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Can it Work this Time?

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The administration of President Goodluck Jonathan is doing everything possible to revive the cassava revolution initiated in the dying days of former president Olusegun Obasanjo

|  By Augustine Adah  |  Dec. 10, 2012 @ 1:00 GMT

APART from serving as a staple food, cassava has the capacity to boost the country’s foreign exchange earnings annually. That is why the present administration is doing everything possible to revive cassava policy in the country. Akinwumi Adesina, minister of agriculture, who is passionate about the policy, promised that the full implementation of the programme would benefit farmers and processors and, in return, create more jobs for the teeming youths.

Adesina emphasised the determination of the government to implement the policy of 20 percent replacement of wheat flour with cassava flour in bread baking. It is expected that the full implementation of the policy would bring about $ 845 million to cassava farmers/processors annually. The minster, who was at the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-arid Tropics, ICRISAT, India, last September, stated that apart from using the  cassava flour for bread, Nigeria has started exporting cassava chips to China, with the hope to export about 1.1 million metric tons in the next one year, the country would earn $136 million.

In addition, the country has made contact with one of the largest food processing companies in the world so that it could produce industrial cassava starch to replace the corn starch that is currently imported. An estimated 250,000 metric tons of starch would be produce in Nigeria under this arrangement. To boost the production of cassava tubers, the federal ministry of agriculture since this year, has distributed about eight million high varieties of cassava stems to farmers. This will later increase to 30 million before the next planting season.

Already, the United Trading Company, UTC, which started the baking of  cassava bread early January this year, has concluded arrangements to commence the export of cassava bread to some African countries during the coming Christmas. Foluso Olaniyan, managing director, UTC, stated that the company has appointed agents for cassava bread in Cotonou and Accra. The export will begin after fine tuning the Memorandum of Understanding, MoU with the importing countries. “We want to make this year’s Christmas a cassava filled celebration for African nations” she said.

The Federal Institute of Industrial Research, Oshodi, FIIRO, which has a well- researched report on the utilisation of cassava for various products such as garri, fufu, chips, pellets, starch and composite flour as far back as the 1960’s, believes that the country would gain a lot from cassava bread.

 At a two day training organised for master bakers in the South-West, Titus Efunkoye, FIIRO’s desk officer for cassava value chain, who represented Jide Olumeko, the director general of the organisation, enumerated some of the benefits of cassava bread. “Cassava  bread would give you better quality bread at a cheaper rates, it has a higher nutritional value due to its lower glycerin index responsible for diabetes. The country would save about N600 billion from importation of wheat,” he said.

In order to meet the demand for cassava tubers by processors, Nigeria Cassava Growers’ Association, NCGA, Kogi State, has concluded arrangement to acquire about 600 hectares of land across the three senatorial zones for the planting of high yielding cassava. Daniel Odoma, chairman, NCGA, appealed to the state government to support the efforts of the farmers to produce enough cassava for local consumption and for export. “I appeal to Idris Wada, governor of Kogi State, to assist farmers through provision of loans, implements and high variety stems. This would make the  policy  of producing cassava for industrial and local consumption a reality,” he said. The association, which has also got contact for the exportation of chips, is also making  concerted efforts to start chip production soon.

[caption id="attachment_1245" align="alignright" width="300"]Cassava plants Cassava plants[/caption]

But some farmers and experts are afraid that the new zeal to revive the cassava project as demonstrated by Adesina may not last long going by previous experiences. This is not the first time the federal government is demonstrating its zeal in reviving cassava production. Many farmers are still not convinced of the sincerity of the government on the cassava policy.

They argue that similar enthusiasm to revive cassava project was shown by former President Olusegun Obasanjo. The policy prompted some of them to borrow money and invest in cassava farming but ran into huge debt when the policy could not be implemented. Momoh Shuaib, a farmer in Auchi, Edo State, painted a pathetic picture of how he lost over a million naira at that time because the demand for cassava fell contrary to what they were told at the beginning that the policy would push the price up because of high demand.

“Some of us are still studying government’s sincerity this time around because we tried it before and burnt our fingers” he said. A similar doubt was also expressed by Taiwo Folunsho, a farmer in Ogun State. He feared that the new policy may be dumped before full implementation and consequently farmers would be worst hit. Rotimi Fashola, an agricultural expert and consultant to Lagos State ministry of agriculture and rural co-operatives, described government’s inconsistence in policy administration as responsible for the non- growth of agricultural sector in the country. He believes the cassava policy would succeed if the government demonstrates enough political will.

The administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo constituted a committee known as Presidential Initiative on cassava with a mandate to ensure the inclusion of 10 percent cassava flour in the baking of bread and other confectioneries, commence the exportation of cassava chips and make the cassava a major foreign exchange earner for Nigeria. Unfortunately, the policy could not be implemented barely a year to his exit in 2007.

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