Recently, members of Kenaf Producers, Processors and Marketers’ Association paid a business visit to the Minister of State for Industry, Trade and Investment, Hajia Aisha Abubakar, on how to make kenaf one of the products that will be massively produced for both local use and for exportation in order to generate more foreign exchange for the country, Yemi Akinsuyi, who was at the meeting, writes.
Kenaf is a crop that is not so popular in Nigeria, but is common in India, Bangladesh, USA, Indonesia, Malaysia, South Africa, Viet Nam, Thailand, parts of Africa, and to a small extent in southeast Europe. Although, nature has long ago graciously bestowed Nigeria with this very important crop, many have viewed it more from negative side, derogatorily referring to it as cannabis or Indian Hemp, as it is popularly called. But kenaf is an annual or biennial herbaceous plant (rarely a short-lived perennial) growing to 1.5-3.5 m tall with a woody base. The stems are 1–2 cm diameter, often but not always branched. The leaves are 10–15 cm long, variable in shape, with leaves near the base of the stems being deeply lobed with 3-7 lobes, while leaves near the top of the stem are shallowly lobed or unlobed lanceolate. The flowers are 8–15 cm diameter, white, yellow, or purple; when white or yellow, the centre is still dark purple. The fruit is a capsule 2 cm diameter, containing several seeds.
The fibres in kenaf are found in the bast (bark) and core (wood). The bast constitutes 40% of the plant. “Crude fibre” separated from the bast is multi-cellular, consisting of several individual cells stuck together. The individual fibre cells are about 2–6 mm long and slender. The cell wall is thick (6.3 µm). The core is about 60% of the plant and has thick (≈38 µm) but short (0.5 mm) and thin-walled (3 µm) fibre cells.
Apart from the fibre, kenaf is also used for the production of paper pulp, which is produced from the whole stem, and contains two types of fibres, from the bast and from the core. The pulp quality is similar to hardwood.
The stems produce two types of fibre, a coarser fibre in the outer layer (bast fibre), and a finer fibre in the core. It matures in 100 to 200 days. The kenaf leaves were consumed in human and animal diets, the bast fibre was used for bags, cordage, and the sails for boats. The main uses of kenaf fibre have been rope, twine, coarse cloth (similar to that made from jute), and paper.
Uses of kenaf fibre also include engineered wood, insulation, clothing-grade cloth, soil-less potting mixes, animal bedding, packing material, and material that absorbs oil and liquids. It is also useful as cut bast fibre for blending with resins for plastic composites, as a drilling fluid loss preventative for oil drilling muds, for a seeded hydromulch for erosion control. Kenaf can be made into various types of environmental mats, such as seeded grass mats for instant lawns and moldable mats for manufactured parts and containers.
Speaking at the meeting in Abuja, Hajia Abubakar said Federal Government was doing all it could to ensure that the crop was produced in large quantity for both local uses and for export. She promised that her Ministry would liaise with Ministries of Agriculture, Finance, and other relevant agencies to provide necessary assistance to farmers to cultivate it in commercial quantity.
In her words: “Oil has made us lazy in Nigeria. Its boom did not only make our farmers to go underground, but it has also caused our leaders to be narrowly minded. This present leadership of the government has resolved to revive our agricultural produces and make sure that we have sufficiency for both local consumption and exportation. Two weeks ago, we were in Kaduna to fine tune how to maximise the production of kenaf. Our GDP must grow and this is one of the ways of achieving the feat. “
According to the Minister, “First, we must disabuse the minds of the people that kenaf is cannabis. It is a crop used in producing rope, twine, coarse cloth, jute paper, animal bedding and feed, engineered wood, insulation, clothing-grade cloth, soil-less potting mixes, packing material, and material that absorbs oil and liquids. It is also useful as cut bast fibre for blending with resins for plastic composites, as a drilling fluid loss preventative for oil drilling muds, for a seeded hydromulch for erosion control.
“Kenaf can be made into various types of environmental mats, such as seeded grass mats, for instant, lawns and moldable mats for manufactured parts and containers, cleaning of oil spillage, as well as other variety of usage.
“With this in mind, Federal Government is assisting kenaf farmers to get the necessary incentives to make it to be produced in larger quantity and better quality. My Ministry will collaborate with the ministry of finance, agriculture and Nigeria Investment Promotion Council, as well as Nigeria Export Promotion Council. These ministries and government agencies have distinct role to play in bringing to fruition the laid down plan. And we will make sure that the right thing is done at the right time.”
Although the Minister of State for Industry, Trade, and Investment did not say precisely the amount of money the Federal Government and other relevant agencies were committing to the establishment of this multi-purpose crop in Nigeria, she promised that farmers dealing in kenaf will be adequately supported.
She said: “Currently, kenaf grows in about 21 states in Nigeria. And I’m happy that an association has been formed in connection with the product. This will afford us the avenue of reaching out to the farmers without the activities of middle-men, who could divert whatever will be made available to their private pockets. I can’t say categorically the amount of money and the assistance that will be rendered to the farmers, but this ministry will liase with other relevant agencies in ensuring that the product receives necessary attention it deserves.
“After today’s meeting, we will table our resolve before all the stakeholders in the business and ensure that they are all implemented to the letter. Apart from the initial support we are giving to the farmers, we will also ensure that there is already market for the purchase of the crop and also provide storage facility for it”.
Earlier in his remark, the President of the association, Hon. Hassan Abubakar had said they were in the Ministry to appreciate the Minister for the support gotten so far from the present administration through the ministry. He however sought for more support in the areas of production, finance, market, processing, machines and storage.
In his words: “This present administration has been of great assistance to us in the business of kenaf farming. We are here to say ‘thank you’ to them through our amiable Honourable Minister. Two weeks ago, we converged on the city of Kaduna for the uplifting of this product from just been a local farm product to that of international one. This Ministry was in no small way stood by us and encouraged us all the way. We are here to say thank you and to let the minister know some of the problems facing us as kenaf farmers.”
Hon. Abubakar added: “We want the Federal Government to help us attend to some grey areas of farming of kenaf. We need a favourable policy from the federal government. We need financial assistance. We want incentives from the federal government. We want their support in the area of market for our produce. Once we know that there is an already made market for our products, we will be encouraged to produce more. We need grant to buy equipment. We need storage facilities, and other things that will encourage us to do our farm business far better than we were doing. We promise to utilise whatever we will get from the ministry well in order to add our little quota to the growth of our economy in Nigeria.”