Category Archives: Agric, Food & Drink

Combating Good Seed-Yam Shortage in Nigeria with Aeroponics

In Nigeria yam is ‘gold

Yam is central to the culture of many Nigerian societies. Yam is so important that it has its own festival – the New Yam Festival. It is used as marriage dowries and a measure of a household’s social standing, Recently, Nigeria officially started exporting yam.

Yam is Nigeria’s most important cash crop worth nearly $14 billion annually; one-third of Nigerians, nearly 60 million people depend on yams as a main source of income; Yam is Nigeria’s no. 1 source of dietary calories, according to Tim McDonnell, a Fulbright-National Geographic Fellow and multimedia journalist covering environmental issues in sub-Saharan Africa, in an article published in NPR

But according to the United Nations, Nigeria’s yam yield has dropping in the past few years and has presently dropped to its lowest level in two decades, even though the area of land under cultivation is rapidly rising.

What could be the cause?

“For a large number of farmers, seed yam is a big problem,” said Robert Aseidu, West Africa research director for the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), a non-profit research organization based in Nigeria. “It’s only now that we’re seeing how big a problem this could become.”

A “seed yam” is yam meant to be planted and not eaten. Tim McDonnell explained that due to genetic factors and many years of a flawed farm practice, most of these seed yams have disease. Yam farmers traditionally keep back the measlier yams and about a third of their harvest for planting the following season, and since yams are clonal, meaning each tuber is genetically identical to its ‘parent’, farmers are essentially planting the same yam over and over again, with none of the routine genetic mutation that typically occurs between generations to help ward off pests and diseases.

“When you have this recycling over so many years, then they keep accumulating pests and diseases, and then productivity keeps reducing until you get to a stage where it’s no [longer] economical to plant anything,” says Beatrice Aighewi, a yam specialist at International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).

The need for disease free seed yams

The Nigerian Minister of Agriculture, tweeted, “On June 29, 2017, a total of 72 metric tons of yam will leave the shores of Nigeria to Europe/US, heralding a new dawn in our food exports.” And added that “according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, Nigeria accounts for 61% of yam production in the world.” This government’s yam export promotion will certainly lead to more exportation and domestic scarcity if supply is not increase accordingly.

Seed yams from Aeroponics

Some scientists have seen the urgent need and high demand for seed yams in the country and are using the technology called Aeroponics to meet this need. Beatrice Aighewi and Ogbole Samson are some of IITA trained specialists who are taking advantage of the emerging market.

Beatrice opened an Agritech business a few years ago. She sources good seed yams from around the country and reproduces them in her field using aeroponics. She also produces high-yielding and disease-resistant yam variety, while Samson trains farmers, set-up and help them maintain aeroponics systems for yam production on a small and large-scale.

Business opportunity

Aighewi says the solution to Nigeria’s seed yam crisis is large-scale Aeroponic farms for seed yam production adding that, there is not a single commercial producer of seed yam in the whole country.

Nigerian entrepreneurs should take advantage of Aeroponics technology and the increasing demand for disease-free seed yams by farmers. This is a business opportunity with a big Return on investment potential.

Archives Reveal Why Africa Should not Depend on Monsanto for GMOs

New innovations in the pharmaceutical and biotech industry must pass through trials to find out the effectiveness and side effects. The innovation is given a Go, if the benefits way outweighs the side effects, if not it is taken back to the lab for more research.

While Food biotechnology may be the solution to food insecurity in Africa through GMOs, Africa must research, develop, produce the GMOs themselves. African nations must understand the innovation enough to be able to decide whether it should be adopted or modified to benefit  their citizens.

Read: Biotechnology – Solving Nigeria’s Food Insecurity Challenges

The health and well-being of Africans cannot be left in the hands of profit-at-all-cost multinationals who may want to use Africans as guinea pigs for new innovations. As much as trials are a big part of research and development (R&D), African countries must carry it out themselves for themselves.

Read: Genome Editing – An Opportunity for Crop Improvement in Africa

It is time for African countries to build their own biotech industry, not only because the future will depend on it, but mainly because multinationals like  Monsanto cannot be trusted as  investigation has shown that the food biotech company based in the United State has endangered people’s health just for profit. The Guardian reported that Monsanto sold banned chemicals for years despite known health risks, archives reveal.

