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Mitigating climate change in Lagos with agroforestry of coconut, bitter kola trees

By FEMI IBIROGBA, Head, Agro-Economy
02 September 2019   |   3:06 am
Lagos, the commercial hub of Nigeria, and by extension, West Africa, is becoming hotter, more polluted and more environmentally degraded. Industrial activities, tree felling, land clearing, and overpopulation have impacted negatively on the environment.

General Manager of the Lagos State Coconut Development Authority (LASCODA), Mr. Dapo Olakulehin

Lagos, the commercial hub of Nigeria, and by extension, West Africa, is becoming hotter, more polluted and more environmentally degraded. Industrial activities, tree felling, land clearing, and overpopulation have impacted negatively on the environment. The state is having a share of the greenhouse effects.

The cosmopolitan city of over 20 million people, with an estimate of about 85 new settlers every day, has to be rejuvenated, made more friendly while industrial expansion is managed without much distortion to the ecosystem.

Forest depletion, combined with heavy industrial effluents and carbon monoxide, is a danger to the environment and to humanity as this has aggravated global warming, climate change and rainfall patterns around the world. In turn, it negatively affects food production in rain-fed agricultural systems. And it affects city dwellers’ physical well-being.

To correct the trend in Nigeria, the Director-General of Forestry Research Institute of Nigeria (FRIN), Dr. Adeshola Adepoju, told The Guardian that forest cover had to move from the current five per cent to about 25 per cent of the total landmass in Nigeria. How did he mean? Planting more trees, he added, is the answer.

However, planting non-economic and ornamental trees have been unwittingly constituting a disturbance to the environment, prompting governments, individuals and corporates to prune or fell unwanted trees outright, unfortunately spending fortunes to this.

Lagos State Parks and Gardens Agency’s (LASPARK’s) General Manager, Mrs Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola

In Lagos State, where industrial activities and environmental pollution have constantly come to the radar, stakeholders admit trees must be planted to mitigate environmental degradation, pollution, and greenhouse effects.

Therefore, planting economic trees that serve dual purposes of producing foods and expanding the forest cover becomes imperative, and agencies, institutes, individuals and households as well as not-for-profit and humanitarian organisations have a role to play each in the effort towards food-secure and habitable environment.

Agroforestry through coconuts
Agroforestry has the potential to double-function as mitigation to global warming and means of producing crops for industrial use and consumption. It is a way of farming responsibly; producing foods while protecting the environment using economic tree crops. Such tree crops are perennial, including cocoa, kola, orange and coconut trees. They generate annual income to households, individuals and corporate bodies as well as the government.

Demand for coconuts presents huge opportunities
As of now, Nigeria is ranked the 17th coconut producer in the world, with about 384,000 metric tonnes of coconut yearly. And the coconut demand for Nigeria now is of 1 million tonnes. The deficit is 616,000 tonnes.

Moving forward, Lagos has a comparative advantage producing coconuts than any other crop as indicated in its logo. Struggling with a green project of the state could become history if people are encouraged to plant economic rather than ornamental or non-economic trees.

Therefore, as part of the moves to rejuvenate the greenery of the state while producing foods and creating economic activities, the General Manager of the Lagos State Coconut Development Authority (LASCODA), Mr. Dapo Olakulehin, said the state was considering production, processing, commercialisation and industrialisation of coconuts.

He corroborated the deficit of coconut production, saying, “We cannot meet raw coconut demand because we have improved the utilising end. Every sugar factory uses four kilogrammes of virgin coconut oil to produce one tonne of sugar, but most of the sugar factories are importing virgin coconut oil.

“We are encouraging investors to go into coconut production, to start investing in coconut plantations because the demand is there and I am happy to say that within the last three years, we have supported private firms in the establishment of coconut plantations across 26 producing states in the country.”

Lagos State Parks and Gardens Agency’s (LASPARK’s) General Manager, Mrs Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola

Production, processing, and industrialization of coconuts for more economic benefits, Olakulehin added, could be triggered by promoting the utilisation both for industrial and domestic uses. “For instance,” he explained, “someone started the production of coconut bread, which we launched last year, and now we have produced about one million loaves,” the LASCODA boss told The Guardian.

The big dream with LASPARK
To build resilience of the state and fortify it against climate change, the agency’s big project is planting 10 million coconuts yearly, targeting about 30 million of the tree in the next four years.

When The Guardian spoke with the Lagos State Parks and Gardens Agency’s (LASPARK’s) General Manager, Mrs Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola, she also admitted the imperative of adopting potentially economic trees while keeping the environment green and safe.

While Olakulehin disclosed that LASCODA was planning to plant 30 million trees of coconut in the next few years by planting 10 million trees every year throughout the state, the LASPARK boss said the agency’s aim is one million economic trees within the Lagos metropolis yearly, including coconuts, bitter kola, and ornamental trees.

“If we are able to reach that target, Nigeria will rank among the first 10 coconut-producing countries in the world,” Olakulehin said.

A dwarf coconut tree

His counterpart, Mrs. Adebiyi-Abiola, while explaining her readiness to synergise on coconut planting, said, “One of the first meetings I had was with the general manager of LASCODA, and it has exposed me to the huge value of coconuts. We are going to work with them to push coconut planting, and we would kick off an initiative where we would reach out to Lagosians that are interested in coconut planting. They can contact us and we would do the planting for free.”

