By EBELE ORAKPO
Talk of killing three birds with one stone! In his fight against desertification in the northern part of Nigeria which has claimed hundreds of hectares of farmland, leaving hunger, homelessness and poverty in its wake, Dr Newton Jibunoh, an engineer/environmentalist, has not only been successfully combating desert encroachment by planting neem trees, but has been reducing poverty, empowering women and youths economically and improving the educational infrastructure, teaching and learning aids in the communities.
In this chat with Vanguard Learning in Lagos, Dr Jibunoh speaks of the products derived from the neem tree, popularly called Dogon Yaro, best known for its anti-malarial properties.
Said Dr. Newton Jibunoh: “I am being perceived lately as an environmentalist because in the last 40 years, despite my engineering and building practice, I have devoted a good part of my working life to protecting and working for the environment so I accept it when people refer to me as an environmentalist.”
The Neem tree:
“I think the neem tree for me and for so many people, particularly in the north, is one of the most economic trees you can find anywhere because apart from using it to reduce the effects of desertification , we have discovered in the last 10 years that there are so many things that can come out of the tree,” he said.
Neem oil, soap, detergents and paint:
“The neem oil, which is sold all over the world and used by most cosmetic industries, is a byproduct of the neem tree. The neem seed when crushed, produces one of the best cosmetic oils anywhere in the world. There are other byproducts that come out of making the oil and many of them are being used at the moment for making soap.
“In fact, we have a soap-making industry in Makuda, Kano State which we have demonstrated out of crushing neem seeds to get the oil. And then also, detergents for controlling pests. Lately, we have found that a good part of local paints used all over the north for painting mud houses, are also byproducts of the neem tree. You can just go on and on,” he enthused.
Neem bringing back greenery and cottage industries:
“Apart from the fact that it is a tree that helps to Eldabring back greenery, because as you may know, a lot of people who migrate out of the desert-affected areas do so because of losing their grazing fields. When the leaves of the neem tree mature, the trees lose the leaves very easily and when the leaves fall down, after a while, like a couple of weeks, they bring back a lot of nutrients to the soil and it is the nutrients that help to replenish the soil and bring back greenery which is what the people depend on for grazing their animals.
That is why in so many places in the north, apart from using neem to fight desertification (almost 90 per cent of all the projects we have is in fighting desertification), we are developing industries that will bring back some of these things; that will give back employment, bring back development, give education because apart from using the children to help plant and nurture the trees, their mothers are beginning to get involved with using the seeds for their own cottage industries.”
Partnership with government:
“We are in partnership with Kano State Government and we are about to enter into partnership with the Katsina State and Jigawa State governments by allowing their school children to participate with us. We set up tree-planting competition in a lot of schools in the north and what we do is to supply the schools with thousands of neem seedlings and not only do they plant, they compete amongst themselves.
And the schools that plant and nurture the most trees, on every June 5, which is World Environment Day, we stage prize-giving ceremonies in the palace of the Emir of Kano, where the Emir hands out prizes like computers, laptops, etc. to schools that plant the most trees.
Apart from them planting the tree as part of their school work, the parents get involved because these days, parents want to know what their children are involved in. This is why it is easy for us to get the mothers of these children to participate in the cottage industry, making soap, oil, paints and detergents.
When we first started, for us to be able to convince the community, we had to bring mature neem seeds from other places just to prove to them that this is what you can realise. We did a demonstration with the mothers of these school children which was commissioned by the Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero.
Contributing to Nigeria’s economy:
A good percentage of Nigerians live in the rural communities and we encourage them because there is a limit to how much you can allow urbanization. People are moving from the hinterland into urban centres, there is a limit, if not, you will have some serious security problems. So it is still helping the economy if we are able to encourage the local farmers and communities to develop their own industry, to live comfortably well with what they have and what the land can provide for them.