Why Nigeria must invest in cassava
Ubarnisation has created a demand for value added cassava products in the domestic markets, especially in food, bakery, cosmetics and industrial use, even as seasonal opportunities also exist in the regional markets
Cassava, a staple root crop grown in various countries across Africa and other parts of the world, is said to be a poverty reduction and food security crop. Cassava is a household name in Asia, Latin America and Thailand. Thailand alone is making a fortune from cassava as the largest exporter in the world. Yet, Thailand produces far less than Nigeria.
Statistics from the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI) indicate that Nigeria is the largest producer of cassava in the world with an annual estimate of 52 million metric tonnes produced on 3.85 million hectares by about 4.5 million smallholder farmers. However, the domestic and export potentials are not yet fully tapped by the government, private investors and other stakeholders.
At a recent press conference in Abuja, Dr. Oluwole Oludaise Aina, Chairman, Governing Board of the National Root Crops Research Institute based in Umudike, Abia State, stated that “the average output in farmer’s fields is about 14 metric tonnes per hectare, but in well managed farms through the introduction of improved varieties of cassava stems from research works of NRCRI in collaboration with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), output could be as high as 60 metric tonnes per hectare.”
Since cassava has an inherent ability to adapt to marginal environments where other crops including wheat are far more risky, high potential energy production per unit land area, high flexibility in management and ability to enter diverse markets, Nigeria must take advantage of this natural endowment to better its economy, he stated.
Aina said: “No continent depends as much on root and tuber crops in feeding its population as Africa. In the humid and sub humid areas of tropical Africa, it is either a primary staple food or a secondary staple food.”
The board chairman maintained that Nigeria can derive more benefits from cassava than wheat or some other crops cultivated in the country due to its greater comparative advantage.
Aina said cassava, which can be processed into a variety of products such as flour, garri, fufu, chips, pellets, starch, etc. for either human consumption or industrial use, has “a lot of competitive international products” compared to wheat and other crops.
Listing several reasons why the country must place more emphasis on cassava production, processing and utilisation, he said: “Every part of cassava is money – there is no waste in cassava, markets for by-products and wastes create opportunities for more integrated cassava production systems in Nigeria”.
Nigeria’s greatest strength in cassava as listed by Dr. Aina is the “presence of a huge domestic market for cassava”, followed by excellent climate for growing cassava throughout the country and all year round, millions of hectares of suitable land, and farmers’ familiarity with cassava cultivation which is not cumbersome.
Another reason given by the board chairman, which is human capacity and health related, is the presence of Research and Development (R&D) institutions like NRCRI and IITA with a core of well-informed and competent cassava scientists who have developed over 45 improved and high yielding varieties including pro vitamin A to combat malnutrition among pregnant women and underage children.
Favourable government policy such as protective duties on cassava competing crop product imports like wheat and the planned mandated 20 to 40% use of cassava flour in bread making and other confectioneries, which has created a booming cassava industry in the country is also one of the reasons why we must invest in cassava.
Other reasons include great savings in foreign exchange, cost advantage, vertical integration, and economies of scale, abundant new cassava recipes and the high social cost of importing wheat from abroad as we continue to export our jobs outside the country.
Aina said ubarnisation has created a demand for value added cassava products in the domestic markets, especially in food, bakery, cosmetics and industrial use, even as seasonal opportunities also exist in the regional markets.
He said building a strong cassava production and processing industry will generate rural and urban employment and stimulate technology development in Nigeria as obtains in countries like Brazil, China, India and Thailand among others.
Aina said that High Quality Cassava Flour (HQCF) factory zones have been identified in the six geopolitical zones to process cassava roots into HQCF for human and industrial use. He added that to ensure an unhindered supply of HQCF, “government is rehabilitating all existing small and medium HQCF mills that will produce a total of 160 metric tonnes per day.
“Government is also acquiring 20 numbers of 60 MT/day medium scale HQCF mills that will be provided to the private sector on concession and establishing another eight large mills such that by the first quarter of 2015 the target of a total of 600,000 MT/year capacity of HQCF would have been achieved,” he said.
Aina stated that the government has also created a dried cassava chips industry that converts highly perishable cassava roots into a storable and easily transportable commodity, thereby stabilising cassava production and supply.
He said that private processors have been selected by the government to enhance production and utilization of cassava roots, while village level processors, mediumsized processors and farmers’ organizations have been engaged for partnership in high quality garri production.
Starch and flour value chains have been strengthened and new value chains such as sweeteners and ethanol industries are being created, he said, noting that “with all the above interventions and support, I am bold to say that cultivating cassava in commercial quantity is the most profitable venture that will ensure higher returns to our farmers, create wealth, reduce unemployment, reduce poverty and guarantee food security.”
But checks revealed that many farmers are not aware of the interventions, even as over 10 million farmers were said to be captured across the country in 2013. Farmers who spoke to Daily Trust maintained that they were surprised that the government has made some interventions in the cassava value chain, which is yet to make any impact on their farming activities.
A cassava farmer in Karshi, Nasarawa state, Mr. Danladi Abu told our reporter that he has not received any cassava stems from the government and that he toils in his farm using hoe and cutlass to cultivate cassava, which usually gets wasted due to lack of market for the fresh produce.
He queried: “The hard labour in the farm is the beginning of the trouble, getting the produce from the farm to the market is a problem, selling at good price is another trouble, yet the government is assisting. When will the rural poor farmer get help?”
Cassava farm at Karshi in Karu LGA, Nasarawa state