Challenges of enforcing tree planting
By the Lagos State physical planning law, about 30 per cent of a building should be green and it is the LASPARK’s mandate to ensure compliance. However, this has not positively impacted the environment, as explained by Adebiyi-Abiola.

“Some people have flouted this outright. You see, some places are fully cemented and concretised, but we won’t allow such anymore. We are going to start with sensitising people to do the right thing, but in instances where people flout these outright, we will introduce fines and we are on it already,” she explained. “We’ve started with commercial organisations like filling stations, which are fully concretised, to make the places green. We won’t let people get away with it anymore.”

Strategy to achieve coconut economy and greenery
LASPARK boss said the agency had planted over 20,000 trees and was working to do more. She said working in partnership with a private-sector organisation to encourage 25 companies to plant 100,000 trees in the next few years is one of the steps to rev up tree planting.

“We’ve signed a partnership agreement with a company to plant 100,000 trees and we will do more with other companies,” she said while expressing openness to adopting various initiatives that would encourage tree planting in Lagos.

Shedding light on the plan to achieve the goal, Adebiyi-Abiola said, “I think that coconuts can be planted on main roads. They can be planted on the setbacks. There are some coconut trees that I have seen and they are beautifying, even all over the world. I just returned from a visit to Singapore and they have coconut trees on their highways.

“But we can also plant them in open spaces. The mandate of this agency is to manage open spaces around the state. So, we have a wide array of open spaces that are available to us.”

Meanwhile, LASCODA’s Olakulehin said to achieve planting 10 million trees, the state would ensure that the landscape of Lagos State is planted with coconut trees. Commercial cultivation, rehabilitation of old plantations and encouragement of younger generation of farmers would be adopted in the efforts, he added.

“What we are saying is that because we know that it is friendly, we can plant it as close as possible to the fence. Every household should try as much as possible to plant coconut trees,” he explained.

He, however, said, “You cannot plant coconut on the road because when it starts fruiting, the fruit may drop on the road and may cause auto crashes. When you come to the government premises, you see that coconuts trees are planted everywhere in Lagos.”

Another economic tree that LASPARK intends to adopt for the resilience build-up is bitter kola. The Forestry Research Institute of Nigeria (FRIN) has developed improved varieties of bitter kola which can start fruiting between four and five years. Bitter kola, because of the herbal benefits to health as explained by trado-medical practitioners, has become a valued cash crop like cocoa and coconuts, but its cultivation is still restricted mainly to the wild varieties that could spend 20 to 25 years before fruiting.

LASPARK hinted it would adopt the new varieties of bitter kola in the array of economic trees to be planted to maximise the health, economic and environmental potentialities. And, it could serve as an off-taker for both coconuts and bitter kola for local utilisation and export.

“We are looking at planting bitter kola trees and we will be doing researches on how it would work and I’m going to have some of my colleagues look into it. And, we are also thinking of having some ornamental trees to beautify the city and one of the things we want to do is to promote tourism in the state. To do that, we need to ensure that there are beautiful streets.

“We will be looking at colourful trees and trees that provide shades and cover so that we can have a very diverse array of trees: Trees, like the bitter kola, that are empowering people as a source of livelihood and the coconut tree which is doing the same, fruit trees in schools, in homes, where people can enjoy fruits for free. And we will have ornamental trees in strategic places and we are going to have a mix,” Adebiyi-Abiola explained.
Economics of coconuts
For the youth, coconut seedling nursery presents an opportunity that could sustain their livelihood.

A dwarf coconut seedling, as of now, is about N1000, a seedling of the Tall West African variety costs about N500, and a hybrid seedling is about N750.

Affirming the youth employment potential of the coconut planting materials, LASCODA boss, Olakulehin, said: “We are training youths to go into coconut planting for maximum utilisation. Apart from that, we are training more youths to embrace the production of coconut seedlings, oil and to make use of coconut arts and crafts.”

Depending on good agronomic practices, a hybrid tree of coconut could produce a minimum of 150 nuts yearly and the dwarf variety could produce about 200 while the average for the Tall West African variety is around 100 nuts.

Each nut is sold at over 100 in commercial quantity. A tree of dwarf coconuts would, therefore, fetch a household about N20,000 yearly. A multiple of five trees would produce approximately N100,000 worth of coconuts.

LASPARK said having 12 trees as a household is like taking a minimum wage in some states of the federation and could actually go a long way in boosting the household’s passive income for several years.

An agro-entrepreneur, John-Bede Anthonio, equally affirmed that one hectare of coconuts could sustainably employ at least five youths if intercropped with other arable crops. He also admitted that Lagos had been underutilising its resources in coconut cultivation, missing out in the financial benefits.

Hence, he called on the two agencies of Lagos State and ministries of agriculture in other states of the federation where coconut trees could be cultivated commercially to facilitate lease of land for production of the crop for youths in particular while forging ahead with the state-initiated projects to close the gap between the actual production and the demand for coconuts in the country.

Apart from direct daily consumption, coconut water, bread, oil, and other multiple derivatives are channels in which utilisation could be deepened and production stimulated for maximum environmental, industrial and economic benefits.