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Bridging gap between labs, research institutes, industries

By Chukwuma Muanya
20 September 2018   |   4:06 am
*FIIRO establishes catalytic model factories to ensure effective technology diffusion, job creation *Automation Academy for training of engineers, technologists, processors on activation *Develops high nutrient density biscuit from appropriate combinations of locally grown food crops *Nutraceutical product for sickle cell anemia, ready-to-use-therapeutic food to combat malnutrition Several attempts have been made in the past to…

Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu (left) and Director General (DG)/Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of FIIRO, Prof. Gloria Elemo

*FIIRO establishes catalytic model factories to ensure effective technology diffusion, job creation
*Automation Academy for training of engineers, technologists, processors on activation
*Develops high nutrient density biscuit from appropriate combinations of locally grown food crops
*Nutraceutical product for sickle cell anemia, ready-to-use-therapeutic food to combat malnutrition

Several attempts have been made in the past to translate discoveries at universities’ laboratories and research institutes into finished and commercially viable products by industries.Unfortunately, most of these novel findings with great economic potentials are yet to be optimized to become major foreign exchange earners and boost the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

To address and bridge the gap between laboratories, research institutes and industries, the Federal Institute of Industrial Research, Oshodi (FIIRO), Lagos, has despite the major challenges of inadequate funding and epileptic electricity supply made giant strides. A nutritional biochemist and first female Director General (DG)/Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of FIIRO, Prof. Gloria Elemo, in an exclusive interview with The Guardian said the Institute has among so many other things embarked on building of catalytic model factories, which are now serving as technology hub to ensure effective technology diffusion and job creation. FIIRO has also established Automation Academy for training of engineers, technologists and processors on automation.

The biochemist said the Institute has developed High Nutrient Density Biscuit from appropriate combinations of locally grown food crops, Nutraceutical product for management of sickle cell anemia and Ready-to-Use-Therapeutic Food to combat malnutrition. The mandate of FIIRO at inception in 1953 was to assist in quickening the pace of industrialization in Nigeria through finding utilization to indigenous raw materials by research and development activities targeted at spurring the development and promotion of micro, small, medium and large industries.

Specifically, at inception, the Institute was to: identify and characterize local raw materials for use in industries; identify and develop appropriate technologies and assist in their transfer, adaptation and utilization by local enterprises; develop indigenous processing technologies into modern technologies in the area of food, agro-allied products and in various non-food uses; and upgrade laboratory operations into pilot scale operations and conduct economic evaluation of projects and consultancy services.

Have you been able to meet any of the mandates despite the challenges?
My answer is yes; the Institute has been able to meet its mandates since its establishment though there is a room for improvement. I will like to expatiate on this by making a quick rundown on the establishment, the mandates and the achievements of the Institute despite the numerous challenges confronting the Institute.

The Institute in fulfilling its mandates has worked on virtually all the raw materials (both agro and solid minerals excluding oil and gas) and has developed and perfected over 350 technologies. These technologies have been transferred to indigenous entrepreneurs and many have set up profitable businesses based on the acquired technologies. The Institute since full inception of its technology transfer training programme in 1986, has trained over 500,000 techno-entrepreneurs through its scheduled, individual and group training programmes and its collaboration with other government organizations such as National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), National Directorate of Employment (NDE), National Poverty Eradication Programme (NAPEP) among others. As a result, millions of jobs have been created through the direct activities of the Institute and its multiplier effects.

Over the years, FIIRO has made significant and laudable achievements on R&D into various key industrial sectors of Nigeria. With its mandate on R&D into food and agro-allied processing and development of processing machinery and equipment, we have worked on virtually all crops including: cassava, sorghum, millet, maize, groundnut, fruits, soybeans, tomatoes, peppers and developed processing technologies and equipment prototypes for their processing etc.

FIIRO is the home of indigenous technologies – the Institute prides itself as the technology providers to the micro, small and medium entrepreneurs. Since her establishment, the Institute has deployed its mandate to ensure diversification of the national economy through industrialization and most especially the micro, small and medium enterprises. This has led to the proliferation of some of the following industries in Nigeria: Soaps and cosmetics; Sorghum malt (a successful replacement for imported Barley malt by the Brewing industry); Weaning food and breakfast cereals such as soy-ogi; Palm wine bottling and preservation; Cassava (processing into gari, cassava flour, odorless fufu, glucose syrup, ethanol, adhesives, cassava starch among others); Instant Pounded Yam Flour (IPYF); Fruit juices; Edible mushroom and bread and confectioneries.

