RMRDC strategises paper sector to make Nigeria export hub, boost GDP

The Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC), has started engaging  stakeholders to revamp the paper industry, boost the economy, create jobs as well as making the nation a major paper exporter to other ECOWAS countries and the world at large. BINTA SHAMA reports.

Self-sufficiency in paper production

History shows that the pulp and paper industry in Nigeria is said to be one of the major industries that performed well in the 1970-80’s before the oil glut era. Self-sufficiency in paper production was one of the major cardinal objectives of the governments in the 1960’s and 1970’s. This was evidenced by the establishment of three integrated pulp and paper mills locally between 1969 and 1976.

Two of the mills performed, i.e., the Nigeria Paper Mill, Jebba and the Nigeria Newsprint Manufacturing Company, Oku Iboku, performed optimally and paper importation faded out in the 1980’s. For instance, in Nigeria Paper Mill, actual production in 1985 was 40,480mt and in 1986, 42,960 tonnes, representing 62.3% and 66.17% capacity utilization respectively. This pattern of capacity utilisation was also experienced at the Nigeria Newsprint Manufacturing Company, (NNMC), Oku-lboku about the same period. The volume of production at NNMC rose from 28,927 tonnes in 1989 to 37,581 tonnes in 1990. Due to establishment of the NNMC, importation of newsprint reduced drastically to 17.5% in 1986 and 12.5% in 1987 respectively and faded out in 1988.

However, due to the down turn in the economy in the 1990’s, the integrated mills convulsed and capacity utilization nosedived. Capacity utilization at the Nigeria Paper Mill went down as low as 2.5% in the early 1990’s until the mill stopped production in 1996. The third pulp and paper mill, the Iwopin Pulp and Paper Company was also established in 1975 to produce fine writing, printing and cultural papers. By 1983, when mill was at about 85% completion, it was abandoned, and up till the time it was shut down in 1998, the mill did not produce up to 5% of its installed capacity.


In line with the privatisation agenda of the federal government, the primary pulp and paper mills were privatized in 2006. Although, the Nigeria Paper Mill, Jebba, has commenced production of kraft paper on one of its paper machines, the two other mills are yet to commence production. This situation has seriously affected the pulp and paper industry in the country, and today the country depends on importation of writing, printing and newsprint papers.

Strategies for Paper Production Optimisation and RMRDC intervention

There is need for a deliberate strategic plan by national planners to develop the sector locally. One of the major areas that needs strategic approach is long fibre pulp development. Efforts have been made locally to promote kenaf utilization in the pulp and paper industry. Studies indicated that the mean fibre length of locally grown kenaf is 2.90 mm while the fibre diameter was reported as 28.16um; lumen. width, 6.08 um; and cell wall thickness; 11.04 um respectively. The average fibre length, diameter, lumen width and cell wall thickness of the kenaf sample are comparable to the range of 2.7mm to 4.6mm for softwood tracheids. Consequently, it is RMRDC’s considered opinion that kenaf bast fibre could go a long way in alleviating the problems posed by a shortage of long fibre pulp.

RMRDC’s task force

As a result of this, the Raw Materials Research and Development Council constituted a task force that determined the optimal parameters for commercial scale pulping of bast kenaf fibres in Nigeria. The report of the task force showed that bast fibre pulp of kenaf can replace imported long fibre pulp. However since the completion of the study, little or no progress had been made in securing private sector investment in kenaf long fibre pulp production as a result of the high cost of erecting a new pulp mill to use kenaf as its major raw material, the unwillingness of the paper mills in the country to change from the use of wood to non-wood raw material coupled with the collapse of the pulp and paper mills in the country in the mid 1990’s.

Likewise, R&D carried out locally has shown that Sterculia setigera and Sterculia oblonga have long fibre characteristics, Studies have shown the fibre length to be about 2.41mm, indicating that it can be used to produce pulp with properties reminiscent to those of imported long fibre pulp. Thus, the Council is working towards achieving this.

Also, studies have shown Sterculia oblonga to have long fibre. length. A preliminary work carried out on indigenous Sterculia oblonga showed the average fibre length to be about 2.07mm. The strength properties of unbleached kraft paper obtained from the plant species was within acceptable range of those produced at commercial scale at Nigeria Paper Mill, Jebba in the light of the above, the development of the Nigeria Pulp and Paper industry may be premised on long fibre raw material sourcing from plantation grown Sterculia species.

