2020 was a year that witnessed a lull in activities occasioned by the lockdown due to COVID-19 pandemic. However, despite last year’s challenges, the Director-General of Federal Research Institute of Nigeria (FRIN), Professor Shola Adepoju revealed that 2020 was a year that FRIN developed new products and made progress in fulfilling its mandate in Nigeria’s environment sector. He also spoke on the outlook for 2021 in this interview with PAUL OMOROGBE.
How would you rate the performance of your organisation in 2020 amidst the pandemic?
It is always difficult to rate oneself except one wants to be egocentric. But I think those who have been overseeing me have been full of commendation that in spite of the pandemic and challenges that were associated with 2020, we were still able to make our mark in some areas. But I like looking into the areas I have not done too well or where there are challenges, in order to look into those challenges and see how we can be better. That’s what I have been discussing with some of our professors to overhaul all we did last year.
But having said all of that, I think it was a remarkable year for us. We were able to make some landmark achievements:
We were able to add three main biosphere reserves to the one that has been there since 1970/71 or thereabout. In one year, we had three added to the one that has been there for almost 50 years. We are not resting on that. We are still working on others because we know that the country is quite rich in biodiversity and resources – we want to see as much as we can put on the world map while we are here.
New product development
This was the same year when the covid-19 issue began. We came back to the drawing board to challenge ourselves being the host to bioresources and we know God has created everything to solve all things. So we went back to the drawing board and we went to add some major breakthrough: beyond having the Covitone (covid-19 herbal treatment) approved by NAFDAC, and is being produced now. We have this satisfaction that even if it is not quantified or enumerated, but we are convinced that we have saved lives. This is the reason government creates one agency or the other: to intervene in one challenge/issue or the other.
We were more than excited that our hand sanitiser which is herbal based was not only accepted but became the trademark of the PTF (Presidential Taskforce on Covid-19). And some other states were still asking for it. We could not even at a time meet the demand, talk less of Covitone that is like a household name in the country! We keep getting commendation from highly placed people that beyond what they thought, there are other ailments in the system that this remedy has been able to attend to.
In fact a lady shared her testimony that since she started her menstruation, when her period is coming she is terrified that the pain will come again. She thought she was only taking a Covid-19 remedy, but since she started taking Covitone, she has not passed through any crisis again. These are what give us joy.
More important is that we have put government’s resources to use and the salary government is paying to staff is now being seen to be making impact. Nothing can be more satisfying than that!
Looking beyond successes
What we are more concerned about is to look at those areas where we are not making our mark yet. We don’t waste time celebrating breakthroughs; we are looking at other areas because this is system charged with the responsibility of conducting research into flora and fauna – that is limitless! What we can do is limitless. If we are able to achieve five things in a year, and we go to sleep as we keep celebrating those five, what about the other things we have not been able to do?
Support for other government agencies
The job I am given is to make sure that every year, we support all other agencies of government that also have mandate in the area of planting like Great Green Wall, Federal Department of Forestry, Desert Amelioration Department and some others that also have a role to play alongside with us.
To make sure that everybody is busy, and that the statement made by the President on September 23, 2018 in New York is not allowed to just go away, we have been given marching orders by our minister. He is not sleeping; he is giving us all the necessary support that is required to make sure that we succeed. And most times, he hosts the meetings where come to brief him and update him as to how we are faring, what are the challenges, what does he need to do and so on!
So if you have your boss, the honourable minister (of environment) on his feet pursuing the mandate/directive that has been given to him, what can you do than to be grateful to God that your agency is relevant to play a role, to run with it and to make sure that you are not only achieving what you have been asked to do, but you surpass it to impress it on the international scene that there is nothing you cannot do.
The 25 million trees target
Last year, we were not able to meet the 25 million trees target but we were able to meet 24.5 million. We raised 24.5 million seedlings – not FRIN alone! FRIN raised between 13 and 14 million. Great Green Wall raised about seven million. Nigeria Conservation Foundation raised about three million. Federal Department of Forestry raised about a million. So, when you add all of these, it is over 24 million seedlings raised last year.
