The Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC) on February 10, 2013, clocked 25 years. In this interview with NKECHI ISAAC, the director-general of the council, Professor Peter Onwualu, recounts the journey of the council, the feats it has recorded and the road map to achieving future targets.
RMRDC recently marked its silver jubilee, what is the background of the council and how has it fared so far?
Our story is very simple. The Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC) was established by Decree (Act) 39 of December 17, 1987, with a primary mandate to develop local raw materials and co-ordinate research efforts, especially in relation to raw materials acquisition, exploitation, conservation and development. The council operates under the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology (FMST).
The creation of RMRDC followed the organization of a conference by the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), the then Federal Ministry of Industry and the Nigerian Institute for Social and Economic Research (NISER). The conference with the theme, "The Raw Materials Question" held at the Administrative Staff College of Nigeria (ASCON) in 1983 was organized to address the challenges of Nigeria's raw materials development. One of the major decisions of the conference was the proposal for the creation of the RMRDC.
It was thus established to primarily serve the interests of the private sector by facilitating the local sourcing of raw materials by manufacturers. It also provides information which has enabled government to formulate appropriate policies for local raw materials development and utilization. Since the activities of RMRDC would create jobs and boost the conservation of foreign exchange by reducing the expenditure on raw materials imports, ensure increased productivity, capacity utilization and sustainable industrial growth, it was logical that the source of funds was tied to the surcharge on imports, the bulk of which is paid by the private sector. It was a suggestion to which the manufacturers, which pays the bulk of surcharge on imports, readily agreed, hence the setting up of RMRDC. This is our story.
Since the creation of the council 25 years ago, what has been its major mandate?
Since its inception 25 years ago, RMRDC has consistently pursued a central mandate that is aimed at promoting the exploitation, development and utilization of local raw materials with the objective of accelerating the emergence and growth of research and development of process technology required by resource-based industries in Nigeria. It is therefore little wonder that after 25 years experience in value addition to local raw materials, RMRDC has today emerged as Nigeria's focal point for the development of Nigeria's vast industrial raw materials.
The council operates under specified mandates which include: to draw up policy guidelines and implement action programmes on raw materials acquisition, exploitation and development; to review, from time to time, raw materials resources availability and utilization, with a view to advising the federal government on the strategic implication of depletion, conservation or stockpiling of such resources; to advise on adaptation of machinery and process for raw materials utilization; to encourage publicity of research findings and other information relevant to local sourcing of industries; to advise and devise awards and reward systems for industries that achieve any breakthrough or make innovations and inventions and to organize workshops, symposia and seminars designed to enlighten the public on raw materials development and solutions discovered from time to time.
Others include encouraging the growth of implant research and development capabilities, and to consider and advise on special grants for specific objectives and any other issues capable of enhancing the objectives of the council.
What programmes have you been able to initiate since the inception of the council?
RMRDC commenced operations on February 10, 1988, and currently implements techno-economic surveys of Nigeria's raw materials and technologies; national raw materials information system; local raw materials content development; research and pilot plant development to commercialize R&D results and boosting production of industrial crops
Others include the capacity building in process equipment design and fabrication; dissemination of research results through conferences, seminars, workshops, exhibitions, publications and training of SMEs; promotion of investments in resource-based industries through catalytic model factories and promotion of raw materials processing clusters.
Its first step towards actualization of these programmes was to embark on studies to determine the status of Nigeria's natural resources vis-a-vis occurrence, production, development and utilization. This exercise revealed a lack of awareness on raw materials which the country could produce in commercial quantities. In other words, Nigeria was expending foreign exchange to import raw materials and products which could be sourced from the country.
These reports were then published by the council in paper and electronic forms and distributed among stakeholders. The awareness thus created, stimulated the establishment of many small and medium scale resource-based industries in the country.
