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Lagos and the coconut connection

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Today, Wednesday, September 2, 2020, the Lagos State government joined the rest of the world to celebrate World Coconut Day. The commemoration, which made its debut in 2009, is meant to annually celebrate coconut in reminiscence of the first coconut plantation in Nigeria, established by the Roman Catholic Mission on the Topo Island in Badagry in 1876. The occasion is also meant to promote coconut development activities.

Lagos has been deploying the event to create awareness on the array of invaluable economic, health and environmental benefits that coconut offers amid cultural manifestation.

Coconut was first mentioned in 545 A.D. by an Egyptian monk named Cosmos Indicopleustes. In his “Topographia Christiana”, Cosmos describes coconut as the “great nut of India”. In 1280, Marco Polo described coconut as growing in Sumatra, as well as in Madras and Malabar in India, calling it nux indica, the Indian nut.

Regardless of its origin, the coconut has spread across many tropics and coastal areas of the world. Globally, it is grown in 93 countries in 12.29 hectare, contributing immensely to the edible oil economy of the producing States.

In Nigeria, Coconut has a cultural affinity with areas such as Badagry, Lagos Island and Ibeju- Lekki. Indeed, the story of coconut cannot be completely told without mentioning Badagry. Lagos produces close to 70% of the coconut production in Nigeria and a chunk of it comes from Badagry. In every 10 Coconuts that are seen in Nigeria, seven of them are produced in the State. No wonder the State’s founding founders ensured its official crest has two Coconuts trees.

TREE OF LIFE

It might be asked, why devote resources to promote Coconut production and development activities? Economies like Sri Lanka, Philippines and Southern India are based on coconut production just like the way Nigeria’s economy is based on oil. Coconut is an important tree crop with diverse end-users and employment generation potentials.

It is a benevolent tree, nature’s gift to mankind. Recently, the Secretary to the State Government, Mrs. Folashade Jaji, referred to Coconut as the “Tree of Life’’. This, she said, is in view of its vast benefits.

Coconut products form a direct food source for a large section of people in the country. Consumption is in the form of tender Coconut nut, raw kernel and processed foods including coconut oil, beverage, oilseed, fibres, timber, and health products and also associated with mystery and in the religion and cultural life of the people.

The Coconut tree also provides materials for household utensils and dwellings and therefore, is an important source of livelihood for the coconut growing states, especially in the coaster areas. The outer part of the trunk of the Coconut palm is used for construction, known as porcupine wood for houses and furniture.

LASCODA

To underscore the primacy Lagos State places on exploring Coconut as an important contributor to the economy of the State, the Lagos State Coconut Development Authority (LASCODA) was established in 1996 with the sole objective of promoting the production, processing, and commercialization of Coconuts for both the export and local market and utilization of crops in all ramifications.

Operating under one of the Babajide Sanwo-Olu Administration’s T.H.E.M.E.S. Developmental Agenda (Making Lagos a 21st Century Economy) pillars, the LASCODA has consistently opened up space for the people to see the economic employment potentials in Coconuts production and processing. Through its public education efforts, many are getting to know that more than one hundred (100) products can be gotten from the shell and husk of Coconuts and each of them can be a standalone industry.

For instance, the Coconut shell, if turned to charcoal, is called activated carbon. With little processing, one can get briquettes from it. Activated carbon and its uses are so vast, it has a medicinal use, agricultural use and heat generation industry and water treatment industry utilize it.

In Nigeria, we throw the shell away as waste, but in other countries, they turn it to charcoal. Some of the “mesuyas” (roasted meat sellers) use it but it is not widely known yet because we still need to do more sensitization. At the local blacksmith’s shop, the Coconut shell is widely used because it generates more heat and can be used several times and it is more sustainable economically and environmentally. We have to encourage something that is environmentally friendly, not charcoal that contributes to the climate change problem.

Considering its economic potentials, the Sanwo-Olu Administration is making efforts to further boost Coconut production. For instance, approval has been given for the distribution of 140,000 Coconut seedlings free of charge to farmers. This is a rather novel initiative in the country. Also, during this year’s tree planting exercise, LASCODA gave out Coconut seedlings to farmers through the Local Governments and Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs).

More so, Lagos is still on the right track in terms of producing ten million coconut trees which it set a few years back. With the efforts and passion of the current administration to the coconut initiative, the State is close to the 3 million mark, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since the State is good for Coconut production, the target is to have coconut trees stand as welcome traits in companies, palaces, relaxation centres etc. Driving along such places as the Oba Akran axis, one is bound to see coconut trees planted by private companies along the road.

MULTI-PURPOSE CROP

In the words of LASCODA’s General Manager, Mr. Dapo Olakulehin, about 300 products can be derived from Coconut, and each can be a stand-alone industry on its own. Such is the multi-dimensional depth of the produce.

Such is also its developmental process. Of the four pillars of Coconut development, the processing is key. Though production is primary, if the product is not properly processed, it will not attract the required patronage. The truth, however, is that if the whole available land in Lagos is used to plant Coconut trees, the demand of the processors can still not be met. Yet, everyone is talking about poverty and unemployment.

With the way many are becoming conscious of the economic potentials of the crop, the demand is getting higher and we might need the supplies from some neighbouring countries and States. For instance, we have Coconuts coming from States such as Nasarawa and Kebbi to Lagos. It is, perhaps, advantageous for our customs to allow Coconuts from neighbouring countries. The gain is more from the processing and the processing factories that need more supply.

As the world commemorates the 2020 World Coconut Day, the key thing should be about attracting more entrepreneurs to coconut production, processing, commercialization and utilization. The crop can really play a significant role in the economic development of the State and the country as a whole.

Subsequently, the opportunity of the World Coconut Day must be used to create consciousness of the need for massive repopulation of the Coconut belt through multi-agency and inter-ministerial cooperation. The private sector and communities along the coastline also have vital roles and need a conducive business environment to thrive.

THE FUTURE LOOKS BRIGHT

Cheerfully, the current administration in the State has clearly demonstrated its resolve to encourage coconut production. Recently, the Acting Commissioner for Agriculture, Ms. Abisola Olusanya, disclosed the government’s intention to empower more than 5,000 Coconut Value Chain entrepreneurs through its Coconut Renewal Initiatives such as Eko Coconut Bread Initiative, Coconut Processing Inputs and Training/Capacity Building of Youths and Women.

These are part of the efforts to arouse interest in Coconut and increase public awareness on the socio-economic importance of its value chain.

Certainly, there are a lot of untapped economic potentials in the Coconut industry which need to be exploited, hence the need to create awareness about the produce.

Olusanya, therefore, stressed that the State would take advantage of this year’s celebration with the theme ‘Coconut in the 21st Century Economy’, to showcase the many potentials available in the Coconut value chain and how to essentially tap from its wealth.

The Commissioner said: “It is of utmost importance to sustain the awareness on the development of the Coconut value chain as it remains one of the Agricultural crops capable of ameliorating the long-term effects of COVID-19 pandemic on the economy”.

“We will be distributing improved Coconut seedlings to the representatives of Coconut growers, presentation of Certificates to participants at the just concluded Arts and Crafts training (Waste to Wealth Initiative) and exhibition of Coconut products ranging from edible to non-edibles”, she added.

If the State is to fully explore its Coconut connection, this, indeed, is the way forward.

Musbau is Assistant Director, Public Affairs, Lagos State Infrastructure Asset Management Agency, Alausa, Ikeja.


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