By Segun Olugbile
NIGERIA. The Punch - Lagos, 21 Oct 2008
Olatunji disclosed that the institute had done a lot of work on the upgrading of the status of cassava such that many products including noodles, chips, soy-bean, industrial starch, and bread have been derived from the food crop. FIIRO, he said, had also developed groundnut sheller, groundnut roaster, local rice destoner, a machine that cleans local rice and other cereal grains such as wheat, cowpea, beniseed and soybean. The machine consists of a feeding screw conveyor, a detoning chamber mounted on a spring cum vibro-assisted frame, a blower, a cyclone and a power transmission system.“We also have a solar dryer used in the preservation of tomato and chili pepper. This was developed to eliminate losses during peak production periods. Losses of up to 50 per cent are recorded during the harvest season and we feel that something must be done to reduce this. Our solar dryer is capable of generating much higher air temperature and lower relative humidity within the drying chamber.”He explained that the machine also reduced the drying time by sun-drying method from 72 hours to 12 sunshine hours.“It also reduces the moisture content of the product from 8.75 per cent to 7.04 per cent,” he said.
Segun Olugbile writes that the giant strides being made by the Federal Institute of Industrial Research have brightened the nation’s chances of taming hunger
The days of post harvest losses caused by ineffective packaging and crops preservation may well be over in Nigeria. This is because scientists at the Federal Institute of Industrial Research, Oshodi, Lagos, have recorded some research breakthroughs capable of eliminating this untoward trend. The Director-General of FIIRO, Dr. Oluwole Olatunji, who disclosed this to our correspondent at the Lagos headquarters of FIIRO last Wednesday, said that a packaging cum preservative device that would prolong the shelf life of agricultural products and another one that would enhance the production of bio-fuel from cassava had been discovered by scientists at the institute.
FIIRO was established in 1956 to enhance the rapid industrialisation of the economy through the upgrading of the indigenous production processes. It has multidisciplinary staff comprising research scientists-microbiologists, food scientists, chemists, engineers and technologists, who are complemented by administrative and accounting staff.
Mountains of rotten mangoes, pineapples, oranges and tomatoes are usually the hallmarks of the nation’s markets after the annual harvest. Consequently, farmers and marketers of these products suffer huge losses, while exporters of cash crops such as cocoa, palm kernel and groundnut also gnash their teeth following losses they incur after their spoilt products must have been rejected by buyer at the world market.
This untoward trend has been giving stakeholders sleepless nights with some blaming the nation’s universities and research institutes for not rising to the occasion.
But Olatunji said that ignorance was responsible for such insinuation. “We are not sleeping here. We have been contributing to the industrial and food development sector of the nation’s economy. That is why the nation’s ranking on world hunger index declined to 50th from the 80th position we were in 2003. This is because of the new breakthroughs we have made. Before now, we already had over 60 technological designs and fabrication for food products processing, beverages, industrial raw materials, essential oils cosmetics and soaps to our credit.”
According to him, the over 60 research breakthroughs of FIIRO such as extrusion cooker, fish smoking kiln, oil expeller, vegetable oil filter press, grain degermer, dehuller and parboiler machines for instant pounded yam have been fabricated, tested and are being produced to encourage small and medium scale industries.
Besides, Olatunji added that FIIRO had also developed innovations in the area of food processing and production of industrial raw materials. These, he said, included a biogas converter and fertilizer machine, an essential oil distillation unit, an adhesive reactor for making glues and adhesives from cassava starch and a soap reactor for the manufacturing of laundry and toilet soaps.
On the new breakthroughs, Olatunji said that the huge losses being suffered by farmers, and by extension the country, informed the decision by FIIRO to conduct the research that led to the development of the packaging device.
He refused to give details of the device. Olatunji did not also agree to give details on its components. “You don’t let out your trade secrets,” he said.
But he assured that the device would help in no small way to reduce post-harvest losses in the country.
