-Takes Bio-Resources Institute To Onuimo
The 2016 edition of HerbFest was special. First, it held, for the first time, in Owerri, the Imo state capital. Secondly, it offered opportunity for Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, Nigeria’s Science and Technology Minister, to commission the sprawling Bio-Resources Institute of Nigeria, singly built, funded, operated and managed by former chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Maurice Iwu.
Bio-Resources Institute of Nigeria is an arm of Bioresources Development Group, alongside Nature’s Emporium, InterCEDD Laboratories, Bioresources Development and Conservations Programme, Intercedd Health Products and BioTrade Global Agency Ltd. They are promoted by Prof. Iwu.
The institute, which sits at Umuna in Onuimo local government area of Imo state, is the first of its kind in the Eastern Heartland. The institute was conceived, and developed, by Prof. Iwu, who had invested himself, including material and financial resources, in making sure that what has been his dream became reality.
That was why Dr. Onu could not hide his feeling when he toured the facility, seeing for himself, the sort of equipment, worth billions of naira, that Prof. Iwu had put in place. The walls of blocks in the institute are specially treated with epoxy paint which would ensure that no bacteria, of any type, grows on the wall, thus making sure that products out of the facility meet world standard.
Audience at the commissioning ceremony which included Dr. Onu, Gov. Rochas Okorocha (who was represented by his deputy, Prince Eze Madumere), Prof. Hassan El Subki Khalid, from the University of Khartoum, Sudan; Prof. Karniyus Gamaniel from the University of Maiduguri, Mr. Reuben Gisore, a doctoral student from Kenya, Rev. Fr. Anselm Adodo of Pax Herbal, Prof. Olobayo Kunle, Dr. (Mrs.) Gloria Elemo who is Director General of Federal Institute of Industrial Research, Oshodi (FIIRO), Pharmacist Sam Etatuvie of the Nigeria Natural Medicine Development Agency among a host of other professionals in the herbal drugs sub-sector of the health industry, applauded Prof. Iwu for single-handedly building the facility.
Also present were Former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, President, National Association of Nigeria Traditional Medicine Practitioners (NANTMP), HRH Prof. T.O. Omon Oleabhiele, Director General of Projects Development Institute (PRODA), Engr. Dr. Charles Agulanna, Director General of National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), Prof. Lucy Ogbadu, Former National Coordinator, Bioresources Development and Conservation Programme (BDCP), Prof. Elijah Sokomba, Former Director General, Nigeria Natural Medicine Development Agency, (NNMDA), TF Okujagu, Former Deputy Governor of Imo State, Engr. Ebere Udeagu, Former Secretary to Imo State Government, Chief Cosmos Iwu, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, Hon. Ifeanyi Agwu, Former Acting Vice Chancellor of Madonna University, Prof. Obioma Iheduru, Director, InterCEDD Health Products (IHP), Dr. Ijeoma Nwafor, and Dr. Chris Okunji from the United States Pharmacopeia, Maryland, USA.
Speaking at the event, Gov. Okorocha said Iwu’s effort was right step in the right direction, adding that it was an answer to the call by the state government on Imolite, and indeed, Igbo people, to look homewards in making investment decision.
Okorocha said his administration had been supportive “and will continue to support” so as to ensure that the vision in establishing the institute was achieved. He thanks Prof. Iwu for “thinking home” as well as called on Igbo people to emulate the former INEC chairman.
Dr. Onu, also speaking, urged Nigerians to look homewards in their quest to satisfy their hunger for herbal tea products. He cautioned against over-dependence on imported herbal products adding that Nigeria has capacity to satisfy the need.
Speakers at the event lauded Prof. Iwu’s foresight and dogged determination to give life to the institute which now has the capacity to re-direct the farming visions of residents of the host community and beyond as Iwu had indicated that herbs and medicinal plants to be used at the institute would be 100 percent locally grown. This, many at the commissioning ceremony said, would be a boost to agriculture in the state as plants, which were hitherto grown as herbs for family consumption, would now be cultivated for commercial purposes and to feed the institute.
Prof Iwu attests to this when he said: “Based on our current raw materials, production and marketing needs, this facility will create jobs and alleviate rural poverty not only in Imo State in many parts of the country. We currently have organic farms in Benue State, Abuja and Enugu State. We are negotiating to establish collaborative out-sourced farms in Imo, Delta and Abia States.” Following that, a native of the area, who was at the commissioning ceremony, told this reporter, that “at least, I can plant nchanwu (scent leave) for sale now”. He is not alone. Many are thinking in same direction.
