Shea butter, also known as Vitellaria paradoxa among scientists, is a fruit tree of economic importance. However, the mass propagation of this species has been difficult owing to its slow pace of growth. Through nodal culture technique employed by staff of the Biotechnology Section of the Forestry Research Institute of Nigeria (FRIN), germination has been achieved between three to four weeks using plant growth regulators.
The Executive Director of FRIN, Dr Adeshola Adepoju, added that “In terms of reforestation and afforestation, we have been able to solve a major problem that farmers are facing in the area of not wanting to wait 10, 20, or 30 years’ time for a tree to mature. We have been able to come up with the vegetative propagation of some indigenous tree species that can come to full maturity in terms of fruiting or gestation in the seventh year at maximum.
“One of them is shea butter tree. People use the wood for charcoal and making items like mortar and pestle. Now we have come up with a species that is friendlier on the environment which you cannot cut down to do anything, but at the end of the seventh year it is fruiting and the shea butter product can be used for making body cream, skin treatment and the like.”
Nigeria is said to have the largest shea nut belt in the world and is recognised as the world leading producer of shea nut. According to the Raw Materials Research and Development Council, the documented annual production is between 330,000 to 350,000 metric tonnes (MT), while the potential production is estimated at 750,000MT from the shea nut growing areas of the country.
According to the Book of Proceedings of the National Association of Agricultural Economists, 19th Annual Conference, Afaka, Kaduna, by FRIN experts, Dr Oladapo Akinyemi et al, titled, “Shea Butter Investment for Economy Recovery and Sustainable Development in Nigeria,” the shea butter industry has both economic recovery and sustainable development potentials.
“Nigeria has an estimated gross shea value worth of $320 million.
“The tree has the potential of enhancing sustainable crop production through its incorporation in the agroforestry system.
“However, Nigeria has not fully exploited the economic potentials of the species and product following the dominance of the industry by small scale operators who collect from the wild and process using crude equipment.
“Investment in the industry along the value chain would enhance plantation establishment that is capable of raising shea nuts production, improve processing technique that is capable of raising product quality and address market access that is capable of raising operators’ income.”
The experts advised the Federal Government and its agencies to map out an investment drive for the industry along the value chain towards enhancing economy recovery and sustainable development through employment creation, income improvement, poverty reduction, food security as well as eco-friendly agricultural practices by including Vitellaria species in Nigeria’s farming systems.
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