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Non-wood fiber can revive paper mills

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By Abraham Adekunle

Nigeria now net importer of paper, loses billions to industry collapse yearly.

Among many industries that came up following Nigeria’s independence, the pulp and paper milling industry is significant. Nigerian Paper Mill, Jebba, the first integrated pulp and paper mill in the country was established in 1969 to produce kraft paper and liner board. At a point, its capacity was pegged at 65,000 metric tons. Subsequently, the Nigerian Newsprint Manufacturing Company (NNMC) and the National Paper Manufacturing Company (NPMC) (later Iwopin Pulp and paper Company) were added to the mix with a capacity of 100,000 metric tons each of newsprint and bond paper respectively. However, these companies were not sustained and they were closed down by 1996.

Despite their Privatization, the paper manufacturing industry continues to dwindle. Presently, Nigeria has become a net importer of paper products, which means that Nigeria imports much more paper than it produces locally. In fact, the country has been predicted to be heading towards a potential paper crisis. First, the non-functionality of the three Paper Mills contributed to the crisis. Only the Jebba Mill still has some activities going on of late. Another factor is that no new investments were made in establishing new paper mills.

Experts urged investors to tap into non-wood fiber.

At a recent workshop organized by The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) in collaboration with the Raw Material Research Council of Nigeria (RMRCN) claimed that this paper crisis could morph into a national problem if left untamed. It could exponentially increase the price of papers because of total reliance on imported paper products. However, they also said that Nigeria could earn more from paper production and exports by tapping into the opportunities in non-wood fiber to revive the country’s declining paper mill industry.

The experts who spoke at the 2023 edition of International Paper Publishing and Printing Expo said that there are indigenous materials spread widely within the Middle Belt region that can be refined and used as additives in paper making. This will reduce imports and its allied products. A senior lecturer and Dean of Faculty of Renewable Natural Resources, University of Ibadan, Abiodun Oluwadare, assured members of the audience during a paper presentation that Nigeria has abundant raw materials to produce pulp and paper based on what they have been able to achieve at laboratory scale.

Certain raw materials that can be used in paper production.

He cited a non-wood fiber example as sugarcane. According to him, it can be used to produce Bagasse which is used in the manufacturing of pulp and building materials. “Presently, we have a primary research project in collaboration with a University in Malaysia. There, we’ve been able to work on these materials,” Oluwadare said. He said that some of these materials like Seculia and Stematococcus can be readily grown in Nigeria. Veins (the stalk of the “Moin Moin” leaf) also compete very well with the Pine plant and is used in the paper industry.

There are even areas in Nigeria where Pine can mature within ten years and ready be for harvest for paper making. According to the researcher, they have been able to produce various modifications of wood and non-wood fibers using two different modulations. Thus, with more non-wood materials, fewer wood materials are required. By the time these are added together, Nigeria’s paper industry can have a sustainable raw materials production for this process. Additionally, using less wood materials will contribute positively to the conservation of Nigeria’s forests, especially since Nigeria ranks highest in the rate of Deforestation worldwide.

Nigeria loses billions from paper industry collapse yearly.

Meanwhile, data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) show that Nigeria imported paper and its allied products worth N296.696 billion between July and December 2021. Paper valued at N188.137 billion was imported in the third quarter of 2021, and import in the last quarter of the year was estimated at N108.559 billion. NBS data also show that Nigeria spent N1.63 trillion on the importation of paper and paper products in the last five years.


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