Why We’re Introducing Safflower Production In Nigeria – RMRDC

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Dr. Ibrahim Hussaini Doko is the Director-General of the Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC).

In this interview, he explained why his organisation is promoting the production of safflower, a highly thistle-like annual plant commercially cultivated for domestic and industrial use.

Before we talk about safflower, which your organisation seeks to promote, how would you describe agricultural resources in Nigeria?

Nigeria is blessed with abundant agricultural resources. There are more than 5,000 plant species of different varieties growing in the country. Out of these, less than 20 have been developed and are currently cultivated in commercial quantities. The reasons for the low level of development of most of the species are not far-fetched.

Among these are inadequate knowledge of agronomic and silvicultural practices (controlling the establishment, growth, composition, health, and quality of forests to meet diverse needs and values) of most of the species, low technical knowledge of the industrial utilisation potentials and inadequate research and development studies on the techniques for their mass production.

Irrespective of these, the need to increase the pool of industrial agricultural commodities in Nigeria through the introduction of exotics of proven industrial and economic importance arises from time to time.

A lot of readers would want to know more about this plant you are introducing into the country for production. What is safflower and what is it used for?

The plant has a long history of cultivation. More recently, safflower has become highly sought after in view of its increasing industrial potentials, most especially in China. In traditional Chinese medicine, safflower petals are regarded as stimulants for blood circulation and phlegm reduction, the healing of fractures, contusions and strains, and for healing menstrual problems.

A number of companies are importing the flowers and seeds of the plant in substantial quantities. This is due to the increasing use of the flower in herbal medicines, tea and for extraction of dyes.

Interestingly, a Chinese company, Kong Associates (Shanghai) Co. Ltd has introduced the plant species to the Nkoranza Region of Ahafo District in Ghana for trials.

The seed contains 24 to 36per cent oil. The cold-pressed oil is golden yellow and similar to olive oil as it contains high levels of linoleic acid (78%). It contains mono-saturated fatty acids such as oleic acid that reduces low-density lipoprotein (LDL) without affecting the high-density lipoprotein (HDL) in the blood. The oil is highly stable at low temperatures, making it suitable for use in frozen/chilled foods industry. It is suited to hydrogenation for margarine production than soy or canola oils.
Safflower oil is non-allergenic, and therefore, suitable for injectable medications. The oil is also ideal for cosmetics and is used in macassar hair oil and Bombay Sweet oil preparations in India.

Safflower oil is preferred for paint production owing to the absence of linolenic acid, low free fatty acids, unsaponifables and wax, which increases the quality of paints, alkyd resins and coatings produced from it. It is also used in varnishes and linoleum production. In India, safflower oil is used for lighting and manufacture of soap and to produce water-proof leather products and cloth. It is also used in the preservation of leather and as glass cement, apart from its application in infant foods and liquid nutrition formulations.

Safflower oil meal is used as animal feed, and its combination with all-purpose flour in 1:3 proportions has been used for the manufacture of protein enriched biscuits. The oilcake from undecorticated seeds is used as organic manure as it contains about 5per cent N1.44 per cent P2O5, and 2.23per cent K20. The leaves are rich in carotene, riboflavin and vitamin C, and, hence, the young seedlings and pruning is used in green leafy vegetables.

It can be used to increase edible oil sources and can be safely grown under arid and saline soil conditions.
In semiarid regions, the availability of water has an important influence on dry land crop productivity. Water availability is closely related to soil organic matter content, texture and soil thickness.

The RMRDC is making continuous efforts to popularise safflower and increase its cultivation in Nigeria, especially in the northern region of the country. It is expected that when safflower cultivation, processing and marketing are stabilised locally, the initiative will save the country an estimated $10billion currently expended on importation of pharmaceuticals, oil, medicinal drugs, herbal teas and cosmetics.

We learnt that the RMRDC is working with a Chinese company, Kong Associates, on safflower production. What is the nature of the collaboration?

Based on the collaboration between the RMRDC and Kong Associates, seeds of the plant species were brought to Nigeria for location trials in Zaria, Kaduna State; Jos in Plateau State and Benin in Edo State. Initial studies show that the plant performed well in all the locations. Samples of the flowers and seeds, including the pictures of the plant in the various plantations, were sent to Kong Associates headquarters in China. Based on the performance, company will be carrying out further trials in the country in collaboration with the RMRDC prior to the establishment of commercial farms using out-growers, farmers associations and interested individual farmers. Consequently, Kong Associates has perfected plans to send safflower agronomists to Nigeria for the exercise, from January 2018.

How will this initiative increase opportunities for farmers?

Certainly, this initiative has opened up avenues and opportunities for farmers that are interested in growing safflower for the export of its seeds and flowers. The plant is drought tolerant and can grow in various parts of the country. The plant can be used to revamp the economy of the North-East zone of Nigeria.

Apart from China, safflower has also attracted significant attention due to its edibility and medicinal values in other countries. The petals are very important as raw materials for preparation of medicaments, natural food colours and dyes for fabrics. The water soluble yellow dye, carthamidin and a water insoluble red dye, carthamin, which is readily soluble in alkali, can be obtained from the flowers.

Safflower petals are also used for curing chronic diseases such as hypertension, coronary heart ailments, rheumatism and male and female fertility problems. In China, a pleasant-tasting herbal tea is prepared from safflower blossoms. Spineless varieties are used in Western Europe, Japan and Latin America.

What is the global production level of this plant?

Presently, safflower is grown commercially in India, the United States of America, Mexico, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Australia, Uzbekistan and Russia. Its acreage and production around the world fluctuates. Total global safflower seed production rose from 487,000MT in 1965 to 1,000,000MT in 1975. Production decreased to 921,000MT in 1985.

Mexico was the largest producer in the world until 1980 when it produced about 600,000MT between 1979 and 1980. Commercial production of safflower in the US started in the 1950s, and the cultivated area rapidly increased to 175,000ha, mainly in California, Nebraska, Arizona and Montana states. Presently, the area under safflower cultivation in China ranged from 35,000 to 55,000ha, with a total production of 50-80MT on annual basis.

Do you think this plant would do well in Nigeria, considering different agro-ecological zones?

Safflower is tolerant of severe drought and salinity. It can be cultivated as an oil crop, under poor environmental conditions. It can be cultivated in hot dry climates. The optimum temperature for germination is about 15.50C. The day temperature in the range of 24-32oC is congenial for higher yields.

It can be cultivated from sea level to an elevation of 1000m above sea level. The crop is not fit for tracts of heavy rainfall, and grows well in areas having rainfall between 60 and 90cm. Water-logging due to poor drainage or prolonged rain can cause substantial reduction in yield.

The crop grows well in a variety of soils, such as sandy loam, clay loams and alluvial shallow and light textured soils. It, however, requires moderation to high fertile, fairly deep moisture retentive and well drained soils for maximum yields.