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How to develop natural products in Nigeria


Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire

Experts have urged the government and private investors to grant import waivers and increase funding on research and education for the development of bioresources cum natural products in Nigeria.

Bioresources are any resource of biological origin.

The experts said there was a need to draw more attention to the numerous benefits of natural products and their derivatives as well as the invaluable economic opportunities in their export as food and medicine.


The experts at the 10th edition of HerbFest, with the general theme, “food as medicine”, in Owerri, Imo State, highlighted the need for a return to using herbs and food as medicine. They also called for more research into discovering, even more, uses for herbs for better health and economic growth.

They expressed hope that the expo could yield collaboration between scientists and stakeholders in the market place for full exploitation of all the benefits of sales and consumption of natural medicinal products.

The experts include: Vice-Chancellor of Nnamdi Azikiwe University (NAU), Awka, Anambra State, Prof Charles Okechukwu Esimone; President of Bioresources Development Group (BDG), Prof Maurice Iwu; Imo State Governor, Emeka Ihedioha; Research Director, BDG, Prof. Elijah Sokomba; representatives of the Director-General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Prof. Mojisola Christianah Adeyeye; Chief Executive Officers of Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC), Mr. Olusegun Awolowo; Director-General of the Nigerian Natural Medicine Development Agency (NNMDA), Samuel Etatuvie; and representative of Projects Development Institute (PRODA), Charles Agulanna.

The event promotes the use of natural products, herbal medicine, and complementary and alternative medicine. The expo brings together, manufacturers, researchers, physicians, pharmacists, growers, producers, investors, distributors and wholesalers and of course the general public.

In celebration of the 10th edition, BDG together with Imo State Government has decided to domicile it in Owerri and project it globally as an international event for investors, growers, manufacturers, academia, producers and commerce of Natural Health products and services.

Esimone, who is a professor of Biopharmaceutics and Pharmaceutical Biotechnology in the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, NAU, in his keynote address, said in the United States (U.S.), it is expected that complementary and alternative medicine will generate up to $210 billion by 2026 and that is approximately N76 trillion. He said this will fund the country’s 2019 budget eight times with some change and that there is money in local herbs.


The keynote address is titled “The health and wealth in our forests: Our herbs!”

The NAU VC said: “To make the best out of the green leaves and brown barks outside there, we have to take advantage of our African traditional knowledge system, develop and standardize the tools and take advantage of ability to observe, exploit our curiosity, be open to the unexpected (serendipity) and approach the discovery of drugs from herbs with a mindset empowered by scientific reasoning and proven facts to open new frontiers in the use of herbs.”

Esimone said the private sector must develop an interest in drug discovery from our abundant natural resources and they must collaborate with the universities and research institutes to be able to support the research into these national treasures of health and wealth.

He insisted that there is so much money to make for the companies. The NAU VC said these would bring forex to the country and improve the economy. “There is so much remedy for the diseases that kill our young and incapacitate our old. We will not be going cap in hand for aids from the western world. We will be able to develop remedies or at least have the money to pay for them,” Esimone said.

The pharmaceutical biotechnologist said the government should waive import duties for research items and equipment since they do not have enough budgetary allocation for education and research.

Iwu said the event should be treated as being beyond a natural medicine event and be further explored as a tourism and investment opportunity similar to the Natural Products Expo held annually in Baltimore, Maryland for the East Coast and Anaheim, California for West Coast in America; bearing in mind that this sector accounts for over $20 billion of global trade.

Iwu commended Governor Ihedioha, recalling how the group of traditional medical doctors made a breakthrough in the treatment of peptic ulcer and other areas of medicine.


Iwu called for the support of the state government in the promotion of bioresources.

He identified healthy living, job creation, income generation, and tourism as some of the areas the state will benefit, by investing in the area of bioresources and by extension, the yearly celebration.

Ihedioha while declaring the workshop open commended Prof Iwu for his contributions to the development of the bioresource sector in Nigeria and for attracting the investment of important stakeholders.

Ihedioha who was represented by his deputy, Gerald Irona, also expressed hope that the bioresources development sector would receive more visibility considering the many economic and health benefits derivable from the sector.

He also said that the state government was willing to partner with the BDG to ensure the success of their programme and to provide the needed assistance for subsequent hosting of the event in the state.

Ihedioha attended the second day of the three-day event and pledged to collaborate with BDG to domicile the event in Owerri.

Ihedioha assured that the state government would give greater attention to hosting the subsequent annual symposium and exhibition event.

He said: “Few persons remember Prof Iwu for serving the nation, but he disciplined himself to return to the world of medicine

“We do appreciate his efforts in Imo State. Many people remember him for his exploits at the national level, but we in Imo State do recognise him as a scientist of note, not forgetting that about four years ago, he opened a pharmaceutical firm at Umunna.”


The event concluded with a high-level dialogue on Phytomedicine and Natural Medicine in Clinical Practice. It was attended by members of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Imo State branch, professors of medicine from some universities, representative of Federal Ministry of Health and other agencies.

Irona described bioresources development as necessary in order to preserve the ecosystem and improve the health of the people.

He described the benefits of bioresources as enormous, even as he accepted the offer by the organizers to make Imo State the permanent location for the yearly celebration in Nigeria.

“I am here to represent the Governor, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha. We commend our brother, Prof. Maurice Iwu for his giant strides in bioresources development in Nigeria and for bringing stakeholders together. It is the wish of the government of Imo state to partner with you on bioresources development. If you consider the agricultural, health and tourism potentials of this, you will agree with us that it is worth investing in. We, therefore, welcome your initiative to make Imo State a permanent host for the event. Imo is ready and willing to partner with the organisers to take maximum advantage of what nature has for us.”

Sokomba canvassed for improved attention on natural medicinal products, herbs, and the bioresources, with the view to enhancing their potentials for economic development and general health and wellness of the people.

The HerbFest is a yearly symposium and exhibition of natural products facilitated by the Bioresources Development and Conservation Programme (BDCP), a part of BDG (a consortium of six subsidiaries all geared towards the promotion of the sustainable utilization of natural resources for a healthy living).

The 2019 event was organised in collaboration with various government agencies (who also participated with presentations), such as NAFDAC, Standard Organization of Nigeria (SON), Consumer Protection Council (CPC), Federal Institute of Industrial Research, Oshodi (FIIRO), NNMDA, Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC), PRODA, NEPC, Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH), and Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity (FMLP).

Pharmaceutical manufacturers, herbal medicine practitioners, dietary supplement producers, organic farmers, research scientists, and heads of government agencies converged at this year’s edition at the All Seasons Hotel, Owerri, to discuss the trending issues in herbal and traditional medicine. Amongst the discussions were, the huge economic potentials of natural herbal spices in the export market, natural products for Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV) and immune health, natural medicine as effective cancer therapy among others.

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