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Nigeria needs eight million hectares, 24m workers to tackle orange juice deficit

By Femi Ibirogba, Head, Agro-Economy Desk
25 April 2019   |   4:20 am
Nigeria needs 8 million hectares of farmland and a minimum of 24 million fully engaged workers to produce the annual national citrus juice deficit, estimated to be 414 million litres. Despite the presence of all factors of production...

An orange plantation PHOTO: google image

• 414 million litres of orange juice needed to meet up, by NIHORT
• Farmer to make N1.6mp/h of orange plantation

Nigeria needs 8 million hectares of farmland and a minimum of 24 million fully engaged workers to produce the annual national citrus juice deficit, estimated to be 414 million litres. Despite the presence of all factors of production, the country is unable to meet its home demand for citrus juice, Dr Adeoye Afolayan, Director of Research and Development at the National Horticultural Research Institute (NIHORT), Ibadan, Oyo State, has disclosed.

The annual national production is estimated at 135 million litres of citrus juice, while the annual demand is put at 550 million litres. Citrus family includes oranges, tangerine and grapefruits. “We have 3.4 million metric tonnes of citrus currently being produced in Nigeria, covering 3 million hectares of land. The 3.4 million tonnes will result in 135 million littles of juice. But the current demand in Nigeria is 550 million metric littres of juice,” he disclosed to The Guardian.

The researcher said 8 million hectares of farmland would be required to be put into cultivation in the next three years to close the gap, and more would have to be done to meet up with the expected rise in demand.Each of the 8million hectares, he estimated, would gainfully employ a minimum of three workers, running into no fewer than 24 million job opportunities in the cultivation alone. Seedling production, marketing of the products and industrialization would create thousands of other job opportunities in the value chains, the scientist said.

“This means that any youth engaged in citrus cultivation is like digging a goldmine, because economically, it is going to empower them,” he said.
He explained that the gap between production and demand is too wide, and that accounts for Nigeria’s dependence on importation of juice concentrates, which quality, safety and wholesomeness are not ascertained.

Investigation by The Guardian also revealed that oranges, tangerines and grapefruits are being imported to Nigeria from neighbouring countries, especially into Lagos.He advocated youth participation in farming, particularly in citrus plantation cultivation to create wealth from the shortfall, saying the situation presents a huge wealth-creating opportunities for hardworking individuals.

“If the youth can bridge the gap, importation will stop, they will be empowered; more jobs will be created; security will improve and it will affect the economy positively,” Afolayan said.

Economic value of citrus plantations
Apart from the juice in citrus, the rind is used for pesticides; the husk is used for animal feeds and bio-gas generation. There is much in citrus and, therefore, can assist in youth empowerment schemes and in generating regular income even for retirees.The expert said a farmer cultivating one hectare of orange plantation would make a gross income of N1.6 million per annum starting from the third year, but fully making returns at five years.

“They will take three years to fruit, but for economic production, it will take five years. That is when you will have value for your money. By then, it will commensurate the capital invested into it,” he said.Speaking on the plant density of a citrus plantation, Afolayan said About 207 trees of citrus are planted on one hectare using 7×7-metre spacing, which would yield no fewer than 40,000 oranges. “A fruit as of now, based on the street value, is about N20. If you calculate that, it will be about N800,000 per hectare. And citrus fruit twice in a year,” he said. Planting more than 207 trees of citrus per hectare is possible, he explained, but “but the challenge is that radiation could be jeopardised. This means that the plantation farmer will resort into pruning, which is another economic investment that does not necessarily give returns. If you leave enough space, you can intercrop with arable crops before canopies are formed.”

Afolayan disclosed that improved varieties through vegetative techniques were being developed to reduce the number of years before fruiting. He said: “Actually, we are working on some improved varieties that could make economic sense in three years. “We are working to shorten the time, because the challenge we have is that at the nursery stage, it takes one and a half years, but we are working towards six months. We have achieved
some success, but it is not enough to push it out.”He explained that through vegetative propagation, the gestation period could be reduced.

“Initially, the seeds were planted directly on the soil, transplanted into the polythene bags before transporting to the field. It took one and a half years in the nursery and two and a half on the field. But now, we plant the seeds into the polythene bags, thereby reducing the gestation period to six months before transplanting to the field. On the field, it will take another two and a half years to produce fruits,” Afolayan said.
The researcher told The Guardian that there are people who live on citrus production just as farmers live on cocoa and other plantations.

Ecologies of cultivation
Citrus plantations can be established in all the ecology zones of the country. They, however, need regular irrigation from the first day of transplantation to three or four years, especially in the dry seasons.“Yes, they can be planted in most of the ecologies of the country. However, there must be substantial volume of water at the citrus juvenile stage, that is, between the first day of transplanting and two years. “For example, when I was in Kano, we planted about five acres of citrus and they are still there now. They fruit well, and the fruit is more likely to be better in quality because of the sunlight,” he said.

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