Recent studies have shown that FIIRO is a technology provider to over 65 per cent of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) operating in the South West geopolitical zone and about 70 per cent of all the technology incubatees in Technology Incubation Centers in 27 States of the Federation are using FIIRO technologies. The Institute in its effort to enhance the adoption rate of its technologies has embarked on building of catalytic model factories, which are now serving as technology hub to ensure effective technology diffusion and job creation. Examples of these catalytic model factories are: Tomato Model Plant –Kano; Cassava Processing Model Plant – Owode, Ogun State; Cassava Processing Model Plant – Igbara Oke, Ondo State and Gari Plant, Ondo, Ondo State.

All the activities at the Institute are geared towards job creation to address the problematic issue of youth and adult unemployment in Nigeria. The Institute has recognized that the best way to address the issue of unemployment is to encourage our youths to develop entrepreneurial culture.

FIIRO as part of its contribution to the Federal government goal of job creation has trained over 2,000 unemployed youths within the last three years in all the 6 geo-political zones of Nigeria. Techno-entrepreneurship training is a continuous exercise at the Institute where we train on over 25 technologies on weekly basis.

The Institute has published a book titled “Investment Opportunities for Job Creation in 774 Local Government Areas (LGAs) based of FIIRO Research and Development (R&D) Results”. In order to address the issue of unemployment by deployment of its over 350 technologies, the Institute has developed a proposal for job creation in all the 774 LGAs in Nigeria using appropriate FIIRO technologies based on raw materials of relative advantages in each of the LGA. The proposed programme has the capacity to create 928,800 direct jobs per annum and a total of 6,501,600 jobs per annum if each entrepreneur employs average of seven. The summary of the proposal is to train 100 unemployed youths per LGA and economically empower each of them with N1.5million as start off fund.

Has FIIRO made any novel discovery towards bridging the gap between the labs, Institutes and the industries?
FIIRO has made many novel discoveries in the recent times. Within the last three years, FIIRO has patented 15 novel products with patent certificates. But I will like to bring up about five of them most of which are classical examples of bridging the gap between the labs, institute and the industries.

In tandem with the objective of the Federal government, FIIRO has developed a High Nutrient Density Biscuit from appropriate combinations of locally grown food crops. This product has been fully commercialized by Nasco Group, an indigenous company with track record in biscuit production and marketing to be marketed under the trade name “Champ”. The biscuit was officially presented to Mr. President at the Federal Executive Council Meeting in February 2018 by the Hon. Minister, Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu.

The product has the nutritional composition to meet one third of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for both macro and micronutrients for school age children (ages five – 13 years). Specifically, the biscuit contains: 15 – 17 gramme of protein per 100g with at least one third of the recommended dietary allowance of specific nutrients such as iron, calcium, iodine, selenium, zinc, magnesium, vitamin A, the B vitamins, folic acid, vitamin C among others; providing at least 450 kilocalories of energy per 100 gramme of biscuit consumed.

A country that is not food secured might not be able to talk about national security especially in terms of presence of peace and tranquility, which is paramount for national socio-economic development. FIIRO has worked extensively developing highly nutritious food using indigenous crops and processing indigenous crops to shelf stable products to reduce post harvest losses, which is estimated at about 35 per cent of annual output of agro-commodities. Of particular note and outstanding product developed at the Federal Institute of Industrial Research Oshodi to combat malnutrition is the Ready-to-Use-Therapeutic Food (RUTF). This product is useful for treating Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM).

In Nigeria today, cases of malnutrition is on the rise especially with the insurgency in the Northeast which has displaced millions of people until recent times when normalcy is fast returning to the Northeast Nigeria due to the Federal government’s effort at routing out the dissidents. The Ministry of Science and Technology (FIIRO as Implementing Authority) has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with May and Baker Nigeria Plc. Very soon this product will be readily available in Nigerian market; this would enhance food and nutrition security as well as save foreign exchange.

The Institute has developed a nutraceutical product for the management of sickle cell anemia. The nutraceutical product, a food supplement, was developed from a combination of two legumes that are available in commercial quantities in Nigeria. The product has been fully analyzed scientifically, tested clinically and found potent for managing sickle cell anaemia.

