Mr Chukwuemeka Eke has urged the Federal Government to include date palm in its Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA) to ensure food security and combat desertification.
Eke, a researcher with the Nigerian Institute for Oil Palm Research Institute (NIFOR) in an interview in Abuja said that it could earn farmers about N2 million per hectare in a year if included in the ATA.
He said that for a country of over 160 million citizens striving to grow economically and to meet its quest for food sufficiency, more should be done in the area of agriculture.
“Cultivating this excellent crop is profitable and will remove a lot of families from poverty and improve small-scale farmers’ livelihood in Nigeria.
“The crop will provide food and raw materials for domestic use, such as livestock supplements.
He explained that the crop was low in sugar content but was also a good source of vitamins.
According to him, the date tree can feed Nigerians in the remote areas and also provide work for considerable number of people in the rural areas.
Eke said that the date palm tree tolerates relatively harsh climatic and soil conditions under which no other crop could give reasonable returns.
He noted that the date palm “is an irreplaceable tree in irrigable desert lands’’, adding that “the crop plays a big role in stopping desertification and that will give life to desert areas.’’
He observed that the date palm industry was facing challenges in terms of low yield and packaging.
Eke explained that NIFOR was working hard to address these challenges as the institute would soon develop packaging facilities to enable the commercialisation of locally produced date.
According to him, in order to improve the yield, the institute has identified date palm that can mature within two years as against seven to 15 years.
He said that this was done through selection method and propagation by using tissue culture techniques.
Tissue culture is a collection of techniques used to grow plant cells, tissues or organs under sterile conditions on a nutrient culture medium of known composition.
Tissue culture is widely used to produce clones of a plant in a method known as micro propagation and it offers certain advantages over traditional methods of propagation.
It enables the production of exact copies of plants and allows plant to produce early maturing plants.
It also facilitates the production of multiples of plants even in the absence of seeds.
According to health experts, date palm fruits are rich in nutrients, phytochemicals, water and natural sugar.
“The content of fructose and glucose in the date palm is a rich source of energy and amino acids.
“Date palm fruit is low in fat but rich in fiber and prebiotic and phytosterols, which help control cholesterol levels.
“It is rich in selenium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, manganese, and iron that enhances immunity and protects the heart, build bone mass and increase red blood cells.
“It also functions as a fruit detoxifier and it reduces free radicals in the body.
“Other minerals found in dates include carotenoids, polyphenols, anthocyanins, oligomeric proanthocyanidins, tannins, luteolin, quercetin, and apigenin.’’
Eke said that date palm fruits could help overcome digestive disorders, aid bone-building for pregnant women, give them energy during child birth and also prevent bleeding after child birth.
“It also increases sperm quantity, boosts sex drive and fertility as well as containing Vitamins B and C,’’ he said.