That does not mean when you plant 24.5 million seedlings that all will survive. We have those that will die back. So we have to do what is called ‘beating up.’ We have said that this year, we will do the beating up of last year while we are planting more and see how we can learn around the curve of where we made mistakes last year, and what we can do better.
For example, most seedlings were raised in the Southwest and Southeast last year, and we had to be transporting them up north. But we have looked at the matrix and seen how much we used in the North last year. We have seven colleges spread across the country, and 17 outstations spread across the six geopolitical zones. We know the area of the planting and this year we will ensure that each species is grown closer to the point of planting. This will reduce cost of movement and to reduce the stress and shock on the seedling, before it gets to the site. So these are all the lessons learnt from last year.
We want to improve. So even if the success rate of last year was 60 per cent, that tells you that in 2021 should get 80 to 90 per cent. These are things we are working on.
What more to expect in 2021
We have the directive of the honourable minister on several issues, and the board is also on us to do what is expected of us. Apart from raising the 25 million seedlings per annum which is the minimum now based on our target, we also have the mandate of working more on a lot of indigenous species. Farmers believe they would not want to do away with their annual cropping, except they get indigenous species that can be mature early enough so they can overcome the saying of those days that those who plant trees don’t live to benefit from it. We have already worked on about seven to 10, and we have shortened their gestation period. So we are expanding to other geopolitical zones.
We are going to do a comprehensive soil experiment across the country. Because the soil in Ibadan is not the soil in Oke-Ogun, so if I am planting a particular species in Ibadan at 2 by 2 and at a particular depth, and it is doing well, that does not guaranteed it doing well in Oke-Ogun or somewhere else with the same specification. You have to vary it from place to place. It is going to be a comprehensive and multi-disciplinary. Apart from us having the old soil characterisation of the country – remember that things evolve – we want to ascertain if the soil characterisation we had years ago is still the same in terms of morphology and physiological support. If not, what are the new developments, what will be the implications on the various indigenous tree species and what should be our advice to those who are in the business of doing that.
More new products?
Also, we are looking at the number of herbal products we have come about. We are also seeing how we can partner with the medicals to look at the prevailing health challenges of the country and see the one herbal can attend to.
In a nutshell, these are our focus this year and to move from here to every community to make sure that whatever breakthrough we have does not remain here, but gets to people that will use it and get good output from it. This is why government created us and this is what we must do.
Covid-19 is real. The Covitone that FRIN has produced to manage the symptoms is working. The testimonies we have received from it are quite overwhelming and encouraging. We are not resting. We are working on others. We are working on a steaming tablet now because we realise that a lot of people are steaming, and they just cut all kinds of plants and leaves not knowing the proportion to add but we are working on having a tablet that you can just drop in a steaming water and we are sure of the proportion of what we have combined that will not be injurious to your health. We are perfecting it and once we relate with NAFDAC, and they certify, it will be in the market. We are simply looking at why we were created and what role we can play in society and communities to justify our creation; we want to make our own impact in the conservation of Nigeria’s biodiversity resources.
Man and Biosphere
Nigeria is hosting the world come June 2021, all things being equal. We are still watching events unfolding, as regards to covid-19. Africa is still the best location now that is not on lockdown. We condole with developed world and those facing high mortality. We stand with them. But having said that, we say Africa is lucky because it is not as bad as the rest of the world. As it stands, Nigeria is still the proposed host for the upcoming MAB-ICC (International Co-ordinating Council of the Man and the Biosphere programme) meeting in June. The date has not changed.
Coincidentally, this is the 50th year of Man and Biosphere though that will be celebrated in the headquarters in Paris. Preparations and activities are lined up. Africa wants to celebrate the 50th year of man and biosphere also. That’s the international programme ahead of us.
But as I said earlier on, we are looking at where we can add to the four biospheres we have now. We don’t want to rest on that. We want to see more added to the four already certified by MAB ICC and we will see where we go from there.
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