A databank known as the National Raw Materials Information System (RMIS) was created to analyze and stock data on Nigeria's raw materials. It was a project assisted by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). This data bank is regularly upgraded and updated. Currently, the data on the raw materials available in all the 774 local government areas have been identified and captured in the databank. This has recently been updated to cover the 9,555 wards in Nigeria.
State governments and private investors have used the data to stimulate the establishment of SMEs in the states. This information is currently available on the council's website and also disseminated through conferences, workshops, trade fairs/exhibitions, etc. The data bank has served as take-off point for many manufacturing investments in Nigeria. In addition, RMRDC has published over 100 technical publications on these. A National Raw Materials Resource Centre, complete with ICT facilities and video displays and documentaries for real-time dissemination of information on Nigeria's raw materials, was commissioned in 2010 in Abuja.
With the enormous natural resources which the council has revealed the nation has, what have you done to enlighten Nigerians of their economic potential?
The council has a firm belief that the development of the nation's natural raw materials and investment in people are both possible and sustainable to ensure that they remain a socio-economic vehicle for sustained national development and growth. Towards this, the council embarked on intensive investment promotion campaigns across the country. In order to give teeth to this exercise, catalytic model factories were established across the country to demonstrate the viability of the projects and convince investors. The model factories were established in collaboration with the private sector and respective state governments.
These projects catalyzed the establishment of similar projects in the catchment areas. Some of these projects were pioneer projects in the country. Examples are: phosphate beneficiation, talc processing, baryte processing, kaolin processing, cocoa and fruit juice processing, bentonite processing, granite cutting and polishing. Pilot plants, which have been established through this include castor seed processing, essential oil processing, chemicals processing, glazier putty processing.
As at 1992, there were only two solid mineral processing companies in Nigeria, namely Kavitex in Jos and F&G in Ikorodu, Lagos. Following the National Investors' Forum by RMRDC in November 1991 in Abuja and subsequent follow-up actions, some indigenous companies came on stream e.g. Purechem commissioning a mini cement plant between 1995 and 1996. By 2006, about 36 solid mineral processing companies sprang up in various states of the federation processing kaolin, calcite, limestone, phosphate, baryte, talc and dolomite. Consequently, most paint industries and other companies like Nigerite, PZ, Lever Brothers, West African Rubber, Doyin Detergents, Dunlop Plc and OM Plastics sourced their Kaolin needs locally.
Presently, over 45 small scale kaolin processing industries have been established in Katsina State, employing over 3,000 workers. Similar factories have been established in Kaduna and Bauchi states. The products of these industries are used by fertilizer, plastics and paint manufacturing industries.
In the area of phosphate beneficiation, over eight phosphate processing plants were established in Sokoto, supplying 50 percent of the phosphate rock requirements of the Super Phosphate Fertilizer Plant, in Kaduna. This has resulted in the creation of over 1,000 jobs. Private companies have also established talc processing plants in Niger State to supply fertilizer and cosmetics industries. Barytes plants have also been established for use of the oil drilling industry in Cross River State.
Nigeria was processing about 25 percent of its local cocoa production prior to council's existence. The figure changed to 75 percent with council's intervention over the years. Additional 2,000 jobs were created by this effort.
Has the council embarked on any sort of policy advocacy to persuade Nigeria industries to source their production materials locally?
On policy advocacy, Nigeria's importation of fruit juice in retail packages reached a peak of 200 million litres valued at N40 billion in 2002. Council's intervention on the platform of the Tariff Technical Committee of the Federal Ministry of Finance resulted in the ban on importation of fruit juice. Only fruit juice concentrate was allowed a stop-gap for subsequent production of sufficient fruits locally. The number of local fruit juice manufacturers increased from five in 2002 to 12 in 2007. Currently, the council is promoting establishment of fruit juice concentrate plants in Nigeria with the support of World Bank Step B.
