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‘Enzyme production for agro-industrial use is serious business’

By Femi Ibirogba, Head, Agro-Economy
02 December 2021   |   4:01 am
Agro-industrial researchers and other stakeholders have advocated import substitution industrialisation in enzyme production to maximise benefits of local production of the multi-million dollar catalysts.

Head, Enzymes Division, FIIRO, Dr Anayo Orji, (left); acting Director-General, FIIRO, Dr (Mrs) Agnes Yemisi Asagbra; Country Representative, Alstein, Adeoluwa Adediran and Dr Adekunle Lawal during a forum on local enzyme priduction in Lagos.

• As FIIRO, Alstein partner to reduce $3.6b enzyme import yearly
• Call on govt to provide enabling environment

Agro-industrial researchers and other stakeholders have advocated import substitution industrialisation in enzyme production to maximise benefits of local production of the multi-million dollar catalysts.

The benefits of local production include decelerating pressure on the foreign exchange demand, reversing food inflation, employment creation and sustainable industries.

World estimated value of enzymes yearly is conservatively put at $6.2 billion, with the United States, Denmark, India and China leading production and dominating market shares, while Nigeria is said to spend about $3.0 billion on importation of industrial enzymes. However, Nigeria has the capacity to produce, meet home demand and export to other countries.

Researchers and industrialists said these during a one-day seminar on ‘Utilisation of indigenous industrial enzymes in Nigeria,’ organised by the Federal Institute of Industrial Research Oshodi (FIIRO), Lagos, in partnership with Alstein, a solution platform for research and development, on Tuesday.

Enzymes are the biological substances or biological macromolecules that are produced by a living organism, which act as catalysts to bring about a specific biochemical reaction. They are used in industrial products, including foods and beverages.

Overseeing Director-General of FIIRO, Dr Agnes Yemisi Asagbra, said industrial enzymes are commercially used in some industries, such as pharmaceuticals, chemical production, biofuels, food and beverages and other products. 

She added: “Global market for industrial enzymes was estimated about $4.2 billion in 2014 and expected to develop at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 7.0% over the period from 2015 to 2020 to reach nearly $6.2 billion.

“And it was recorded in 2020 that the global industrial enzyme market size was $6.0 billion and it is expected to reach $8.4 billion by the end of 2027 (Industrial Enzyme Market and Opportunities 2020).

According to Mordor Intelligence, African food enzymes market is forecast to grow at a CAGR of 4.5% during the forecast period (2020 – 2025).

The food enzyme market is witnessing rapid growth due to increasing demand for processed food and wide applications of the enzymes in the processed food industry in the region.

She said efforts on research at FIIRO, through the Enzyme Division of the Biotechnology Department over the years, had been focused on enzymes such as Amylases (Alpha- Amylase and Glucoamylase); Xylanase, Pectinase, Protease, Phytase, Cellulase, Lipase and Laccase.

“And our aim for this meeting is to establish the collaborative effort with the industries to bridge the gap in enzyme cost, and reduce importation by commercialising the local technology developed for industrial enzymes in FIIRO, among others,” she said.

A professor of Biochemistry from Covenant University, Ota, Shalom Chinedu, said many industries in Nigeria do require enzymes in their operation but there is no manufacturing company in Nigeria that produces enzymes.

He said the estimated $3.6 billion is spent every year by industrialists in Nigeria to import enzymes.

Prof. Chinedu said: “All we are trying to do is to find a way to commercialise some of the enzymes we already have, trying to tell people to invest in enzyme technology by way of building companies that produce enzymes in Nigeria.” 

On implications of producing enzymes locally, he said “It will make the cost cheaper. When you use local materials to produce in Nigeria, the cost will come down drastically. If you go to the market today, you will see how fast prices are changing per day. This is in response to changes in foreign exchange; any time there is a change like that, the industry does not have any option but to increase their prices so that they can still stay in production.”

Country Representative of Alstein, a research and development linkage platform for industrial solutions, which facilitated the one-day forum, Adeoluwa Adediran, said without research, there cannot be innovations and one of the major problems in Nigeria had been infrastructure and duplication of equipment or resources.

He explained: “In a situation where you are looking for equipment to use for your analysis and you cannot find it, you have to send your samples outside Nigeria, and it will cost a lot.

“So, what we are doing right now is gathering a list of all equipment available in both private and public institutions and then put them together so that researchers can book to use the equipment easily.” 

The firm facilitated a forum of industrialists and enzyme researchers so that the industrialists could state the challenge and researchers could conduct tailor-made researches in enzyme production.

Adediran said: “So, what we are saying right now is that, let us bring industrialists together, people who need solutions and people who can provide the solutions, and by doing so, we definitely will achieve a good result.” 

He recommended that the government should put a high tariff on imported enzymes and encourage home production by facilitating infrastructure and capital, adding, “That is the best way to go about it and we know that if the government does that through policies, it is definitely going to work.”

Prof. Chinedu also pointed out that Nigeria, like most African countries, is increasingly impoverished by unfavourable balance of trade (raw materials vs finished product); large and increasing external debts; insurgency, armed conflicts, and increasing insecurity; inadequate investment in research, training and infrastructure; and lack of commitment to science, technology and innovation, and high exchange rate and scarce foreign exchange increases the enzyme production cost, and hence, the cost of manufactured products.

Chinedu recommended that commercialisation of enzymes already developed in Nigeria is the way forward.

He said: “We must embrace translational research and take responsibility to translate our research findings into tangible products. The entrepreneurs and business community should be futuristic. Let’s stop this rush to China or India to buy the goods we can make ourselves.”

He advised the government to be purpose-driven, saying, “Developing our indigenous industrial enzyme market is duty we must do!”

Head of Department (HOD) Biochemistry, Faculty of Science, Lagos State Universit, Dr Ogunrinola Olabisi, representing the Vice Chancellor of Lagos State University, Prof. Ibiyemi Ibilola, said producing enzymes locally would greatly reduce the burden of foreign exchange and reserve. 

She said: “As a researcher in the area of enzymes, I really appreciate what FIIRO is doing now. We have a lot of publications on enzyme that we can use here without necessarily buying any of those things. 
“Recently, we made a publication on an enzyme from paw-paw to be used in animal feed production. We have the paper well on ground. In fact, there is a research going on now on how we can use enzymes to solve diabetes.”