By Jimoh Babatunde
Coconut is the main cash crop of Lagos State as the state has a comparative advantage for its production, processing and utilization. As such, Coconut was thereby excised from other tree crops in the State to give it more attention among other things. Lagos State Coconut Development Authority, LASCODA, is the body charged with the development of the crop, in this interview with Jimoh Babatunde, the General Manager of the agency, Olakulehin Oladapo, talks on the economic and environmental importance of the crop as well as what they have done to increase production in the state. Excerpts.
On coconut Production in Lagos State
The Coconut belt and groove of Lagos State is about 180km², that is from Seme to Ibeju Lekki, but let us assume that the various jetties, the ports, and all other infrastructure along the waterfront have taken over about 55km2, so we still have about 135km2 that by law and nature are supposed to be occupied by coconut.
I said by law because you are supposed to observe one kilometre set back from the ocean when developing and that setback is occupied by coconut trees. Already by nature, the only crop that can withstand the vagaries of the ocean is coconut. God has made it so as no other plant can survive along the beach.
By the time LACODA was established, the belt was already shrinking as the one kilometre set back was fast reducing due to none replacement of old trees.
So, one of the major reasons the agency was set up was to rehabilitate that coconut belt.
Apart from rehabilitation, in Lagos state we have close to 200 islands, these islands form part of the coconut belt and the only thing you get from these islands are vegetation made up of coconut.
Now having coconuts on those islands, we also realized they were aged and no conscious replacement by the farmers.
So, we were established to rehabilitate old grooves, both along the coastline and on the islands.
The assumption is that if we can revive the production along the coastline and the islands, we are going to support the lively hoods of people.
Between then and now, a lot of efforts have been made to rehabilitate the belts, when I am talking of the belts, I want us to have in mind that it includes the coastline, which we have reduced to 135 km due to infrastructural development and the islands.
Over the years, we have been rehabilitating the old crops with the active engagement of the farmers and communities by supporting them to replace the old plants.
But thankfully, three years ago, we changed the narratives to the extent that we now have close to two million trees in Lagos state both on the coastline and the islands with evidence.
On how they achieved that
Under the leadership of Governor Babjide Sanwo-Olu we changed our engagement with the communities as we started sensitization on the environmental impact and the economic benefit of coconut trees.
So we encourage those living along the coastline and the islands to see beyond the immediate that because their forefathers planted the trees is why they are enjoying today and if they don’t plant new trees, they might not have the beaches they have now in 100 years.
We made them know too that apart from the economic value planting coconut trees hold for them that they stand to protect their environment as the collapse of that belt is affecting people not even living close to the coastline, because it has exposed the land to the vagaries of oceans.
We started working with the local governments, before 2018 we were working with the farmers directly, but now we engaged the local governments which we believe are closer to the farmers and communities.
Like this year alone, Mr. Governor approved for us the production of close to 200,000 coconut seedlings and we distributed them to farmers through local government across the coastline areas and even other local governments. But what we gave to the coastlines were more than others.
We didn’t stop on the distribution, we ensured monitoring. Last week we were in Badagry for monitoring. Through sensitisation, people are now consciously cultivating coconut, unlike before and the figure is increasing.
But because it has a long gestation period before we can start seeing the effect of what we are doing it will take the next three years.
Let me add that between 2018 and now some of the government allottees started planting coconuts on their land instead of other crops. So beyond coastlines and islands, we now have people establishing coconut plantation in the state.
That is why we are encouraging the planting of coconut trees in government and private premises.
We are also coming up with the Green Atlantic Wall. It is an initiative of Mr Governor. It will take off in 2021. We want to rebuild the wall we have in the 60s on the coastal lines, with that we are going to save Lagos land. And that will have a maximum positive impact on the environment. We are talking to international NGOs.
On what Lagos State is producing?
Based on 2019 report, the report of 2020 is not ready, we are producing 250,000 metric tonnes of coconuts, the total production of Nigeria is about 300,000 metric tonnes plus. The figure will surely increase with what we are doing in Lagos state now.
But the processing needs of Nigeria is now about a million metric tonnes if not more because we now have a lot of small scales coconut processors and that brings me to how do we get what we need to match up the 60% deficit for processed coconuts.
So the 60% left comes from other West African countries that bring their coconuts here, I don’t have anything against it. The reason I don’t have anything against it is that if we can export our cocoa to other countries like Belgium and Holland, where they use it to create employment for their people by adding values to it and then export back the chocolate to us.
If we want to be the Holland of Africa for Coconut, then let them bring their raw materials to us and we can create more employment along the value chain by processing.
That was why when the border was closed, Lagos State government made concerted efforts to the highest level that we need to allow coconuts from other West African countries come into the state has become the hub of the coconut value chain in the whole region.
If we have developed our coconut industry to the extent that people bring raw materials from the west coast to process here, it will add value to our economy.
I don’t see anything wrong with it. We had a running battle with the Custom Service when the border was closed as we told them that coconut is a raw material and not finished products and when you bring it in, we add value to it here and in doing that empower our people.
Lots of our processors lost money during the border closure. I am talking of millions of naira because what we are producing locally could not just meet up with what they need to process.
We are not saying border closure is bad, but we are saying for the processing need of our people that we need an extra 60%, there should always be a window for that to come into the country.
Because during that boarder closure, a lot of our processors laid off lots of their staff, because the number of raw materials needed to produce at optimal level was not there.
On processing need of coconut
The local production of coconuts in Lagos state now can only meet 40% of the processing needs of the state, but the raw material is not enough, so we are not meeting the local needs for the processors.
Apart from local consumption needs, there is even pressure for the non-edible aspect of coconut.
Briquettes made from coconut shells and husks are examples of charcoals made from coconut, which ordinarily can be used for anything you can use wood charcoal for.
Environmentalists prefer this to wood charcoal, ordinarily the shell is a waste but if you can convert to charcoal, it can be used as a source of energy for cooking and reduce deforestation. These are the type of things we are talking about. Everyone is now in the business of processing coconuts and consuming coconuts.
We have done a lot in the development of the processing of coconuts in the state. We do a lot of empowerment to support people in coconut processing. In 2019 we gave 12 small-scale processors equipment worth N2m each.
Also, we train youths on processing. So with raw materials readily available, the processing of products will be steady.
When you are talking of processing of coconut, it is the more you can deploy technology, the more you get products. Just like crude oil. For example, you can get up to 200 products from a coconut tree., but it depends on how you can deploy the technology.
Part of the initiative of Governor Sanwo-Olu is that come 2021 we will establish a Coconut Factory for non-edible. It is in our budget already. The factory will be established under PPP in Badagry.
The factory will be at the scale of providing direct employment to over 1000 people, both skilled and unskilled. And also about 5000 indirect employment.
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