards still looms large in the national horizon. But government deserved commendation because with these efforts, it recognized the need for environmental protection for sustainable development in the national decision-making process. The annual tree-planting scheme has been in the forefront in the increase of Dogonyaro nation-wide despite the aforementioned problems of keeping the environment clean. At this juncture we need a poser, my point of concern here is a clean environment without Dogonyaro seeds that was what raised my curiosity about NEEDS. The Dogonyaro seeds have now become invisible, just like ‘gold’, always at sight but always out of reach. I was really amazed that the seeds, which I pay to be swept away are now stolen. Yes steal! People, not yaroboys, nowadays sneak to sweep over your Dogonyaro seeds when they know that you are not on the watch. Can you find a better way to put it than to say, ‘there is no smoke without fire’? My curiosity led me to NARICT! National Research Institute for Chemical Technology, Zaria, Kebbi and Katsina states are paying for the Dogonyaro seeds. Katsina state Commisioner of agriculture, Alhaji Ali Hussaini Dutsin-Ma, stated that “the state government will begin the purchase of 400 tonnes of neem seeds.” He further posited, “To encourage our youths to pick the seeds, government has increased the cost of the seeds from 19 Naira per measure last year to 50 Naira this year”. NNN, 1st July 2005. Can you imagine that, what are they doing with the neem seeds? Of course, addressing the set goal of NEEDS. How? Kolawole Dada of New Nigerian Newspaper sourced the answer in his interview with the NARICT Director General Dr okonkwo, published on the 1st July 2005, page 7 of the paper. He found out that, “Federal Government is fully committed to the development of a bio-pesticide from the neem seed and implementation of the establishment of bio-pesticide manufacturing plants in Katsina and Kebbi states by the National Research Institute for Chemical Technology (NARICT), Zaria.” The two plants were proposed to produce 700KL of liquid pesticide concentrate per annum for use by the farmers and powder grade technical for export. Indeed, there is no smoke without fire. This is a healthy development. It is not only that our environment is now cleared of the seed dirt, it also has an economic value to, many people, for now the poor, particularly women and children. I am not sure in a very short period if it would be an exclusive preserve for them. There are so many important lessons from this. For a long time Nigeria has been searching for the means of reviving the much neglected agriculture, for a long time the northern states of Nigeria were making efforts to ‘re-awaken the giant of Nigeria’s economy: the agriculture of Northern Nigeria from its slumber without result. For a long time government has been spending huge amount of money just to encourage the people to develop the habit of planting trees, only for governments efforts to be scuttled by people who regularly chop down trees for fuel. For a long time government and individuals have been spending a lot of money to import insecticides. This is a significant drain on foreign exchange, which needs to be arrested.

For a long time, Nigerians have been awaiting a break through to indigenous technology. For a long-time, the northern part of the country needed fortification against desertification without any serious efforts.

