Nigeria has what it takes to diversify her economy through earnings from traditional and herbal medicines, Prof. Maurice Iwu, Chairman, Bioreources Development and Conservation Programme (BDCP), has said.
Iwu, the Chairman, Organising Committee of Herbal, Health Food and Natural Expo (HERBFEST) 2015, made the assertion when he briefed newsmen on the event on Thursday.
The Expo with the theme “Food as a Medicine: Utilisation and Sustainable Exploitation of African Medicinal Plants and Natural Products’’, will hold in Abuja from October 6 to 8.
“Now, with the lowered income from petroleum and the need to diversify our economy, we need an Expo like this to showcase the abundance of resources deposited in Nigeria but remained untapped.
“Nigeria is so endowed that we should be able to compete with other countries in adding to our income stream things that come out from herbal products.
“Herbal medicine is an area where many countries are looking at, yet we have not looked into this area to any significant level.
“We know what happens in China, a lot of people in this country buy products from them and also India where people buy a lot of food supplements,’’ Iwu, former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), said.
He said that with the abundance of research centres, institutions like Federal Institute for Industrial Research, Oshodi (FIIRO), 40 universities working day and night and good agricultural policies, Nigeria could diversify.
“What we need is a ribbon to tie all these institutions together, which is the major purpose of HERBFEST.
“This event will help indigenous manufacturers to interface with foreign businessmen and see how they can do their businesses together.
“As we speak, there are over 48 commercial plants from Nigeria and 30 of these plants are food plants.
“We are hoping that one day, herbal medicine practitioners will be able to look at the global trend and key into scientific traditional trend.
“We are convinced that traditional medicine is the key into the future of Nigerian health system,’’ Iwu said.
On the viability and commercial gains in herbal medicine, he said it was a gold mine in other countries and Nigeria needed to tap into it.
“Last month, the U.S. reported that the growth in herbal dietary supplement, herbal medicine and functional food is $200 million with growth rate of 8 per cent.
“We have a lot of these functional foods like cashew nuts, even cocoa is an antioxidant proven to fight cardiovascular diseases, we also have dogonyaro.
“What we lack mainly in Nigeria is awareness of the abundance of these herbs; even today, many don’t know the efficacy of bitter leaf which is good for fighting diabetes, while some know.
“We depend too much on consumption of foreign products, especially herbal foods in spite of the fact that government has well laid out policy encouraging herbal practise and production.
“It is dangerous to eat food that is not processed in Nigeria because there is no way they can bring it in even from closest neighbouring state without putting chemicals into it.’’
He noted that eating imported chicken was suicidal because it was preserved with dangerous chemicals harmful to the body.
“Most of these foods imported to Nigeria are preserved with chemicals which increases the risk of cancer. When you mix chemicals together to form a product for consumption, it leads to ill health.
“We should stop these abuses of package foods,’’ Iwu warned.
Contributing, Dr Gloria Elemo, Director-General of FIIRO, said that commercialisation of herbal products had been simplified by the institute through researches it embarked upon.
“FIRRO prides itself as home of indigenous technologies in that we have successfully worked on most of the agro-commodities available in Nigeria.
“Our role as an institution has been to use our expertise in research and development to add value to these practices and to transfer technology to impact on the economy.
Also, the Director-General, Nigeria Natural Medicine Development Agency, Mr Etatuvie Oghene, said Nigeria was advancing in the study of herbal research.
“Nigeria is now advancing in herbal medicine research; presently the College of Medicine, University of Ibadan, now has traditional medicine in its curriculum. What we need is awareness,’’ he said.