Harnessing scent leaves for export, domestic use
Cultivation of Clover Basil, popularly called scent leaves is one area with enormous export potential, but only a few fractions of Nigerian farmers are tapping into the opportunities it offers.
Botanically known as Ocimum gratissimum, it is an aromatic herb that has been introduced extensively across tropical and subtropical regions of the world.
It is native to Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroun, Madagascar, Southern Asia, and the Bismarck Archipelago. It has been naturalised in countries such as Polynesia, Hawaii, Brazil, Panama, the West Indies, and Mexico. The plant is normally a perennial homegrown shrub, although it can be found in the wild, and used mainly as a spice for cooking delicacies due to its aromatic taste.
The plant boasts of international acceptance, especially in countries where it is not cultivated due to its retinue of advantages.
Clover Basil has a lot of antibacterial, antifungal, larvicidal, and antipyretic activities that give it a prominent role in the treatment and prevention of diseases and infections. Scent Leaves contain vital bioactive substances, it also provides tannins, phenols, calcium, phosphorus, iron, vitamin A, and more, all of which are essential for human health.
According to health experts, the plant has over 16 health benefits—it lowers blood system, good for treatment of fungal infections, insect and mosquito repellent, treatment of diarrhea, maintenance of the eyes, improves heart function, aids digestion and promotes normal hair growth, among other benefits.
It was learnt that this powerful plant has other unconfirmed uses, which include reduction of nicotine levels and ceremonial washing of corpses, especially in Indonesia, among others.
But despite the benefits and international recognition, Nigerian farmers are yet to tap into the economic gains embedded in what many considers as ‘wonder plant.’
The Guardian observed that the plant is majorly confined to compound and backyards of houses for domestic uses, with only few farmers, especially in the Eastern part of the country cultivating it for commercial purpose.
According to the National President, Federation of Agricultural Commodity Association (FACAN), Dr. Victor Iyama, scent leaves can contribute about N920b to the country’s economy in terms of revenue yearly.
“We also consume it here, in a year it can contribute maybe $1m or $2m in terms of income, to the country, because it’s something we eat a lot. It has great export potential because it is also categorised and consumed like other vegetables.
“What we are doing like for other vegetables is to see how we can really maintain the standard after post-harvest because for you to export vegetables preservation mechanism has to be superb. So, we are trying to put some special warehouses that can be used to preserve them because if we harvest such leaves and for you to sift it, unless you do it between 10-20 hours, it will lose its standard. If you leave it for two to three days, it will arrive at its destination almost dead.”
A farmer, Ojo Gabriel, who regretted that the country’s farmers are missing the economic benefits of the plant, ascribed this to ‘ignorance’ noting that majority plants it just for domestic uses.
“I think the problem also has to do with the region. For instance, the Easterners (Igbo) appreciate it more than us in the Southwest. Only a few of us in this side of the country cook the scent leaves as soup, we just use it for pile and stomach related ailments.”
Iyama also attested to this. According to him: “It is the tradition from time immemorial for people to plant the scent leaves in their backyards or compound, because of the good smell.
“But now that they have realised the potential embedded in it, our people have started growing it because it doesn’t give them much stress like growing rice, potato, and other crops. And as many are getting to know that they can get good money from it, a good number of them have started cultivating it.”
According to Iyama: “Scent leaves is easy to cultivate like other vegetables —pumpkin leaves, tomato, spinach and others. What we are planning to do now is to see how we can build preservative warehouses. There are some Russians who are also around now that we are looking at that technology together and at the end of the day, we might have to do such preservative warehouses so that we can at least store perishable goods for at least seven to eight months.
“It is not something we can ‘containerise’ for two months, the only way now is to cargo it by air and you know what that means in terms of cost, except you dry it, if it’s dried, the potential is very high. By the time those things are put in place, then we can actually maximize the plant’s potential.”