By Ahmed Tahir Ajobe, Minna | Publish Date: Apr 22 2017 2:00AM
Prof. Dennis Odionyenfe Balogu is the Dean of Faculty of Applied Science and Technology at the Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida University (IBBU), Lapai, Niger State. He was the pioneer Head of Department of Food Science and Technology, tenured Professor of Agriculture/Nutrition and Physiology in the Faculty of Agriculture as well as the pioneer Director, Centre for Applied Sciences and Technology Research (CASTER) of the university. He speaks to Daily Trust on the institution’s on-going cashew research initiative and other issues.
Daily Trust: How is your cashew innovation going?
Dennis Odionyenfe Balogu: It has been great. In fact a lot of people have welcomed the initiative and the university itself is interested in it and ready to invest in the enterprise. When I came back to Nigeria from the USA, I discovered that we are blessed with a lot of cashew but what baffled me was that people were only interested in the nuts and throw away the part that contains a lot of vitamins and antioxidant that actually make health better. And then we import packaged juices like 5-Alive and others, which are concentrates from abroad.
So, we started thinking of producing juice using the local raw materials being wasted every day here. We started small and when I was to present the second inaugural lecture in the university, I felt the forum provided a better opportunity to present the idea. And expectedly, it got a lot of attention and by the time we held our maiden convocation, we served over 3,000 bottles to the guests present at the occasion. It was a lot of work but we were encouraged by the support the university management accorded us.
One thing that was uppermost in our mind is the farmers. There is a small community here called Cheche whose women made a lot of money from the initiative through what they were throwing away before. This year, they have called me a number of times to know what is happening. We are trying to start fully.
Cashew has a lot of nutrient; it has more than five times the vitamins from orange and more than six times what we get from pineapple. And we have them in this country in large quantity but there rot away. We are devising ways of making sure we have large quantities to process because it has very short harvest period.
The initiative took us to the National Universities Commission (NUC)’s conference held at Nnamdi Azikwe University Awka where every university comes to show what it has produced and we got a lot of accolades from our presentation. It also took us to the trade fair held last year in Minna where government took extra interest in what we are doing. What we are waiting for now is to get approval from the NUC to commence mass production of the juice.
DT: Have you finally gotten approval from the NUC?
Balogu: No we have not; in fact we have not yet applied because we need to get through a lot of technicalities like ascertaining the expiry date. We have commenced the process but then there was reduction in power supply in August which messed up our data and even affected the concentrates we stored to reconstitute during celebrations. We are however starting over because we have reached a point where we have to make a decision but we still need data to be able to carry out full-fledged operation.
DT: What is your long term plan for the project?
Balogu: We are going into big time processing using the entrepreneurial option given to the university; in that wise we would use our staff and students as well as agents to market our products beyond the state. If you travel from here to Kogi State, you will find so many cashew plantations and we can go inter-state to harvest these raw materials; half process them before bringing them back.
DT: Are there plans to have a plantation considering the magnitude of the project?
Balogu: Yes, we intend doing that. In fact at the last meeting we had with the Vice Chancellor, Prof Maiturare, the issue came up. There is a large expanse of land already earmarked for that.
As you may have been aware, we already have improved seed variety in the country dating back to 1960 when all the regional governments came up with the idea of cashew revolution. So here in the North like elsewhere in the East and South West, we have them; but what has happened over the years is that some of the trees have grown old and in that kind of situation, the fruits will shrink and become smaller. So, we just have to look at the available trees, make some genetic selections and develop our own. We have already identified some plantations here that have high quality seeds that we can use to develop our own.
DT: Which institutions are you looking to collaborate with in this project?
Balogu: We hope to liaise with the Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta and Kogi State University for now. We are looking at a processing system that will not take away employment from people; technologically-driven but manned by people such that everything is not highly automated.
Through that, we will be able to provide reasonable amount of employment for our people. We are looking for funding from everywhere so that we can conserve our foreign exchange. Could you believe that we spend $500 million on juice concentrate from South Africa annually and the juice that finally comes out is only 5 percent? We can definitely cut this down by turning inward and creating employment.