Andrew Iloh

Ashoka Fellow
Illustration of a person's face depicting a fellow
Nigeria
Fellow Since 2014
This description of Andrew Iloh's work was prepared when Andrew Iloh was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2014 .

Introduction

Andrew is reversing the trend of forest exploitation positioning communities to cultivate indigenous plants, increase their income and enliven their lives.

The New Idea

Andrew is advancing conservation, food security and economic opportunities for rural communities. He is promoting household self-reliance, and making small holder systems sustainable. Through home gardening, he is positioning communities to cultivate indigenous plants that are going into extinction thereby conserving the forests and enlivening the community.

Andrew is linking modern science with traditional knowledge, giving rural communities an opportunity to synergize traditional knowledge with scientific knowledge to enable them to have more food, increase their income and enliven their lives. He is making science accessible and useful to local communities, regenerating plants and positioning communities to cultivate those endangered plants they used to exploit from the wild.

Starting with G.Africanum( Okazii) he has positioned households in Nigerian communities to preserve endangered plant species, become self-reliant and achieve food security. With his knowledge in the area of science and conservation, he has equipped communities to regenerate medicinal plants that are going extinct. Realizing medicinal plants relied upon by rural dwellers are going extinct as a result of constant exploitation , he is teaching these households to regenerate the endangered plant species by equipping them with skills on how to specifically grow and provide the needed environment for these plants to survive. He used tissue culture to mass multiply these plants and then positioned the community members to be able to cultivate these plants using home gardens. He taught them to start home gardens of crops and plants that ordinarily grew in the forest making the crops readily available for the people thereby improving their health and wellbeing. By doing this he has stopped them from depleting the ones in the forest since they are no longer harvesting the crops from the forest. He has also provided economic incentives for the rural dwellers while they advance conservation.

He has been able to open up young minds to begin to understand plants and conservation of such plants and the environment.

The Problem

In Nigeria 38% of the GDP is contributed by agriculture, 70% of the population derives their means of livelihood from agriculture, and the economy is characterized by a large rural based traditional sector, most of the rural poor derive their livelihood from wild species of biodiversity.

Natural and man-made threats including over exploitation of resources have contributed to the erosion of biodiversity in the country. There has been an increasing trend in the use of medicinal plants amongst urban and rural dwellers. This trend has grave consequences on the survival of some plant species because of the unsustainable manner in which many species are harvested. The loss of biodiversity is perhaps the greatest long-term threat to global sustainability.

Nigeria, blessed as it is, with abundant agro ecological resources and diversity, has become one of the largest food importers in sub-Saharan Africa. The country imports a large amount of the food it consumes despite adequate land and good climate. Leaving the country vulnerable to volatile international market prices.

The forest has served as a source of livelihood to the Nigerian populace for many generations. It is a source of income, employment, food, medicine, recreation and vital raw materials for many purposes. However, many factors are threatening the sustainability of this source of people’s survival.

A large variety of plants are used traditionally for the treatment of various ailments and diseases. These plants which are mostly used in a combination, have shown to be effective, and often preferred to the commercially available medicine by a large portion of the society. The extensive chemical diversity of plants in bio-diverse regions such as Nigeria is a promising source of medicinal plants that are still relatively unexplored. The indigenous knowledge of traditional medicinal plants is a valuable tool for targeting potentially active species from the wealth of medicinal plants in these regions, which may be of great importance as new medicines.

The government of Nigeria has taken major steps to boost research in traditional medicine in an effort to preserve the country's indigenous medical knowledge. However, this increasing trend in the use of medicinal plants amongst both urban and rural dwellers has grave consequences on the survival of some plant species. This is as a result of the unsustainable manner in which many species are harvested.

The Strategy

In 1997 Andrew realized that there was a high level of exploitation of biodiversity in Nigerian forests. Rural dwellers were indiscriminately harvesting plants for food and medicine and without realizing that this was leading to the extinction of plants.

While doing the thesis for his masters Andrew decided to ask the question why plants were going extinct and what could be done about it. Andrew in a bid to solve the problem, conducted research and then used tissue culture to multiply the threatened plants using test tubes to develop plantlets. Following the conclusion of his master’s program, Andrew did not want it to stop as thesis alone, he wanted to bring it to reality and help communities conserve their threatened plants. He identified several communities experiencing deforestation and conducted a survey to assess the local knowledge and resources that these communities have.

