Since the inception of the present administration in Nigeria, diversifying the economy and making it agriculture-based has been one of the key priorities. But unfortunately, despite the potentials, which abound in cassava, no strong policy thrust has been developed by the present administration regarding cassava development and production. CALEB ONWE writes.
Cassava development in poser The administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has been intensifying effort to turn around agriculture and also make it the country’s top revenue earner soon. This agenda has turned into a song of sort and is almost gaining more popularity than the national anthem with the wave at which agriculture is gaining momentum. Precisely, government officials, especially people opportuned to be in the economic team of President Buhari’s administration and those who are within the corridors of the agriculture ministry, hardly make any public appearance without a resounding allusion to the fact that government has resolved to resuscitate agriculture, which once made the country the envy of other economies. Unfortunately, despite the potential that abounds in the cassava sub-sector of the country’s agriculture, no strong policy thrust has been seen from the present administration regarding cassava development and production.
The efforts made by the previous administration, which undoubtedly started rebuilding the confidence of farmers who grow cassava in the country, with renewed hope of reaping bountifully from cassava export, had also weaned, as much talks without positive action remains the hallmark of government. Indeed, Nigeria is reputed to be the largest producer of cassava in the world, producing approximately 45 million tonnes yearly, which is also said to be 19 per cent of the world total cassava production.
Attention of the present administration appear to be focused more on cattle ranching and lately the controversial cattle colony that has polarised the country and created more ethnic suspicion and bitterness. New Telegraph’s investigations revealed that going by International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) data, the North Central states of Benue, Kogi, Plateau, Taraba, Nasarawa and Kwara produce up to 29 per cent of the cassava in Nigeria. Both in Nigeria and many parts of the world, cassava is useful both as food and raw material that could spur enormous industrial and economic revolution in the country, if it is well developed and harnessed.
According to Pastor Segun Adewumi, the National President of Nigeria Cassava Growers Association (NCGA), Nigeria’s attitude towards cassava production was not only discouraging farmers who are labouring to grow the root crop, but also stifling the opportunity the country has to reboot its economy. Adewumi pointed out that Nigerian farmers could earn up to N20 trillion from production, processing and exporting cassava, both as processed food and raw material.
He said: “All we need is to devote five million of the 84 million hectares of the arable land in Nigeria to cassava development and that will yield 200mmt of cassava. Using industrial starch as example, 200mmt of cassava will produce 50mmt of starch, which sells for N350,000 per ton and that will generate N17.5 trillion. Fortunately, cassava can be cultivated in all parts of Nigeria. It is even better cultivated in the North where weeding is easier and land clearing is much less expensive.
He continued: “Cassava provides over 20 domestic food types for Nigerians and that include, garri, fufu, lafun, starch, tapioca and pupuru, among others. It also has five major industrial products namely, ethanol, industrial starch, cassava flour, glucose syrup and sweetener. “Incidentally, they are also raw materials to numerous utility items with limitless domestic and export market potentials. Cassava can trigger massive industrial revolution that will earn Nigeria over N20 trillion yearly. Cassava is actually the answer to the economic woes of Nigeria.
Cassava growers in the country have continued to decry what they described as a reversal of what the former administration did in promoting cassava production. One of the many initiatives piloted by the former administration towards cassava production, but had been relegated to the background without an alternative include the launching of the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA) This initiative, a private sector driven, agribusiness-based and development of commodity value chains to create wealth, impacted heavily on the cassava industry, but the seemingly reversal of this programme has also retrogressed the input and the output of cassava farmers in the country. According to reports, “part of the aims of ATA was to inject $380 billion into the economy from partial substitution of cassava flour for wheat flour in bread and confectionery.”
One of the concerns of farmers who are ready to invest in cassava production is that a country that produces up to 45mmt of cassava yearly has no strategic plans to add value to the crop. Cassava farmers have also lamented that with the $680 million the country was spending on importing flour, starch, glucose and other cassava by-products, it is alarming that the current government has no concrete plans for a way forward in cassava development.
Cassava farmers in Nigeria are yearning for the adoption of the initiative, which scientists and officials from Cornell University and the Tanzanian Ministry of Agriculture officially inaugurated recently. The initiative, scientists believe, would help to revolutionising agriculture in Africa through cassava is coming on the stables of NextGen cassava technology. Ronnie Coffman, International plant breeder and director of Cornell’s International Programmes in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said: “Another five years will help us strengthen the long-term global sustainability of cassava – a crop that is important for food security and predicted to stand up to climate change and extended periods of drought or rain.”
The scientists explained that with the Next-generation cassava technology, it would be possible to produce varieties of cassava that is resilient to major diseases that attack crops Africa. Chiedozie Egesi, Project Manager for NextGen cassava, said: “We have the next five years to be very courageous in delivering best bet varieties resilient to major diseases for African farmers. Cassava can be the engine that will revolutionize agriculture in Africa.”
The project, funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and United Kingdom aid, NextGen Cassava researchers and partners were said to have made major strides in understanding cassava’s genome and flowering, shortened the time to develop new cassava varieties from eight to five years, identified user preferences important to men and women to incorporate into breeding targets and established cassava base, an open-access database for cassava genomic information.
With the current trend, Nigeria may not be able to recover from the heavy capital flight that follows the importation of cassava products, except a practicable policy thrust is taken by government to reverse the ugly trend that is already impacting on farmers’ low morale.