Beyond the structures which have spaces for laboratories for research and development, production and packaging units, Prof. Iwu indicates that the facility has the capacity to satisfy herbal tea needs of consumers in the country as well as enhance the production of other bio-medicines, which research he had been engaged with since 1978 when he bagged his doctorate in pharmacognosy. With the modest effort, Prof. Iwu has enhanced the frontiers of herbal medicine development in Nigeria as well as created job opportunities for Nigerians. No doubt, the development of curriculum for the study of herbal medicines in some Nigerian universities will also benefit tremendously for Prof. Iwu’s effort.
Recall that last May, Prof. Iwu, whose profile as Africa’s foremost pharmacognocist is fast on the rise, was honoured by the Association of Lady Pharmacists for his role in the promotion and development of tropical medicine. That honour came his way following landmarks he had achieved in the field of plant medicine. For instance, products off his laboratory which include Immunovit IHP which is an immune booster and helps in the management of high blood pressure, IHP Virgin Coconut Oil (aka Drugstore in a bottle), Erovit IHP which has been proven to be good as an anti-aging herbal formula, IHP Moringa Tea (three different formulations) and Garcina IHP (made from bitter kola) which is proven to boost immunity are all market leaders.
Prior to the commissioning of Bio-Resources Institute, Prof. Iwu had entered the market with six different herbal drinks which include Hepa Vital tea, Vernonia Ocimum tea, IHP Ginger tea, Detox tea, Bissap Tea, Ganoderma Coffee and Ganoderma Green tea. These verities of tea, Prof. Iwu said, play different roles in rejuvenating the human body.
In his speech at the event, Prof. Iwu said: “This facility is the latest addition to our biomedical research, development and production capacity. Our first research centre, the InterCEDD was established at Nsukka 1995 and has carried out many successful research and development projects, including collaborative work with academic institutions, industries and governments in Africa, Europe and the United States of America. This new facility was established primarily to address the unanticipated increased demand for our finished consumer products and to supply processed value-added organic vegetable products for the export market.
“The Facility is equipped to process vegetable raw materials, from non-destructive drying of fresh farm products, through selective solvent extraction and reconversion to powdered materials, to the production of medicinal teas, oral liquid preparations and cosmetics.”
He indicated that the production of food supplements and phytomedicines the facility also has capacity to: “Engage in commissioned research and development projects and specialized technical support to small-scale industries engaged in the manufacture of plant based consumer products, dietary supplements and health foods”; “Provide specialized technical support mentoring facilities and services to government agencies and institutions involved in production and marketing of vegetable materials for the local and export market”; “Develop business partnerships for commercializing products and technologies from universities and non-profit research organizations in Nigeria” and “Conduct bio-entrepreneurship training to States, organizations and individuals interested in organic agriculture, processing and marketing”.
Speaking further, Prof. Iwu explained that: “It is our understanding that this is perhaps the only Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) grade bio-processing facility in the country. This is not surprising given the extreme difficulty encountered in raising funds for technological projects with long maturation period, the dearth of technicians with practical knowledge on phytochemical processing and the tedious procedure involved in the importation of scientific and manufacturing equipment into the country”.
As not to leave anyone in doubt of the herbs used in the production at his laboratories, Iwu said “you will notice that in all our products we disclose the full list of the ingredients used in their formulation in order to allow others to verify the scientific basis of our formulations. In the technical dossier of our products, which we provide to physicians and scientists, we include citation of peer-reviewed relevant scientific literature to support the selection of the ingredients we used and the scientific knowledge that inform our indication of use”.
He however adds: “What we do not disclose however, is our proprietary technical know-how and deep knowledge of natural products chemistry and pharmacology, as well as the ‘technical crafting and blending’ of the ingredients needed to produce the exceptionally high quality our range of teas, capsules and liquid preparations”.
He also assured on the quality and how green herbal plants used at the laboratory are when he said “the premium products that are made in this facility are therefore outcomes of years of research and careful formulation of wholesome organic ingredients. Most of the ingredients are produced in our own farms, without chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides. Research has become paramount in all our projects.”
However, the event was not just about Bio-Resources institute commissioning. Prof. Iwu returned to Owerri to join other experts as they brainstormed at the HerbFest 2016 themed ‘Food As Medicine; African Herbs And Spices As Functional Foods And Nutraceuticals’. In championing the HerbFest series, which debuted in 2011 at the Lagos Airport Hotel with a symposium which lasted from October 11 to October 13 of that year, Prof. Iwu had always cautioned that “If you don’t make food your medicine, you will end up making medicine your food”.
