Mr Sani Bello, owner of Neem Agro Nigeria Limited, has been working on neem for more than 15 years. An electrical engineer by training, Bello in this interview, shares with us the benefits and prospects of neem production.
Tell us briefly what you do at Neem Agro Nigeria Limited?
I was able to formulate a lot of things from neem though, initially I was just expelling the seeds to get oil and cake. But after the success in extraction, I decided to add value to oil to get bio pesticides and some cosmetics like neem herbal soap. Then from the cake I was able to formulate organo-mineral fertiliser post-harvest storage powder for storing grains against pest attacks.
Are you an agrarian by training or you picked interest at a later stage?
I picked interest, my training was electrical engineering
So how did the interest on neem come about?
I’m an entrepreneur by interest so I bought my first machine with the intention of extracting groundnut oil and suddenly in 2003, we were invited to the National Research Institute for Chemical Technology (NARICT) in Zaria for a workshop on neem processing and from there I converted my machine to neem oil extraction.
This even attracted me an award, local content award by Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC).
What is the capacity of production of your company presently?
Actually, we are still at the lower scale because, you know neem processing is a new field in Nigeria and we don’t have the capacity to propagate it and market it the way we should but we are trying our best. Neem oil is going everywhere now and even the pesticide, small scale farmers are using it.
There are a lot of neem pesticides, and there are a lot of ways to use it. Most people don’t even know how to use neem pesticide and the formulation. If you formulate neem pesticide and keep it on the shelf, it loses value after some time, so what we do is that we give you a kit consisting of neem oil and emulsifier to use on the farm. You prepare it on your farm and spray within eight hours of preparation or even less.
But the timing of spraying matters a lot. I work with a research institute, NARICT, and there, we are working in collaboration. And I remember some time in 2015 when the issue of Tuta absoluta first surfaced in Nigeria, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) sponsored some people to India and learn how to do bio-pesticides from neem. But by that time I’ve already done my research because I also worked with some Indian companies. I still work with the first Indian that introduced neem business in Nigeria.
When the Tuta absoluta pest first struck, I had started discussing with Dangote Tomato in Kano, I called the MD and discussed with him but he hasn’t reached back to me. Additionally, I even discussed with the Minister of Science and Technology regarding this issue.
I also wrote an introduction letter to the Kaduna state Government but before then they had sent some people to Kenya to learn how to tackle the same problem from a consultant. When they came back, the same consultant called me, collected my samples and went for a meeting with the Kaduna State Government and I’ve not heard anything from them.
I personally discussed with the past Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry, Kabir Mato, who is now the Commissioner of Local Government Affairs in Kaduna State and nothing came up.
How effective is the neem bio-pesticide against ‘Tuta absoluta’ disease?
It is very effective, it has been proven beyond reasonable doubt. The Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR), Zaria has carried out that research; though they didn’t use neem oil but neem cake and other neem extracts. But in India, it has been in use for over 20 years. It has been proven to be very effective against ‘Tuta absoluta’, American worm and so many things.
The most critical thing that people don’t put into consideration is the time of use, because it is not like chemical pesticide. Neem on its own is ultra violet sensitive, so if you use it when there is sun rays it would not work for you.
When is the best time for application of the bio-pesticide?
The best time to use it is before sunrise and after sunset. And the concentration is, if you’re using one litre of water, between 10ml and 15ml of neem oil in addition to 10ml of emulsifier and you spray all over the plants.
There are a lot of active ingredients in neem, but the major one is Azadirachtin, the smell of the neem also repels pests. In neem there are a lot of properties that expel pests.
Could you shed more light on the usage of neem storage powder?
For every 100kg bag of cowpea, 250g of the powder should be divided into three parts; one part should be sprinkled at the bottom, another part in the middle and the last part should be sprinkled at the top.
It has been very effective; we have the results that have been analysed by IAR and it took them about a year to analyse as it passed through stages.
How about the organo-mineral fertiliser?
Yes, that is also been used in the country and there are a lot of us doing it, we have an association. It is an organic fertiliser but has advantages like;- it conditions the soil, it repels pests, and improves both the quality of the soil and the grains.
How profitable would you say neem processing is and what are the opportunities in the sector?
There are a lot of prospects and opportunities in this business, the only thing is that government needs to encourage more entrepreneurs otherwise nothing would come out of it.
Right now, we have registration with many agric cooperatives and associations that are ready to work with us, like the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), and we are working to see the Bank of Agriculture (BOA) on how they can slot us in on the Anchor Borrowers Programme.
There are a lot of prospects. Actually you know agric is the new thing in the country right now, so anything agric you are doing will definitely go a long way.
We started with oil extraction and then graduated to formulation of neem soap. So when we do a product, after sometime, we graduate to another product and some products are still in the development stage.
Are youths showing interest in this business and have you been offering training to them?
Last year we attempted to train people on food processing of organically grown foods. We are aware that foods that are grown organically are more expensive and healthier than conventionally produced foods, even outside the country.
We attempted to train people on how to do organic farming using organic methods of revitalising the soil, organic pesticide application and so many things like that unfortunately we couldn’t achieve that for one reason or the other.
The basic challenge we have is in the area of making fertiliser because we need pulveriser, granulators, dryers and mixers to produce standard fertiliser.
I want to appeal to government to patronise us, when we have patronage from government certainly we would grow bigger.