Just when Nigeria and Nigerians are giving up, just when resource control is threatening the dusty-weary-weak elastic that is binding Nigeria together, BANG! NEEDS! NARICT!! DOGONYARO SEEDS!!! The socio-economic and political impact of this discovery is much more than ‘meet the eye’. What do you think is happening to Niger Republic: National poverty or poverty of the masses, the corruption of the political leaders or lack of good governance? No! What is actually happening in Niger is neither of the above. It is something deeper than that, it is absence of agriculture due to lack of adequate annual rainfall, a situation most likely caused by desertification. Make no mistake about it, if poverty and corruption is the bane of the sufferings in Niger, Nigerians would have had it worst. But the masses in Nigeria do have something to plant annually, sell the surplus and eat the ‘remains’, that is Nigeria’s saving grace. We must therefore, encourage any programme that would protect our ecological system. The NARICT neem seed programme has diverse socio-economic and political implications. Let us review some, one at a time. One of the aims of NEEDS is to eliminate waste and inefficiency, to free up resources for investment in infrastructure and social services by Government, this you will agree from the foregoing, have been met in NARICT’s neem seed programme. Neem seeds had been a total waste, indeed a nuisance because they hardly decay. Today NARICT had turned that waste into wealth! And wealth of a greater proportion to the masses and the nation at large. The neem seed in addition to being a raw material for pesticide is also a raw material for fertilizer and soaps. “The neem oil”, according Dr Okonkwo, the Director General of NARICT, serves “as an alternative to the palm kernel oil for soap production and the soap made from neem oil has an added advantage of being germicidal”. No wonder it arrested the attention of President Obasanjo, who was said to have been “intrigued by the vast potentials of this wonder tree (neem tree)”, when the result of the research conducted by NARICT was presented to him by Mr. Shettima Mustapha. I feel particularly humble to commend Mr President who was said to have immediately “set up a presidential committee with the responsibility of developing a national bio-enterprise on neem for wealth creation, poverty alleviation and health enhancement.” Mr President’s intention of siting the two plants in Kebbi and Katsina is to ‘demonstrate the viability of the enterprise so as to trigger private sector participation’, New Nigerian Newspaper _____. NARICT succeeded in addressing the poverty-environment concerns of the poor, particularly women and children, expanding sustainable livelihood opportunities and reducing the poor’s vulnerability to environmental hazards and promoting sound environmental management and protection of the environmental assets and livelihood opportunities of the poor for sustainable and meaningful poverty reduction strategy. The neem tree is a tropical evergreen plant, which grows well all over Nigeria with almost every part of the plant – root, bark, stem, leaf and seed, having industrial application for pharmaceuticals and bio-insecticides. The National Research Institute for Chemical Technology (NARICT), Zaria, and the Forest Research Institute of Nigeria (FRIN), Ibadan brought the economic potentials of neem to national attention. The successful production of a highly effective bio-insecticide, fertilizers and oils for soap making from neem and the establishment of neem plantations capable of accommodating three million trees within three years, indeed has transformed neem waste to wealth. The development perfectly heeds the call of “NEEDS” with the proposal for establishing four neem-processing factories in Borno, Zamfara, Katsina and Kebbi States; with an annual capacity for producing 40,000 tons of fertilizer and 500,000 litres of pesticide and employment capacity for thousands of Nigerians as approved by the Federal Government. The catalytic demonstration plants at Kebbi and Katsina States have already made a significant impact in driving home the goals of ‘NEEDS’ – poverty alleviation, food security, increasing industrial capacity, environmental sanitation, foreign exchange savings, jobs and wealth creation. NARICT is truly the vanguard of NEEDS with the ultimate goals of poverty reduction, employment generation and wealth creation because NARICT, through its neem seed programme set to improve the performance of the agricultural and manufacturing sector, creating an enabling environment for the private sector and investing in human capital towards reducing the poverty of the people. In the long-term, the various activities to be carried out in this programme will contribute to environmental sustainability in the country. This will consolidate the resource base for national development activities, particularly as they relate to boosting agriculture, which is a major sector of NEEDS. Another socio-economic and political implication of this discovery anchors on one of NEEDS goals, to restore the fundamental values of Nigerians, which have weakened over the years. The “principles or standard of behaviour” of the typical Nigerian, especially what we accord importance to and the values that drive us to participate in labour had eroded so long ago. The zeal in which the young are going about the neem seed is encouraging, so also is the contributions of the well to do in making Dogonyaro plantation, a viable possibility. The personal commitment of Governor Yar’adua to ensuring a successful take – off of the catalytic demonstration plant break the normal “tight schedule syndrome of His Excellencey,” that sir is really commendable and I hope many will emulate that. NARICT, as a vanguard of NEEDS, through its Research Development Result set to “Harness the resources of the nation, promote national prosperity and an efficient, dynamic and self-reliant economy”. In fact, let me indulge myself in a little ‘amebo’ because this information according to the Director General is presently ‘Classified’, “Restricted” in a military fashion until Mr President is informed. However, I am sure that Mr President will understand, indeed will be pleased that Nigerians get to know of the dividend his pet “home grown” NEEDS programme is achieving in NARICT. Using a different tree seed, NARICT has put a finishing touch to another commercially viable product the ‘ BIODIESEL’. Biodiesel – is a high quality, clean-burning fuel remarkably similar to petroleum diesel – is made from the oil extracted from the seeds of plants like soybeans or rapeseed, along with methanol (a type of alcohol) and a catalyst. As I stated earlier, this information is not yet made public, it was supposed to be ‘reserve for Mr President’ first before it gets to the ‘masses’, abi? The good thing is that Nigeria, with this discovery has joined “Venezuela, Indonesia and Fiji and announced biofuel initiatives just last week”, Stefan O’neil NEWSWEEK (International), 8th August 2005. The big boys in this technology include Brazil, Germany, India and China. Brazil’s sugar-cane fields were said to feed a network of 320 ethanol plants, with more planned in the next five years. The industry is catering for most of Brazil’s 20 million drivers. The present practice is to use fuel that is mixed with 25 percent ethanol.

