Wrapping leaves: Stakeholders raise concerns over scarcity, conservation
Farmers Are Abandoning Cultivation Due To Unprofitability – Adekoya
There is growing concern in the agric sector over the gradual disappearance of wrapping leaves, a development that has been linked to its under-cultivation. This has given rise to scarcity in the market.
The two leaves, commonly called Ewe Eran (Thaumatococcus Danielli) and Ewe Gbodogi (Megaphrynium Macrostachyum) are of two different plant species, which are commercially exploited by local farmers and traders.†In Igbo, they are called Uma leaves.
Though some local users could identify the two leaf types, many do not see any difference as both look much alike and practically serve the same purpose, mainly for wrapping of foods and other items.
The leaves are two important African genera of Marantaceae, a family of perennial, understorey herbs from the Zingiberales order of flowering plants, which are widely distributed in rainforest and coastal areas of West and Central Africa, but have also been introduced to Australia and Singapore.
Each leaf grows individually on a stalk from the ground, rather than on a stalk with multiple leaves as one might expect.
Research shows that whether cultivated or in the wild, the leaves contribute to the economy of the rural people in the southern parts of the country, through its stalks, leaves, fruits and rhizomes.
It was learnt that the economic, nutritional and medicinal potentials of the non-timber forest produce are yet to be fully explored. For instance, in areas where the plant thrives, the leaves are used to wrap foods and the stalks to thatch houses. It was learnt that the leaves could be used as a non-wood fiber source and in animal feeds, an area that is yet to be explored.
The plant grows three to four meters in height, and has large, papery leaves up to 46 centimeters long. In its native range, the plant has a number of uses besides flavoring. The sturdy leaf petioles are used as tools and building materials, the leaves are used to wrap food, and the leaves and seeds have a number of herbal uses.
It can be deduced from the phytochemical analysis that the leaves are rich in flavonoid, alkaloids, saponin, tannin anthraquinones, and steroid. Therefore, in addition to its popular use for wrapping foods, the plant could also be used in phytomedicine, potherbs, animal feed and in food processing industries.
These leaves are good for wrapping food items, for cooking such as moin moin (bean pudding), Ogi (corn starch), eko (steamed corn starch), Ofada rice, adun, fufu, eba, amala, pounded yam, and ebiripo. It takes skill to put the bean paste into the carefully folded leaves, and ensure that when the wrap is placed in a pot to steam, it doesnít leak. From research, moin moin cooked with leave wrapper tastes better than one made with foil, milk tin, nylon, aluminium cups and other wrapping materials.
Aside the flavour, it also extends the shelf life of food. From The Guardian research, eko can remain fresh inside leave wrapper for as long as seven days, but when wrapped in nylon, it hardly takes four days before the colour changes.
The fact that these leaves contain a sweet protein called thaumatin, explains why foods steamed in them taste better.
Unknown to many, it is now a money-spinner as an export commodity, based on high demand in the international market. The Guardian learnt that the leaves are in high demand in the United Kingdom, USA and other countries, a window of opportunity, which agro commodity exporters have been exploiting.
But despite its advantages and potentials, there are fears the plant may soon go into extinction. It was learnt that some farmers that cultivate the plant up to the late 1990s have abandoned it for other crops that generate more income.
Like in Ogun State, where the leaves thrive in the past, only few farmers still farm it. The Guardian visited two of such farms in Arigbajo, Ewekoro Local Council area, and saw that while the first farm has been ruined, due to lack of interest, a residential building has taken over the other farm.
A farmer, Mr. Dademu Adekoro, whose father cultivated both species before his death, linked the under-cultivation to its unprofitability.
He added that other factors responsible for the gradual disappearance of the plants include low genetic variation, compared to other plants, increased mortality rate, slower growth, development instability and greater susceptibility to disease.
Adekoro, who expressed worry that if urgent steps are not taken to preserve the plant, it might go into extinction, called for conservative measures by government and other stakeholders, towards preserving the leaves.
The Managing Director/CEO of Bama Farms, Prince Wale Oyekoya, who confirmed the development, said the leaves are vanishing because farmers are abandoning its cultivation because it is not profitable.
The former Chairman, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) ís agriculture sector, said Nigerians who are used to the leaves are now following the trend of the western countries of using nylons and foils, which is not really healthy, coupled with the fact that a lot of people are running away from the farm, which is affecting its cultivation.
He said: ìIt is not that profitable because many people are not really aware of it, majority of places where it is being used are rural areas, except in a situation where the leaves are used to wrap foods and they are brought to the cities. If you go to most parties in the cities now, youíll hardly see where they are using these local leaves; they use foil, nylons or aluminum plates.
Sincerely, the farmers are not really encouraged to go into the cultivation of these leaves and its cultivation is not really earning them more money. What they make when they cultivate an acre of wrapping leaves would be small compared to when they plant vegetables like ugwu and others. To me, everything still boils down to government on how they can encourage farmers to do things to develop the sector.
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