The FIIRO boss also disclosed that research on bio fuel was the result of scientific brainstorming brought about by occasional fuel scarcity that sometimes results in deaths. “We at FIIRO are proactive. What happens if the nation’s oil wells dry up? What alternative do we have? How do we drive the nation’s economy and the crises that this can engender? These questions are the catalysts that geared us up to embark on the research, and we are happy that the effort has paid off; we now have what we call bio-fuel from cassava.
According to him, the research is successful. He, however, advised the Federal Government not to implement the research report now because of the availability of crude oil. “I will advise that we hold on to this for now since our crude oil is still there in commercial quantity,” he said.
The FIIRO boss added that the new packaging device designed to prolong the shelf life of cash and food crops such as cocoa, palm kernel, oranges, mangoes and tomatoes had been sent to the Chemical Research Institute, Zaria, Kaduna State for further test before it would be patented for mass production.
He said, “The device will also be used to package dehydrated products such as smoked grasshoppers and local condiments and food seasoning such as iru and ogiri, which have been found to be much better than synthetic ones like Ajinomoto.
“We will soon start the production of the new packaging device capable of preserving food and cash crops such that the losses the nation has been witnessing in the agricultural sector will be eliminated.”
But FIIRO is not just about bio fuel and packaging device. Olatunji disclosed that the institute had done a lot of work on the upgrading of the status of cassava such that many products including noodles, chips, soy-bean, industrial starch, and bread have been derived from the food crop.
FIIRO, he said, had also developed groundnut sheller, groundnut roaster, local rice destoner, a machine that cleans local rice and other cereal grains such as wheat, cowpea, beniseed and soybean. The machine consists of a feeding screw conveyor, a detoning chamber mounted on a spring cum vibro-assisted frame, a blower, a cyclone and a power transmission system.
“We also have a solar dryer used in the preservation of tomato and chili pepper. This was developed to eliminate losses during peak production periods. Losses of up to 50 per cent are recorded during the harvest season and we feel that something must be done to reduce this. Our solar dryer is capable of generating much higher air temperature and lower relative humidity within the drying chamber.”
He explained that the machine also reduced the drying time by sun-drying method from 72 hours to 12 sunshine hours.
“It also reduces the moisture content of the product from 8.75 per cent to 7.04 per cent,” he said.
But why has the institute been finding it difficult to commercialise its research findings? Olatunji said that the absence of a law on intellectual property and patent was responsible for this.
“Until recently, intellectual property law was alien to the country and consequently scientists and researchers in the country could not patent their work,” he said.
This, he said, informed the decision of FIIRO to organise workshop and seminar where Nigerians were trained on how to use the research products to make money.
But with the nation’s adoption of the intellectual property law, Olatunji, said this trend would change. He, however, advised scientists and researchers in the nation’s research institutes and the university system to embark on relevant researches.
Olatunji identified inadequate funding, dearth of scientists and poaching of researchers from the institutes by universities as some of the challenges militating against the work of scientists and researchers in FIIRO.
“Science is expensive, so we need money and an enabling environment that can engender research practice. There must be constant and uninterrupted power supply and scientists must be exposed to international training but we are being hampered by inadequate fund.”
Olatunji said that for the institute to perform maximally in the next five years, it would need at least N6.5bn. “It is not until recently that we have 150 scientists out of the 500 workers that we have when the national policy says that 70 per cent of the workforce of a research institute should be scientists, researchers and laboratory technologists.
He, however, commended the Federal Government for its renewed drive at repositioning the institute through increased funding.
Similarly, the National President, Academic Staff Union of Research Institutions, Dr. Alasin Maji, said that research institutes across the country could turn around the fortunes of the country. But he regretted that neglect by successive governments had been their albatross.
According to him, this trend has led to a situation where scientists are leaving the research institutes for greener pastures abroad and lately to private universities that are ready to take their welfare seriously.
The union secretary, Deacon Theophilus Ndubaku reechoed this, but added that in spite of the challenges; the over 66 research institutes in the country had contributed immensely to the overall development of the country.
“We can do better with increased funding and better condition of service for workers in the research institutes,” Ndubaku added.