Mojisola Karigidi, Founder and Product Developer, Moepelorse Bio Resources

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Subjects of Interest

  • Food Security
  • Governance
  • Health
  • Sustainable Development

Health and economic potentials of indigenous beverages 15 Jul 2022

Nigeria is the largest food market in Africa according to the World Trade Organization (WTO). In the manufacturing sector, the food and beverage industries account for about 22.5 per cent of the sector’s contribution, generating more than 1.5 million jobs. However, greater output is achievable as the potential of the food and beverage sector is still underutilized. There are opportunities in indigenous beverage market in Nigeria yet to be tapped into by the beverage industry.

Beverages are significant aspect of culture and lifestyle whose origin can be traced to particular groups or communities where they are mostly produced and consumed. Like snacks, foreign beverages and their brands have dominated the Nigerian beverage market. Beverage is a commonly used term for both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. While non-alcoholic beverages include fruit juices, teas, coffees, sweetened carbonated and non-carbonated drinks, the alcoholic types are spirits, beers and wines.

Indigenous beverages are often made from plants or cereals and as a result, they contain health promoting agents. Although the Nigerian beverage industries, especially the alcoholic drinks section, are very creative in the production of spirit drinks and bitters – bitter tasting alcoholic drinks enriched with plant extracts – not much can be said about the indigeneity of our non-alcoholic drinks. Most of our indigenous drinks which have been in existence for many decades are still not industrially produced for consumption.  

Indigenous non-alcoholic drinks in Nigeria include zobo (made from hibiscus plant), kunu (made from maize or millet or sorghum), fura de nunu (made from millet and cow milk), adoyo (made from pineapple juice and fermented maize water), fresh palm wine (tapped from palm trees), among others, while the alcoholic types include fermented palm wine, burukutu (brewed from guinea corn and millet) and pito (made from fermented guinea corn or millet or sorghum) drink. The main ingredients in these drinks are readily and widely available in the country, which should give them a comparative advantage over foreign drinks if commercialized for industrial scale production by beverage industries.

Zobo, for example, is a very popular drink in Nigeria and in many parts of the world. Hibiscus, from which it is made, is a drought-tolerant plant mostly grown in the Northern part of Nigeria. Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kano and Katsina are the major producing states. This high-value plant is also used in the production of animal feed locally. It has a high export potential with a total of 1,114 metric tonnes of hibiscus flower exported to Mexico in the first half of 2021 as reported by the Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Services. Belgium, Germany, the United States of America, and the Netherlands are other destinations for Nigerian hibiscus export. According to the Association of Hibiscus Flower Exporters of Nigeria, the Nigerian hibiscus industry is worth over $100 million.

The hibiscus flower is rich in polyphenols (health-friendly compounds found in plants) mainly anthocyanins with strong antioxidant activities. It also contains protein, carbohydrate, vitamins, calcium, iron and some other minerals. Packaging and branding zobo drink or mixing it with other fruits in cans and plastic bottles can make this refreshing drink, which is a better alternative to carbonated drinks, readily available for local consumers who have enjoyed home-made zobo drinks for decades.

Zobo is also a health friendly alternative due to its numerous published medicinal benefits as promising agent in the treatment of risk factors linked to cardiovascular diseases such as high blood pressure, high blood glucose, high blood lipids (hyperlipidemia) – high level of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, etc., which increase the risk of heart attack, heart failure, stroke and other complications.

Kunu is also a widely accepted non-alcoholic beverage in every region of the country although mostly consumed in different forms in the northern region. Despite the high demand for bottled kunu in Nigeria, the drink is commonly sold in unbranded bottles by informal businesses. Producing kunu drinks industrially or a blend of kunu powder that could be readily steeped in water as an instant drink would attract high patronage in local and international communities. Such products will eliminate the many hours or days required to make the beverage in-house and as well eliminate the stress of milling the grains, soaking, de-chaffing, sieving and all other processes involved in kunu production by individuals and households (mostly women). More local industries should engage in the production of indigenous drinks to penetrate new markets and sustain existing ones.

In terms of nutrition, millet used in the kunu production has some minerals and vitamins in addition to its carbohydrate content. Fortifying the drink by introducing other nutrient dense crops or fruits can greatly improve its health benefits. Adebayo A. Badejo and his team of researchers in the Department of Food Science and Technology at the Federal University of Technology, Akure, Ondo State, Nigeria, recently published their study, entitled, “Enhancing the antioxidant capacity and acceptability of kunu beverage from gluten-free pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum) through fortification with tiger nut sedge (Cyperus esculentus) and coconut (Cocos nucifera) extracts”. As published by the Journal of Food Measurement and Characterisation, the fortified kunu could serve as a healthy replacement for the widely sold sugary carbonated drinks. The fortified kunu had significantly higher vitamin content, soluble fiber, phenolics, flavonoids, and antioxidant activities without affecting the taste, colour, viscosity and general acceptability of the beverage.

Like yoghurts, many Nigerian indigenous fermented beverages possess probiotic potentials which have over the years increased their demand by both rich and poor households. Probiotics are health promoting live bacteria that can be found in certain foods and drinks and are also available as supplements. They aid digestion, nutrient absorption, maintain healthy gut (the long tube that extends from the mouth to the anus including the small and large intestines), oral health, prevent allergies, control inflammation and support immune function.

Probiotics are associated with the prevention or treatment of ailments such as diarrhoea, irritable bowel syndrome, vaginal infections, urinary tract infections, infections of the digestive tract and eczema in children. Local drinks containing probiotics include kunu, pito, fermented soymilk, palm wine, fura de nunu and burukutu, all products of fermentation.

Nigerian food and beverage industries need more financial investment by the private sector. As reported by WTO, the cost of doing business in Nigeria is high and efforts must be enacted to reduce costs for industries. Access to funding opportunities locally and internationally as well as single digit interest rates on bank loans will ignite the establishment of new beverage industries and help existing industries – small and medium scale ones – to scale up.

Electricity remains the cheapest source of power for industries. If we want industries to thrive, we must find a lasting solution to erratic power supply. Also, government policies to support the creation of industries whose mandate is to utilize locally grown crops for the production of indigenous drinks could be activated. Undeniably, having more industries specializing in the production of indigenous beverages would translate to more employment opportunities and income generation.

When more industries begin to venture into the utilization of locally grown crops for the production of indigenous beverages, it means there must be a proportionate increase in the cultivation of the major ingredients (food crops). Government policies must therefore continue to support farmer, covering a wide range of food crops with finance, inputs, extension services and social infrastructures – well maintained drainage systems, good transport network, and water for irrigation among others.

Long-term support will ease the transition of subsistent farmers who are the main producers of food crops in the country to large-scale commercial producers and be well positioned to meet up with increased demand for local consumption, industry uptake and export possibilities. We must take profitable advantage of our large market size through the creation of more industries and the expansion of agricultural activities for national economic growth and development.

Mojisola Karigidi, PhD, a Financial Nigeria Columnist, is a Nigerian biochemist and the founder and product developer at Moepelorse Bio Resources. She is also a Global Innovation Through Science and Technology (GIST) awardee, and an Aspen New Voices fellow.