Meet teacher who distills multipurpose insecticide from local herb
It is not surprising for one to get suddenly passionate and emotional at their maiden contact with certain situations, facts or revelation.
It is however rare for them to translate that passion into a profitable venture and Mr Samuel Donkoh belongs to this exceptional group.
Then a student at the Bekwai SDA SHS in the Ashanti Region in 1996, Mr Donkoh got startled and inspired at the magical prowess of the citronella plant, popularly known as the “Fever Grass” during an agriculture class.
The Agric Science teacher, whose name he remembers only as Mr Omane, had done such justice to the horticulture lesson on medicinal plants, during which the citronella plant stood out tall. Since then, Mr Donkoh has carried the passion for the plant with him.
At that young age, Sam managed to convince his father, John, a farmer, who bought into the idea and started growing citronella on a small plot of land. Through John’s instrumentality, they attracted some out-growers for the plant which paved the way for commercial distillation.
Their Perseverance with God (PWG) Citronella Farms, located at Morrison on the Axim road, about 27 kilometres from Takoradi in the Western Region, produced the grass and they sourced the rest from other farmers to feed a small distilling plant they self-designed and manufactured.
Later, they got the assistance of GRATIS Foundation to design the distilling boiler. Made from iron steel, the pot soon gave way to the weather, compelling them to go in for a stainless steel boiler out of their own resources.
Born February 1981, Sam, a teacher at Adiemra Senior High School in the Western Region attended the Akrokeri Teacher Training, Valley View University for his first degree and is currently pursuing a Master’s in Education at the University of Cape Coast.
Currently, PWG Farms produces four gallons of citronella oil every three months from materials harvested from the 20-acre farm.
Literature available indicates that the citronella oil is the only known insecticide that is edible.
Citronella oil is one of the essential oils obtained from the leaves of what is often referred to as lemongrass (Cymbopogon).
Until this commercial production of citronella, Ghanaians used to boil it together with sugar cane and lemon to produce syrup for the treatment of malaria and fever. Some people also take juice obtained from boiled citronella grass as a beverage.
Mr Donkoh told GRAPHIC BUSINESS that the farm also produced orange oil from orange peels, organic vegetable and rears bees to produce pure honey.
Uses of Citronella Oil
Citronella oil has several uses, some of which is through the innovation of the user. It can be used to mask unpleasant strong smells; as air freshener; as disinfectant in cleaning and mopping; as insect repellant, particularly for mosquitoes, and can also be used for the production of candles to serve the dual purpose of repellant and fragrance including.
In soap making, the oil comes in handy as fragrance and insecticide, while acting as an agent to remove stains from plastic and metal surfaces.
Since the citronella insecticide is edible, it can be used to treat intestinal bacterial infection.
Currently, PWG Farms sells their produce to local soap manufacturers, skin cream makers and aromatic candle makers.
Operators in the hospitality sector such as the Golden Beach Hotels and educational institutions such as Fijai SHS and Archbishop Porter SHS, both in Western Region; Valley View University at Oyibi and the University of Cape Coast all use PWG Citronella Oil as disinfectants. Other institutions include All Pure Nature, Ex Pat Solution Ghana and Akroma Plaza in Takoradi.
In addition, individuals and households also use the insecticide oil. In some countries such as India, Sri Lanka and South Africa, after distillation the residue is used to produce mosquito coil. So far, Mr Donkoh said he uses it as organic manure, particularly with its potential of driving away pests from the farm.
Citronella plant or fever grass has always been used by Ghanaians, but its commercial production and use for scientific purposes was pioneered in the country in 1978 by Unilever, which wanted to use it as input in its produces. His efforts to encourage commercial farming of the grass did not yield much result, as it was reduced to being planted as flowers and hedges.
History about citronella
His father, Mr John Donkoh, has been a great source of motivation for him otherwise he would have given up long time.
Getting adequate finance to expand his business is his main challenge.
“I once had a contract outside but I was unable to meet the demand. Also, market does not move as fast as I expect because it takes quite some time for my clients to re-order when they buy,” he explained.
Getting enough firewood is now difficult so he hinted he may soon switch to the use of liquefied petroleum gas. Also, he is compelled to pay higher prices to transport grass from outgrowers so getting his own farm truck will go a long way to reduce cost.
He said he was also constrained by human resource because the youth now prefered illegal mining (galamsey) than farmwork.
In spite of the above, he expressed readiness to allow others to participate in the business venture while he remains an icon of citronella oil in Ghana.
Need for research
Current studies by Sam and his team at PWG Farms have revealed that the grass yields more oil when its gets just the right amount of rainfall. It also seems that too much water gives less oil.
This therefore calls for research into the chemistry of the plant and the agronomic practices appropriate for it to yield higher oil volumes per acre.
Research by recognised bodies such as the Centre for Scientific and Industrial research (CSIR) to maximise the uses and economic benefits of the plant as well as find effective production methods.
A documentary about his businesses has been developed and shown on national television.
“I have been able to find market for my produce and I have built a new distilling plant. Gradually, my product is catching national attention as people are increasingly applying my citronella oil,” he said.
However, he appealed for government support to enable him to develop and expand the farm.
He said citronella farming could either come under state-run programmes such as the Youth in Agriculture Programme or the Ghana Youth Employment and Entrepreneurial Development Agency (GYEEDA) to employ more youth.
He added that the government could also support by way of sponsoring research into modern ways of production, recycling, packaging and market development.
So far, Samuel finds his business lucrative and said it does not take much investment on the farm, except for the processing equipment.
Mr Donkor therefore advised the government to educate the youth on the usefulness of the citronella grass and others to boost the production base of the country.
“I will advise the younger generation to go into the cultivation of citronella and lemon grass because it is lucrative. Besides, other crops can be planted alongside the grass since it has the capacity to fertilise the soil,” he said.
Farming, specifically backyard gardening is his hobby and his love for it has sustained his business venture. GB
By Ama Achiaa Amankwah Baafi/Graphic Business/Ghana
Writers email ;
Newer news items:
Older news items: