[Featured Photo: Sawdust waste generated by the sawmills used for the production of Briquettes. photo: undp nigeria]
By Akinyele Aluko, Akure, Ondo State
According to Trading Economics, imports to Nigeria surged 48% year-on-year to N943.6bn in December 2018, mainly driven by purchases of manufactured goods that took the chunk of 88.3% and raw materials, a meagre 12.5%. The implication of the minute 12.5% in raw materials import is that Nigeria is extremely poor in value addition, meaning that as a nation, we are lacking in simple and complex industries that helped in the transformation of other economies. An example is the huge importation of our cocoa beans by the USA and the UK; no matter how the huge import bills may be, those countries are the richer for it because what they have imported is for value addition.
This scenario of unbridled import of finished products was aptly captured by the many super stores daily springing up in urban centres in Nigeria. A walk through these stores will make the patriotic citizen heave a forlorn sigh and wonder if the nation will ever be free from the imports of the biggest technologies like airplanes and ships to the import of minute technologies like matches and toothpicks. I was in such a mood when in a store in remote Akure, I saw imported sawdust on the shelf. I felt shocked to the marrows and dragged my colleague who was shopping with me to come and see what I saw. Sawdust! He exclaimed. I went back the following day to buy a pack for N1,299. It was to show to unbelieving Nigerians and lift it up to God to plead, “Save your people O! Lord.” That is if God in His benevolence interferes in such pedestrian matters. It is bad enough that Nigeria imports common banana and other exotic fruits into the country, but sawdust?
What was the selling point of this imported sawdust from France? The details on the pack claimed that the sawdust was made from old wine barrels and as such when it is used to roast meats, the aroma of the wine that the barrels had soaked over the years of using it for storage will flavour the meat. In simple terms what the French had done for us was a very simple “waste to wealth”; old wine barrels that would have been stacked somewhere until they decompose or taken to French rural areas to be used for winter fire were carefully converted into sawdust, neatly packaged and shipped to Nigeria and maybe other countries that have the “taste” for “luxury” and “class”.
Sawdust seems to be a recurring encounter for me. Some years back, as an employee of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce & Industry, we hosted a business delegation from South Africa. One of them had told me, “Akin I saw on the long Bridge, how your country is burning money.” I had wondered if they came through the Niger Delta and my answer was “O! our gas flaring”, not knowing that he was talking about what he saw in Oko Baba, that strip on the Lagoon around Ebute-Ero when one is going to the Island through the Third Mainland Bridge where the bulk of saw-milling in Lagos takes place. What he saw was sawdust being burnt into ashes as a way of disposing the easily accumulated dust. He had told me that all we needed was a machine that could convert the sawdust into briquettes, and we have in our hands simple export commodities. The big question till today is, where is the technology and where are the entrepreneurs to make it happen? We all probably want to export crude oil. Where is the government’s will to boost Nigeria’s export at all costs? Those that have the money to import briquette-making machines would rather import state of the art fuel dispensing machines, build mega petrol filling stations to log into the dying but still lucrative petro-chemical industry in Nigeria. No wonder the landscape is filled up with fuel filling stations, where some, out of extreme poverty come to dispense N100 gasoline just to power their “I better pass my neighbour” generator to charge their phones and have a one-hour feel of civilisation.
We have waited for too long to take our place in the league of industrially competitive nations. I hope we will not get lost on the way, the way we are going about it. The rich and the mighty rejoice at the importation of exotic items for homes, offices and personal uses, or how do you explain the trinket and ornament catches of a former minister recently displayed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission? The middle class and the poor rejoice at the importation of second-hand goods which have dovetailed into used socks, boxers for men and intimate wear for ladies. (▪This material was first published in The Punch online edition: www.punchng.com)
But it is all not bad news, going by a previously published material by UNDP in Nigeria.
The good news goes thus:
In the year 2002, Madam Caroline Adogame, a retired nurse, visited Lagos, Nigeria’s economic capital, to see her son Leslie Adogame, who was working in the big city (for a national environmental conservation organization). Mrs. Adogame had travelled all the way to Lagos from her remote village several hundred kilometers away in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. On the way back from her son’s office in the Lagos Island one morning, Madam Adogame noticed a burning “mountain of refuse” beside the highway, which filled the whole area with foul-smelling smoke.
▪200 jobs have been created among the local communities through the sawdust waste-to-wealth project
▪8,000 jobs estimated to be created within 5 years of the operation of the project
▪92% reduction in the amount of sawdust incinerated envisaged in five years, leading to significant reduction in environmental pollution
▪UNDP GEF-Small Grants Programme has awarded a total sum of $1,425,625 to 52 grantees for small projects in poor communities in Nigeria within three years.
Leslie explained to his mother that the burning “mountain of refuse” was sawdust generated by the sawmills of timber factories – whose owners simply set the sawdust on fire for want of a better way to dispose of the waste. And they had been doing this for over 30 years. The gentle old lady was surprised to see such a disturbing sight in the big city of Lagos.
She turned to her son: “You told me that you work in a big organization which tries to make our country and our cities cleaner and better. And they are burning waste right there, near your office. Why can’t you and your people do something about it?” Leslie was taken aback by the firm reproach of his mother, a prim and proper lady who always wanted every household chore done in the right manner and every pot and pan put in its right place, since he was a child.
“That challenge by my mother changed my life. After brooding over it for a while, I decided that I had to do something to stop the burning of sawdust not just in Lagos metropolis alone but possibly in the whole of Nigeria,” said Leslie.
He conducted some research, did a feasibility study and conceived the idea of a pilot project which would support Lagos sawmill workers to reduce pollution and health problems arising from sawdust combustion by building local capacity to utilize sawdust for making briquettes, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions while enhancing the quality of life and public health. But he did not know where or how to start. And he had no money or any tangible material resources with which to embark on this project.
The Global Environmental Facility-Small Grants Programme (GEF-SGP), implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), came promptly to his aid after he submitted a proposal and an application for a grant.
With the support of GEF-SGP, his organization, the Sustainable Research and Action for Environmental Development (SRADev Nigeria) implemented a 12-month pilot project in 2010 on Okobaba sawdust waste-to-wealth, training and supporting the workers in the conversion of sawdust to briquettes as a cheap but efficient alternative to fuel-wood.
This pioneer community based eco-business project is the first of its kind in Nigeria.The community members use simple, locally fabricated machines to produce the briquettes, which they offer for sale to both domestic and commercial users. The briquettes are used for cooking in domestic woodstoves; by bakeries and other similar businesses as an efficient and cheap alternative to fuel-wood.
The sawdust can also be used in making decorative items like flower vases, arts and craft products, particle boards, etc.
Indeed, this radical project has provided a practical solution to the environmental problems and health hazards of sawdust incineration among the poor people living close to the Okobaba sawmill in Lagos, Nigeria. The project is being expanded to cover more states in Nigeria.
So far, about 200 jobs have been created among the local communities through the sawdust waste-to-wealth project. It is envisaged that about 8,000 jobs will be created within five (5) years of the operation of the project in Nigeria, with 92% reduction in the amount of sawdust incinerated – leading to a significant reduction in environmental pollution and an equally significant improvement in the health and wellbeing of the vulnerable people living in the areas of the major sawmill operations in Nigeria.
To crown his efforts, Leslie was chosen in March 2012 as one of the global winners of the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) 2011 SEED Awards. The annual international SEED Awards recognise inspiring social and environmental entrepreneurs whose grassroots businesses in developing countries can help to meet sustainable development challenges.
“I feel very sad that my mother did not live to see the realization of this project, which came from her challenge to me on the street of Lagos. But I know that, in her grave, she would be very happy with what I am doing today in Nigeria to help to make the environment cleaner and healthier, with the support of the UNDP and the GEF-SGP”, says Leslie Adogame, on his return from Durban, South Africa, where he was honoured as one of the global winners of the 2011 SEED Awards.
GEF-Small Grants Programme implemented by UNDP has awarded a total sum of $3,630,000 to 98 grantees for 113 projects in poor communities in Nigeria within 4.5 years.7