Read: Africa Must Produce its Own Technology

It was reported that Monsanto continued to produce and sell toxic industrial chemicals known as PCBs for eight years after learning that they posed hazards to public health and the environment, according to legal analysis of documents put online in a vast searchable archive.

According to The Guardian, Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are long-lived pollutants that were mass-produced by Monsanto between 1935 and 1977 for use as coolants and lubricators in electrical equipment such as transformers and capacitors.

By 1979, they had been completely banned in the US and elsewhere, after a weight of evidence linking them to health ailments that ranged from chloracne and Yusho (rice oil disease) to cancer, and to environmental harm.

Yet a decade earlier, one Monsanto pollution abatement plan in the archive from October 1969, singled out by Sherman, suggests that Monsanto was even then aware of the risks posed by PCB use.

More than 20,000 internal memos, minuted meetings, letters and other documents have been published in the new archive revealed, many for the first time.

Read: Is Genetically Engineered Food Good For You

Most were obtained from legal discovery and access to documents requests digitized by the Poison Papers Project, which was launched by the Bioscience Resource Project and the Center for Media and Democracy. Chiron Return contributed some documents to the library.

Bill Sherman, the assistant attorney general for the US state of Washington – which is suing Monsanto for PCB clean-up costs potentially worth billions of dollars – said the archive contained damning evidence the state had previously been unaware of.

He told the Guardian: “If authentic, these records confirm that Monsanto knew that their PCBs were harmful and pervasive in the environment, and kept selling them in spite of that fact. They knew the dangers, but hid them from the public in order to profit.”

He told the Guardian: “More than 40 years ago, the former Monsanto voluntarily stopped production and sale of PCBs prior to any federal requirement to do so. At the time Monsanto manufactured PCBs, they were a legal and approved product used in many useful applications. Monsanto has no liability for pollution caused by those who used or discharged PCBs into the environment.”

How Kuli-kuli Should be Packaged and Branded

Kuli-kuli is a popular snack in Nigeria, Benin, northern Cameroon, Ghana and southern Niger. It is primarily made from groundnut: groundnuts are roasted and then milled into paste. The paste is stripped of oil and made into the desired shape. It is then fried with the oil removed in the process until it hardens.

Kuli-kuli is seen as a by-product of groundnut oil production and most of the kuli-kuli in the market are made mainly by elderly women manually. Young people shy away from the business because the process of making it is still not mechanized. Presently, the Federal Institute of Industrial Research, Oshodi (FIIRO) is changing this. The organisation has designed a mechanized production process and machines for Kuli-kuli production.

How kuli-kuli is sold in the market

Kuli-kuli: most of the kuli-kuli in the market are sold without any form of packaging. image credit: Own work,

The next downside in Kuli-kuli business is poor packaging and branding. Poor packaging and branding has always been an issue in local foods and drinks businesses in west Africa. Most of the kuli-kuli in the market are sold without any form of packaging. They are exposed to air and everything around. With a huge market opportunity of about 243 million potential customers, anyone would expect more investment in this snack.

Some Commendable Improvements

Packaged kuli-kulu with brand name in transparent sachets and plastic cans. Image credit: Nairaland, Kadun liadi’s blog, Conzee Space

Unlike most local African food, kuli-kuli has a long shelf life even without preservative. This makes it easy to package. Some young entrepreneurs are making commendable efforts to add value to the kuli-kuli in the market by making them more presentable. They package the kuli-kuli in transparent sachets or plastic cans and add their brand name. This is an improvement and their products are far better than what we regularly see in the markets. With these level of packaging, some modern stores and supermarkets may consider having these products on their shelves.

How kuli-kuli should be sold

To have a world-class product and to have a brand of kuli-kuli that can be sold in supermarkets across Africa, the kuli-kuli in our markets must be improved. There need to be improvement in its smell, taste and presentation. It has to have a standard packaging that will also improve its shelf life.

Kuli-kuli should be packaged in small, shiny and colourful fancy-sachets just like biscuits. Image credit: Elliotts of Oxford.

In my opinion, first, Kuli-kuli should not be produced as a by-product of oil but instead should be the main product of the production process. Kuli-kuli should be made to look like biscuit. It should be neatly and finely shaped (flat and round). It should be flavored and sweetened. Kuli-kuli should be packaged in small, shiny and colorful sachets just like biscuits.  It should be sold also in small packs for affordability. I believe any entrepreneur with a sound business model and kuli-kuli product with these improvements can dominate West African market .