As a member of the Tariff Board, the council provides technical information on raw materials, intermediates and finished products which may be imported. Thus, the council's advice to government resulted in import prohibition of the following: Gypsum for cement production, Fruit juice (in retail packages), refined vegetable oil, spaghetti/noodles, cement (in retail packages), soaps and detergents. Furthermore, mainly due to council's efforts many multinational industries commenced the local production of some of the previously imported vital raw materials. Some specific examples include malted sorghum which was produced by Cadbury Nigeria Plc as substitute for imported wheat in brewing while Pharma Deko Nig. Plc also processed local natural sweetener (obtained from Thaumatacoccus danielli plant) for pharmaceutical products.
Recently, through the council's intervention, there has been increased local sourcing of polymers produced by Eleme Petrochemicals Limited (EPCL), Eleme, in Rivers State, by local plastic industries, leading to reduction of importation, foreign exchange savings, job creation and most importantly increased production (backward integration) by EPCL.
The council has also sponsored research and development projects in various research institutions and Universities in the country on products and machinery/equipment to optimize the utilization of local raw materials by industries. RMRDC has been pursuing such projects, in collaboration with relevant organizations, since inception under its National Research and Development Programme on Raw Materials. Over 100 research projects have been funded since inception. About 50 percent of the research results have been commercialized while another 30 percent are at various stages of commercialization through pilot plants and Joint Ventures with SMEs. For example, Alternative Livestock Feed Formulations were developed for the purpose of reducing maize utilization in poultry feeds by 60 percent. This has contributed significantly to the survival and growth of the poultry industry. Organo-mineral fertilizers developed using agricultural wastes and minerals have been produced. Alkyl resin and glazier putty production from castor/rubber seeds respectively for application in the paints, construction industries. Other examples include cassava, castor, sesame seed, cashew, moringa, sheanut, cocoa, oil palm, kaolin, granite processing and brake pad from palm kernel shell, kenaf processing and chocolate processing.
So far the council's intervention in R&D activities has resulted in building capacity in research institutions. Research facilities in these institutions were also upgraded with corresponding increase in industrial research and local machine fabrication industries.
In terms of partnerships, has the council entered into partnership with other international organizations in respect of exchange of information and capacity building for the development of local raw materials?
On the international scene, the council has established strong partnerships with various multi-lateral agencies such as the UNDP, United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). These partnerships have facilitated the exchange of information and capacity building for the development of local raw materials. RMRDC, on behalf of Nigeria, currently hosts the International Secretariat of the Action Committee on Raw Materials (ACRM), a project of the G-77 countries; collaboration for the development and utilization of non-metallic minerals, a project of the G-15 countries; World Association of Industrial and Technological Research Organizations (WAITRO) (as African regional focal point) and the Pan-African Competitiveness Forum (as West African and Nigeria Chapter Secretariat).
Now you have told us the council's achievements in the last 25 years - where it has come from in the last 25 years and where it is presently; the question now is: what is the council's plan for the next 25 years?
This has been articulated in the new National Policy on Raw Materials. Our target is to increase the percentage of local content in industrial raw materials utilization in Nigeria from the current 25 percent to 60 percent in the next 25 years. This, by our estimates, can save Nigeria over N2trillion in foreign exchange in importation of intermediate raw materials, process equipment and impact skills. Over two million jobs can be created in the area of raw materials production, processing, distribution and final processing to goods and services. We hope to achieve these by consolidating on our information generation, research grants scheme, commercialization of research results and promotion of investment in resource based industries.
We shall be following more on promoting functional and innovative raw materials processing clusters by having research results from various institutions in Nigeria and injecting into SMEs in cluster formations. We shall be more focused on raw materials where Nigeria has comparative advantage including fruits, cassava, oil palm, cocoa, cotton, rubber, oilseeds (castor, jatropha, sesame, groundnut, soybean), wood and pulp, coconut, medicinal plants, moringa etc), chemicals, kaolin, barites, gemstones, granites, gypsum, limestone etc.