By Bazee Uloh
Governor Udom Emmanuel’s declaration of October 4 as Akwa Ibom State Coconut Day must have come as a surprise to many Akwa Ibom people. That declaration came amid the celebration of the 35th anniversary of the state’s creation, the last for his administration.
Perhaps not a few citizens must have wondered and, maybe, are still wondering why a whole day would be declared for coconut. What is in coconut, anyway?
The people are familiar with the white juicy content of this tropical tree; its sweet juice, especially when left overnight and taken on a sunny day. They use the dry ones to prepare their favourite coconut rice. Of course, the dry ones are also cool when savoring it in combined service with bread. Seriously, honestly.
Still, its dry version is fantastic with sand-free garri soaked in ordinary water; as well as just eating it with tapioca -a favorite stuff with the Igbos.
However, all of that put together does not lend themselves to justifying the declaration of a day for coconut. Or, so it seems.But take this in. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the estimated total global production of coconuts in 2020 was 61,520,382 metric tonnes. And what’s the value of only oil from that in monetary terms? The answer: $5.12bn!
In fact, in that year, coconut oil was the world’s 467th most traded product. Between 2019 and 2020, exports of the product grew by 7.16%, up from $4.78bn, to $5.12bn. Trade in it represented 0.031% of total world trade. Nigeria only earned $150million from that in that year.
The top dogs in this were the Philippines, Indonesia and India, that jointly produced about 70% of the world’s total.
As crude oil is slowly but steadily going out of reckoning as a leading source of revenue for Nigeria, strategic thinking demands that the country and its components should, as a matter of urgency, seek alternative ways of raising revenue, providing employment, and boosting their ability to feed their citizens. Thankfully, that is what Governor Emmanuel is trying to do in the instant case.
It is one thing to set up an industry, but it is another thing entirely, to have sufficient and ready raw materials to feed such industry. The kickoff of the planting of 300,000 additional coconut seedlings by the state government, when the Coconut Day was inaugurated at Mkpu, Itu Mbonuso in Ini Local Government Area, bespeaks that strategic thinking is at work.
Explaining the choice of the locale to launch the programe, intended to feed the Saint Gabriel Coconut Refinery in Onna, the governor said, “Based on the survey that we have done, Iniwill give us a very high yield with hybrid coconut.”
The governor added, “Our target before I handover the baton to the incoming governor is to plant two million coconut seedlings and before December we will meet that target.”
Now, Emmanuel informed that coconut oil sells at a higher price than crude oil. That implies that by the time the seedlings become mature and their fruits are harvested, the St Gabriel Coconut Refinery in Onna would be producing with raw materials sourced locally from across the state.
That means that the factory would be producing optimally for a long while, shelling more money into the state’s coffers. More people would be employed, and with that, fewer people would be getting involved in petty criminal activities fuelled by hunger.
However, a note of caution should be sounded here. Planting the seedlings across the state needs close supervision and security to ensure that animals and insects do not destroy them, and unscrupulous humans do not take the fruits as their own so-called national cake and go harvest them at will.
Addedly, the incoming government should not toe the well-beaten path that is quite known to many new administrations by treating this project as an Udom Emmanuel’s thing, but as the state’s property, and do all that is necessary to ensure that there is proper and adequate nurturing and protection of the trees. There should be due maintenance of the coconut trees and their fruits.
It would be in the best interest of the state to ensure that this sustainable alternative source of internally-generated revenue is not frustrated by petty political sentiments.
Efforts should also be directed at researching into what uses other parts of the tree and its fruit could be put into. For instance, the outer fibre of the coconut fruits, it appears, could be converted into fuel and non-plastic foot mats.
Similarly, the chaff could go into pomade manufacturing and organic manure, etc.
– Uloh is a commentator on current public issues.