Bamboo for pulp and paper production

Likewise, bamboo should also be reconsidered for pulp and paper production. Bamboo is widely distributed in the south and middle belt regions of the country. Despite this, bamboo utilization for pulp and paper production was dropped by the Nigeria Paper Mill, Jebba in 1980’s. The fibre length of Nigerian bamboo varies from 2.37-2.92mm, indicating the possibility of producing strong paper with good tearing resistance from the plant. The major problem of bamboo pulping is silica deposition as the high silica content must be taken into consideration in view of scaling problems in the cooking plant and in black liquor evaporator which may lead to difficulty in lime pre-burning.

RMRDC initiatives

Further study shows that paper production is capital intensive. This notwithstanding, a number of investors have shown interest in investing in this area. However, the high dependence on imported raw materials has always been militating against this. This has made the need for investment promotion in small scale milis imperative.

A major advantage of small scale paper mills is the low initial capital requirement which makes it more attractive to the small scale investor. To encourage development of small scale pulp and paper making industries in Nigeria, government may have to earmark certain products exclusively in the domain of the small scale paper industries and to protect them from competition from the large industries that have been privatized. It is also important that tariff on products of small scale pulp and paper mills be increased and to eliminate double taxation for raw materials and products. The major hindrance here is that small scale pulp and paper mills have difficulty in coping with environmental legislation as small scale black liquor recovery is not yet fully perfected.

Need to restrategise and revamp paper production

Nevertheless, a number of experts have recommended that developing tropical countries re-strategize and promote paper production processes that depend more on local raw materials to ensure the sustainability of the paper industry. One of the major options given to countries with substantial agricultural produce is the production of paper from agricultural wastes. In India, three categories of pulp and paper mills are recognized. These are forest based mills; agro residues based mills and recycle fibre based mills. The forest based mills accounted for 49% of total raw materials input for paper, paperboard and newsprints production while agricultural residues and wastes paper accounted for 29% and 22% respectively.

Handmade Paper, non-capital intensive

Handmade paper is paper produced by hand. Handmade paper will gain widespread acceptance if it can be produced and delivered with a high level of consistency of quality and reproducibility between different lots. Thus, it requires a lot of discipline and training in the form of capacity building. The Japanese method of sheet formation and the European method of stock recirculation in paper is that large-scale units consume an average of 2.5 tonnes of forest based raw materials per ton of paper while small-scale units consume an average of 3.5 tonnes of raw materials per ton of paper. In contrast, a handmade paper unit uses only 1.1 tonnes of raw material per ton of paper produced.

One important reason for this is that the waste generated in the manufacturing process is internally recycled without loss of quality. Handmade paper production is not capital intensive as capital intensity increases dramatically as the scale of production increases. A similar advantage is in the employment generation potential. Employment creation in handmade paper units requires only one tenth the capital required in a large-scale integrated unit. The Council is already promoting production of handmade paper from a variety of agro raw materials, most especially, plantals and banana stalks. This is being done in collaboration with researchers in some tertiary Institutions. The primary objective in this direction is to ensure that all printing cards, files, etc currently imparted will be replaced by handmade papers produced locally.

More recently, the Council sponsored a researcher to design and fabricate a small scale digester pulping. This is being tested sequel to patenting.

Need to promote production of long fibre pulp locally

For the privatization of the integrated pulp and paper mills to be meaningful, it is imperative that efforts should be made to promote production of long fibre pulp locally. The indigenous long fibre wood species mentioned before offers great potentials. As the total output from the integrated mills cannot satisfy local demand even if they are to function at maximum capacity, there is need to increase pulp and paper capacities locally by encouraging small scale paper mills to come on board.

Small scale pulp and paper mills will provide opportunities for training managerial and technical personnel on several areas of pulp and paper production. It also has the capacity and capability of utilizing local raw materials including agricultural wastes in the production processes. There is also need for introduction of handmade paper culture locally. This will assist in production of papers. With these strategies, Nigeria may turn out to be a major paper exporter to other ECOWAS countries.

Council sponsored a researcher to design and fabricate a small scale digester pulping. This is being tested sequel to patenting.