At the 2011 edition, conferees upheld a 10-point communiqué wherein they recommended that “Nigerian entrepreneurs should explore the investment opportunities and the incentives in the herbal and natural products business in order to attract foreign exchange earnings from this rich global market”. The market was valued at over $100billion.
They also recommended that “government and non-governmental organisations, particularly those promoting biobusiness, should intensify public awareness on herbal products through various grassroot enlightenment programmes including road shows, jingles and adverts in indigenous languages”; “training and capacity building for biobusiness entrepreneurs in IPR issues and patent acquisition should be strengthened in order for bio-products developers and innovators to derive maximum benefits from their innovations”; “collaboration, networking and partnerships should be encouraged between the biobusiness entrepreneurs and TMPs through constant interactions”; “NNMDA, NAFDAC, NIPRD, NANTMP and other relevant stakeholders should organise training and capacity building programmes for TMPs in order to meet NAFDAC and other approved standards”.
There was also recommendation that “relevant agencies (NNMDA, NAFDAC, SON, CPC) in Nigeria should put in place a system that will ensure good manufacturing practice (GMP), quality control and standardization of herbal products in order to enhance their global competitiveness”; “the national Assembly should expedite action on the passage of the Nigerians Traditional Medicine Practitioners’ Council Bill, while NNMDA, BDCP and other stakeholders should facilitate the process”; That the “tripartite collaboration between policy makers, researchers and industry should be strengthened in order to encourage need/market driven research and the development of commercialisable products”; that “gene banks and storage facilities should be strengthened throughout the country in order to sustain Nigeria’s bioresources through cultivation and conservation” and also, “strengthened capacity for the standardised production of novel effective phytomedicines for the treatment of malaria, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and other diseases such as cancer, utilizing the abundant Traditional Medicines Knowledge (TMK) and bioresources”.
From the 2011 scientific conference, HerbFest has progressed with recommendations aimed at strengthening herbal medicine practice in Nigeria, as a necessary adjunct of the health sector. For instance, after its symposium in Lagos in 2013, experts at the conference recommended, among others, that “the media, NGOs, non-for-profit organisations, relevant government agencies need to engage in aggressive awareness, sensitization and re-orientation on the importance of promoting indigenous medicinal/natural products in Nigeria”. They also recommended that “a strong linkage and collaboration should be established among public and private research institutes, academia and government in the development of natural products, dietary supplements, phytomedicines and nutraceuticals; to this end the private sector led National Committee on Bioresources Research and development (NCBRD) and African Scientific Cooperation on Phytomedicines and Aromatic Plants (ASCOPAP) should be revived”, and also, that “Nigerians entrepreneurs involved in the production of natural products, dietary supplements, phytomedicines and nutraceuticals should be adequately trained particularly in packaging and branding in order to raise the standard and make their products globally competitive”.
There was also recommendation that “the National Traditional Medicine Policy and National Policy on Science and technology and Innovation (ST&I), should be effectively implemented in order to promote extensive rational use of herbal medicines/products in the National Healthcare System.” It was also recommended, in 2013, that “government should encourage the cultivation of at least ten basic medicinal plants which are highly demanded using Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) to ensure availability and sustainability of raw materials as well as the integrity and efficacy of products”. There are also several other recommendations which sought to encourage the development of herbal medicine through commercial cultivation, and production, of medicinal plants as a way of driving home the need for job creation and poverty alleviation in the country.
The 2016 scientific symposium continued with tradition and recommended, among other issues that the “ethnobotanical surveys going on in Nigeria should be encouraged, supported and funded”; that “all the relevant research centres and agencies involved in the development of natural products should be adequately funded by government to carry out their mandate effectively”, that “Nigerians should be encouraged to patronize made in Nigeria herbal products and services”, and that “there is the need to synergize, collaborate and harmonize scientific studies on herbal medicines so as to improve on our global competitiveness”.
It also recommended that “industrialists and entrepreneurs should be encouraged to adopt the various available technologies at the Federal Institute of Industrial Research, Oshodi (FIIRO) for processing and preservation of natural products”, that “the Government of Nigeria should provide measurable support and increased funding for local production of herbal medicines” and also, that “there should be increased awareness about the potentials of herbal medicine and natural products in Nigeria”.
These are efforts being made by Prof. Iwu and his team in his desire to transform the understanding, consumption and use of herbal medicines in the management of health in Nigeria. These are no little efforts in the drive to ensure development of the health care sector of the Nigerian economy and add value to the fact that a healthy nation is also a wealthy one.
The Bio-Resources Institute at Umuna in Onuimo local government area is a step towards giving act to theories espoused at HerbFest series. Its effect may not be felt now till farmers begin to harvest their medicinal plants for profit.