After analyzing information from these communities, he decided to connect their local knowledge with modern science. Andrew was able to make them see reasons why their indigenous plants were threatened and going extinct, he introduced the plantlets he had mass multiplied to them, distributed the plantlets and encouraged them to practice home gardening instead of going into the forest to exploit plants. Andrew provided them with information on developing a forest-like environment for the plants to grow well. He trained them on how to set up home gardens as well as market the products after harvesting. By doing this Andrew improved the quality of life of the rural communities and also reduced the time they spent trying to get plants from forest

For these communities to take ownership of the project Andrew instituted an implementation committee comprising members of all the communities and their village chiefs. The head of the community teaches the young women and men home gardening so they in turn can teach their parents and other members of their communities, figuring that community members are more inclined to listen to their children and accept changes brought to them by their children rather than from someone else. The implementation committee organizes trainings for their communities, they monitor and mentor their community members to ensure that they are adhering to the instructions to enable the plants grow. They also provide feedback to Andrew about their communities.

So far the communities involved in the program have been able to grow vegetables and have started selling and making profits, they have been able to start packaging their vegetables better and making them more attractive for markets. One member of the community has developed labels for his vegetables giving his product prestige. Andrew also taught the communities about the preservation of these vegetables when they are harvested. About 60% of the people who got the plant are now making profits off of the plants.

Some members of the other surrounding communities who heard about the program, indicated interest and were included in the training have started replicating the work in their own communities while the implementation committee has also been providing technical support and mentoring to them.

For sustainability, Andrew taught the communities to develop nurseries of these plants. The nurseries will help the communities produce more seedlings that would sustain them and other communities interested in cultivating these plants. The communities plant the seedlings they get from their nurseries and also sell the seedlings to other communities as a means of raising income while they wait for their plants to mature for harvesting, preservation, and eventual sales.

For these rural communities to develop self-reliance Andrew introduced renewable energy to the women by teaching the women simple ways of producing biogas from the waste generated from their homes, he also taught them how to use compost to produce manure for their farms. Introducing improved wood stove for the people to use and cut down on ways that degrade the forest.

He also set up a Biotech education resource center in Abuja knowing that a lot of young people are ignorant about conservation and biotechnology, Andrew started conservation clubs in schools for the children to have hands-on learning experience. He selected 50 secondary schools in four local government areas, a minimum of ten schools in each council and provided them with seedlings to develop a botanical garden. Andrew got the principals to donate a portion of their school land for the students to set up a garden. With the help of the students, they set up botanical gardens, planted trees and tagged each with their botanical name. Introducing the children to what biotechnology means and giving them a feel of what conservation is in their schools.

Andrew belongs to a network of people working on biotechnology and conservation in Nigeria called Green Deal Nigeria, through this coalition he creates awareness about environmental issues, organizing outreaches trying to get the public to understand the need for conservation and environmental knowledge. Through Green Deal, he has reached out to a large number of Nigeria using a radio program to get Nigerians to become aware of what biotechnology is about and how they can conserve their environment.

The Person

Andrew is the first child of a chemist who worked in a biscuit company. The mother was a teacher and she also had farms. As a child he developed interest in the sciences quite early and he always liked doing things with his hands.

Andrew’s love for the sciences continued to grow as he went to school. He attended a special science school in Onitsha where they had science week once every term to show case science innovation by the students. For the science week Andrew always did something innovative, on two occasions he made margarine and detergent
Andrew decided to study a course in the University where he would make use of his hands, he read extensively about different courses that will enable him do this and eventually settled for Botany.
After his University education, while waiting for his compulsory one year National Youth service corps posting, he got employment as a Biology teacher in a secondary school where he taught Biology and learnt to manage people.

One year later, he got his National Youth Service Corps posting and he became a science teacher in a Federal government Girls college. He realized that the school had a gold mine in the form of a science laboratory, the laboratory was underutilized and he thought this could be used to better equip the science students in the school. For the school to make effective use of their laboratory Andrew started a JETS club and also replicated the science week from his secondary school days. This enabled the students to move from learning not only the theoretical part of science but they also started doing practical and produced things which they showcased to their parents and other visitors during the science week.

For his Masters program Andrew studied the biological make up of some plants that had been exploited by indigenous communities. He realized that even though these plants do not easily generate and they are becoming extinct not because of climate change but because indigenous people lacked knowledge as to how to conserve and preserve these plants. While harvesting these plants for food and medicinal purposes indigenous communities harvested the plants indiscriminately and this was threatening the plants. In order to remedy this situation Andrew used tissue culture to mass multiply these plants and also get indigenous people to understand why these plants were going extinct and how they can take part in conserving the forest and preserve these plants. Andrew not only did this as his thesis but he also decided to do this in reality.

Andrew also belongs to a network called Green Deal, through Green Deal he started innovation day on the university radio station where he creates awareness about climate change and other issues that affect our environment. Giving information that will spur young people to begin to take responsibility for preserving their environment. Green Deal also creates awareness in parks in several places in Nigeria.

In 2010 Andrew became a climate protection fellow of the Alexander Vomhombolt.