‘Application of science in raw materials processing critical to national devt’

HUSSAINIDr. Hussaini D. Ibrahim is the fifth Director-General of the Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC). A textile engineer by profession, Hussiani spoke to EMEKA ANUFORO about a new effort to apply science and technology to the processing of raw materials in the country. Excerpts: 

YOU once announced plans to kick off the implementation of your new strategic plan. How far have you gone with that dream?

AS you are aware, the present strategic plan, which of course is the second in the series, is to run for the next four years. The implementation of the strategic plan is almost a year old and I make bold to say that we have gone very far in its implementation and it is so far so good. 

  Let me give you a brief run-down of what we have done to appreciate how far we have gone. In the first place, we have filled in the gaps that were created in the organogram by creating two additional departments, information and communication services and investment and consultancy departments. The departments are fully on ground and very operative with their full compliments of Divisions.

   Training and retraining of staff was initiated within the year and it’s heartening to note that a lot has been done in this respect. Majority of the staff have undergone more than three sessions of in-house training andof course, short courses in some specialized institutions across the country to make them more productive and better prepared to drive the strategic plan. Retreats on the strategic plan implementation for all cadres of staff have been completed.

   We are well on course on our deletion program otherwise known as the import substitution strategy time frame. Between now and 2017 when this strategic plan will end, we are expected to prepare necessary roadmaps, for deletion of between (20%-100%) of about 20 industrial raw materials on the import list. 

  We are preparing policy briefs on at least 64 raw materials and hold stakeholders meetings with the manufacturing sectors basically towards achieving these objectives. So far, we have prepared 20 policy briefs in just one year. It is not only that. We have subjected them to independent assessors to make them balanced and comprehensive.

   It is also gladdening that at this speed, the 64 policy briefs may be completed by the middle of 2016, God willing.

   The Council as a member of the technical tariff board committee is also studying tariff regime in order to give the board more ideas and strategies to protect our local industries against importation. Just recently we pruned about 85 projects and programmes to 33 after a serious scrutiny by the management in order to save cost. The beauty of it all is that all the surviving projects/programmes will now be driven to their logical conclusions. We are adopting multi-disciplinary approach to project execution and this approach is already yielding fruits.

   We have also realized that in order to boost the local production of agricultural raw materials as imports substitutes for our local industries, we need to make available to farmers high-breed seedlings. To this end, we are re-invigorating our boosting program, which shall cut across all our agricultural products from legumes to vegetables and cereals.

How are you collaborating with stakeholders in utilizing modern technologies for raw materials research and development? 

  The Council has over years generated a formidable data bank on raw materials availability, development and processing technologies has made it possible for it to attract both national and international collaborators in local raw materials development geared towards exchange of information, sustainability of our industries and above all, job creation. Our collaborative activities can be grouped to two, national and international.

   At the national level, we have been collaborating with commodity and professional associations, like Miners and Growers association, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) Chambers of Commerce and Industries, NASSI, NASME and of course, inter-governmental collaborations with relevant government institutions cutting across board. 

  Of particular interest is my inauguration of inter-agency committee on standard development for raw materials. It has among others SMEDAN, SON, MAN as members and its mandate is to create standard for development of primary and secondary raw materials for industrial use.

   At the international level of collaboration, we are trying to review and strengthen our engagements with international multilateral agencies such as UNDP, UNIDO and FAO including the projects that have their secretariat located with us in RMRDC. Only recently, we signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the ALVAN BLANCH based in United Kingdom on the adoption of Council’s Flash Dryer Technology for production of cassava flour with less than 12% moisture content. This, I believe, will further encourage the Federal Government Policy on production of cassava bread for Nigerian people.

   In order to meet the glucose syrup requirement of the Country using the sweet sorghum and provision of one stop-shop for raw materials standard/quality testing facilities, we have signed a Memorandum of

Understanding (MoU) with Sangliang Technology Development Centre (STDC) and China Certification and Inspection Group (CCIC) based in Beijing, China respectively. We have also signed a MoU with Zheijiang Science and Technology Exchange Centre also based in China for raw materials development and technology transfer.

The northern part of the country was in the years past known for cotton production and fed the fledging textile industry them. What could be done to revive that critical raw material?

  The textile industries are not restricted to the North alone, but they cut across the entire country. Historically and to be specific, in the 80’s, cotton contributed immensely to the country’s GDP and like you rightly said, there is a reduction in cotton and textile production in Nigeria in recent years. For this reason the Federal Government intervened by providing N100 billion to boost cotton and textile production. 

  On our part, we have evaluated the cotton value chain in Nigeria and analysed the challenges associated with different aspects of the value chain from cotton production, marketing to textile production so as to provide sustainable solutions to the problems you highlighted as they affect the cotton industry. To this end, we collaborated with the Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR) in Zaria, in promoting longstaple cotton production in Nigeria. 

  This effort was successful and farm trials were carried out in the South-western part of the country where the climate is favourable for its production. Also, the recent MoU we signed with ZTEC shall go a long way in introducing some mini-textile producing machines to our investors so that textile production will be greatly promoted.

   You will also recall that we have an agreement with Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC) on products development for export through EPG and AGOA. We shall also try to make this possible for cotton and textile industries in Nigeria. Our main aim is to bring back the glory of the textile industries as second to government in employment and GDP contribution to the economy.

Beyond the Dangotes and other big players in the cement industry, are there smaller technologies that small entrepreneurs could adopt to go into cement production?

  We are encouraging the establishment of mini-cement factories across the country by way of organising several investors’ fora to catalyse our entrepreneurs to buy into this idea.

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