Maximising The Potential Of Cassava


By Tayo Ogunbiyi

Cassava is one of the most drought-tolerant crops in the world. It can be successfully grown on marginal soils, and gives reasonable yields where many other crops do not grow well. Cassava is well adapted within latitudes 30° north and south of the equator, at elevations between sea level and 2000 meters above sea level, in equatorial temperatures, with rainfalls of 50 millimetres to five metres annually, and to poor soils with a pH ranging from acidic to alkaline. These conditions are common in most parts of Africa and South America.

Sadly, this all important crop has been neglected for long as its potential has not been fully maximised, especially in African countries.  However, that is beginning to change as this long neglected but economically viable crop is presently experiencing a positive change of fortune. This, of course, is a welcome development since the crop feeds half-a-billion people in Africa every day, and is also grown by millions of subsistence farmers in the continent.

A major event in the 2012 cassava calendar, that boosted the market value of the crop, took place in February when research revealed that cassava could be one of the most climate-resilient crops for smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. Equally, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) recently revealed that cassava would become a miracle crop in Nigeria, if its potential was maximized. IFAD President, Dr Kanayo Nwanze, disclosed that the crop would go a long way in serving both the poor and the rich in the future.

However, for us in Nigeria to maximize the potential of cassava, there is a serious need to encourage the full participation of agro allied industries. This is where agri-business high-level conference comes into place. We need to bring on board seminars and workshops to be handled by experts in the field with a view to enlightening investors on the diverse economic potentials of the crop.  Recent development in the evolvement of the crop has shown that cassava is not only a food crop for ‘garri’ as the flour can also be made into bread, muffin, range of cookies and pastries. It can also be used for animal feed, particularly ruminants like goats; cassava produces sorbitol which is a highly sought-after component for the industry. It can also be used in the production of industrial starch.  This is where the motivation comes in for agriculture-based industries as the possibilities for returns on investment are simply limitless.

It is quite evident from recent discoveries that cassava is a multiple-use crop. In fact, experts have declared that the crop will soon become a miracle crop not only for the poor, but also for the rich. Similarly, it has been revealed that cassava flour will serve as a substitute to many food produce as well as cut down the country’s import bill. And this is where our agro-industry must be part and parcel of this process. The private sector needs to contribute to the process of developing the crop as it has a tremendous potential to contribute to the use of cassava as the potential miracle crop for the agricultural sector in Nigeria.

However, in order to facilitate the active involvement of the private sector in maximizing the crop’s potential, governments across the land need to create a conducive environment for both the local farmers and  potential entrepreneurs. A private sector investor desires to make profit just as the poor local farmer. If the local farmers are to be encouraged to produce more, we must encourage the private sector to be able to buy their produce. So, there is need to put in place concrete policies that will stimulate private sector investment in cassava related issues.  The federal government as well as other tiers of government in the country should put infrastructure in place, especially roads to rural areas where most of the farming takes place to cut cost and increase profit in marketing. For the potential of the crop to be fully tapped into, the private sector has to be part of the development process. They are the drivers of development all across the world. Ours cannot be an exception

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It is encouraging, however, that the federal and state governments have started exploring the unlimited potentials of the crop.  For instance, the federal government and IFAD recently signed a financing agreement for the development of the agricultural value chain for rice and cassava in six states of the federation. The agreement is aimed at assisting farmers to put processing capacity in place and also ensure that market systems are working. This, aside encouraging local production, would motivate and attract local and international investors to invest in the crop.

From the foregoing, it is clear that the potential of cassava is enormously exhilarating but there is an urgent need by the appropriate authorities to step up effort that will promote research and other activities that will enhance the full utilization of the crop’s potential.  There is need to  mobilise local researchers to work with other researchers across  the world to join the Global Cassava Modeling Consortium, where they can share their research to help better understanding of  the physiology of the plant, and explore avenues for improving its management and delivering better varieties to farmers.

It is encouraging that the federal government has committed the sum of N460 million for the implementation of the national cassava value chain programme.  This was recently disclosed by the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Akinwunmi Adeshina, at the flag off of cassava value chain programme in Lagos held at Lagos State Agricultural Training Institute, Araga, Epe.  The programme which came under National Agricultural Transformation Agenda, ATA, saw the distribution of 25,000 cassava bundles to benefitting registered crop farmers in the state. At least 200 out of 34,000 registered crop farmers received their cassava bundles at ceremony. The flag-off was the second in the series of the intervention under the Growth Enhancement Support Scheme. The industrial uses along the value chain include: High Quality Cassava Flour, HQCF, for the replacement of up to 20 percent wheat flour in bread with cassava.

On its part, the Lagos State government is working relentlessly to tap into the magical potentials of cassava. In line with this, the state government recently established the Agege Farm Service Center to bring agricultural services closer to farmers as well as provide stakeholders with accurate, timely and reliable information and relevant advice on modern farm techniques and management including entrepreneurial modules. It has also begun an enlightenment programme for local farmers on the diverse benefits of cassava.

The current trend of spending so much on the importation of food need to be reversed. For instance, the federal government has spent N98 trillion on the importation of food in the last four years. In 2010 alone, the nation spent N635 billion on wheat importation while another N35 trillion was spent on rice importation, N217 billion on sugar importation and another N97 billion spent on fish importation!

With an array of vastly available agricultural friendly land, we need not look further as cassava cultivation would not only ensure food security but also address the question of unemployment. Agriculture remains one major sector that could readily take care of youth restiveness as well as unemployment in the country, if only the various authorities concerned could step up efforts in this direction. Cassava cultivation is currently undergoing a revolution that will turn it into a money spinning venture. Our country must not be left behind.

•Ogunbiyi is of the Features Unit, Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.

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