Detailed scientific studies have been carried out on this product. Some of these studies include: efficacy, clinical, toxicity, stability, sensory evaluation, biological activities including molecular docking that provided explanation for the mechanism of action of the product in reversing sickled red blood cells. May and Baker Nigeria Plc has also signed MoU with FMST/FIIRO for commercial production of this food supplement. It is envisaged that this product would help to alleviate the pains of over 40 million people amongst the black race in the world suffering from sickle cell disease. Commercial potential for the product is very high for the investor; it is estimated that the annual demand for the product is in excess of 90,000 metric tonnes with estimated N50 billion in revenue.

In response to the matching order of the Honourable Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu that parastatals under the supervision of the Ministry who are involved in fabrication of processing machinery and equipment should upgrade their facilities to accommodate production of automated processing equipment in line with global best practices, the Institute has moved to a new level in its equipment fabrication and design program, to add value and enhance performance of businesses in Nigeria through automation program. Regarding the above, the Institute signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Automation and Engineering Academy Nigeria Limited. Through this collaboration, the Institute has fully automated two process lines namely: Kunu Drink Production and Preservation Plant; and the Zobo Drink Production and Preservation Plant.

Also, through the partnership, the Institute has established FIIRO Automation Academy (FAA) within its premises for training of engineers, technologists and processors on automation. This Institute would provide the needed capacity building for the advancement of automation in Nigeria.

Another novel product from FIIRO is the Stainless Steel Pepper Grinder designed and fabricated at the Institute to eliminate heavy metal contamination in ground products due to substandard Pepper Grinding Machine in Nigerian market.

What is the position of FIIRO on herbal medicine? Have you made any discovery?
FIIRO is closely working with the Nigerian Natural Medicine Development Agency (NNMDA) Lagos with sole mandate on herbal medicine development as well as Bio-resources Development and Conservation Programme (BDCP) on the development and promotion of herbal medicine in Nigeria. In this collaboration, FIIRO provides expertise in the area of development of the process technologies, which include mechanization of the unit operations in the established process technologies.

How far have you gone in helping SMEs get their products acceptable for exports?
Government diversification programme especially in the area of agriculture and export of value added agro-commodities is yielding fruits. Many entrepreneurs most especially small and medium entrepreneurs are now showing interest in export to various countries. Most of the products, be it agro- or solid minerals, are not permitted to be exported in their raw forms but with value addition. This is where FIIRO is coming in. Regarding this, the Executive Director of Nigerian Export Promotion Council, Barrister Segun Awolowo visited the Institute with the sole objective of partnering with the Institute in the area of value addition to enhance export. To provide a strategic guide for the collaboration, FIIRO has signed an MoU with NEPC and already, the implementation of the MoU has commenced through the training of the first batch of 70 entrepreneurs on Instant Pounded Yam Flour and Fruit Juice for export. We are very hopeful that this partnership will blossom for the overall benefit of the nation.

How far with your involvement in the school feeding programme and cassava bread?
The Federal Government of Nigeria has shown great interest in the implementation of a National School Feeding Programme. FIIRO has keyed into this programme and has carefully formulated a High Nutrient Density Biscuit (HNDB) from appropriate combinations of locally grown food crops. FIIRO has promoted this product for adoption by the Federal government in line with international best practices as recommended by World Food Program as opposed to direct cooking which is fraught with dangers of food poisoning.

The cassava initiative especially the policy on inclusion of cassava flour in wheat flour is one of the best things that can happen to agribusiness in Nigeria. Let me start from the expected effect of the policy on the economy. The attendant benefits at 20 per cent inclusion level for cassava bread baking and confectioneries production include: potential annual foreign exchange savings of N127 billion; generation of three million jobs within the next three years through direct employments by stakeholders operating within the value chain and multiplier effect; industrial development through creation of about 3,000 SMEs cassava processors to meet the 1,200,000 metric tons annual cassava flour demand especially by the flour millers operating in Nigeria; reduction on the cost of bread by about 15 per cent in the short run and greater reduction in the long run as well as establishment of about 19,350 additional commercial bakeries within the next three years by entrepreneurs taking advantage of new business opportunities and government incentives. Relevant stakeholders are putting in place the necessary framework including legal framework to fully institutionalize the cassava policy in Nigeria. When this is done, compliance and enforcement will be easier and the nation will reap the full benefit of the policy.

What is your vision for FIIRO in the next five years?
In the next five years, I would like to see FIIRO that is truly a foremost Centre for excellence in Science and Technology – based Research and Development and FIIRO that would be a household name amongst its stakeholders including industries, universities, research institutes national and international.