However, there are fast growing fleet of new generation (flex-fuel) cars that can run on straight ethanol, ‘which goes for as little as half the cost of gas in every service station,’ the world over.

Brazil’s is fast becoming “the Saudi Arabia of ethanol” they are supplying ‘fuel-hungry countries like south Korea and Japan as they begin to diversify away from oil.’ Newsweek (Internation), 8/8/2005. In Europe, Germany has become the world’s biggest producer of “biodiesel”, a high-performing, high-octane fuel – the German variety is made from rapeseed – that is cutting into sales of regular diesel at the nation’s pumps. In more than 30 countries from Thailand to India, Australia to Malawi, crops as diverse as oil palms, soybeans and coconuts are being grown for fuel. This breath taking breaking new should not be allow to linger in the cooler for too long waiting for Mr President to hear first. This is equally news for the Nigerian farmers, ‘fields of fuel’ is rapidly growing over night as biofuel and biodiesel are now international commodities. Farmers worldwide are enthusiastic about a big, new outlet for their produce. Environmentalists hail the new fuel as clean and sustainable. All we ask of NARICT is as much as possible to use as much as the lands the project needs to grow energy crops and yet not to compromise on food production. In my personal opinion, the impact of NARICT’s neem seed discovery and the Biodiesel is not the socio-economic factor. I view the discovery more political. The Nigerian nation needs a stronger economic binding force other than the over-dependence on the mono product – Oil. This is much more than the agitation of resource control. However, it is also a plus to NARICT to take that into consideration, their discovery will help in promoting a planned and balanced economic development for the nation. I think this Nigeria needs badly. I feel so emotional about this that my view of the socio-economic impact of the neem seed transcends beyond the borders of Nigeria. As the most populous sub-Saharan African nation and as an established leader in regional initiatives, Nigeria’s prosperity and stability are essential to growth and stability in West Africa and more generally to the continent as a whole. NARICT has succeeded in playing catalystic role in the socio-economic and political development of Nigeria in their pace setting support for the government in the actualisation of its objectives as set out in NEEDS. In line with the aspirations of NEEDS, the attainment of the achievements outlined above has immensely impacted positively on the nation’s socio-economic environment.

By all standards, NARICT has performed exceptionally well in the attainment of the NEEDS goals and supporting socio-economic and political development, irrespective of the fact that the market is yet to attain maturity. They deserve to be accorded national priority in view of their achievement and direct impact on national industrial development. In this regard, it is expected that government would incorporate specific and stringent measures necessary to accord them priority for the positive achievement. Government should rollout support obligations and provisions for adequate incentives to encourage the on going construction of the plants in both Kebbi and Katsina to meet the set deadline. It will also serve as a positive motivation force for NARICT on the other hand should continue the good work of building local manufacture and developing a maintenance culture, which is an essential commodity to most Nigerians. NARICT deserves government’s definite commitments towards supporting Research and Development and encouraging the manufacture of equipment and establishing of local production plants and facilities. NARICT should be urged to ensure that their practices mirror the best of international standards. NARICT should be challenged to have utmost faith in their capabilities, as Nigerians will expect much greater success with attendant socio economic multipliers than what has been achieved so far. Finally, it is expected that government, being in the driving seat for NEEDS, will duly accord NARICT the deserved level of attention, knowing fully that the success of NEEDS would depend on the effective implementation. Let me conclude with John Armstrong’s words when he took the first step in the moon, NARICT Kudos, “this is the first step to man but a giant leap to humanity.” Indeed NARICT, it was a first step but a giant leap for Nigeria’s quest for indigenous technology.

Usman, Sule Machika is undertaking a Masters in International Affairs and Diplomacy (MIAD) degree in Political Science Department, ABU, Zaria.