Cassava: Tapping From Its Potentials

There are several profitable cash crops in Nigeria. But cash crops like palm oil, ground nuts, cocoa, and lately cassava have kept Nigeria’s name on the world map of exports for decades in spite of the neglect of the agricultural sector during the oil boom.

According to reports by the World Bank and many indigenous research institutions, Nigeria is deemed as the largest cassava producing nation in the world. Today, Nigeria is said to be highest exporter of cassava with an annual production of about 45 million metric tonnes.

The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), in its 2010/2011 agricultural survey, stated that a total of 33 states cultivated cassava with 3.48million hectare (ha) as area of land cultivated. “These states recorded the highest figures: Benue 403,000ha, followed by Cross River 345,000ha, and Enugu 242,000ha; while Kano State had the lowest area cultivated at 1,120ha,” it noted.

The NBS said the aggregate production during the period in review was 42,533,000 metric tons. Benue state had the highest production figure 3,791,450 metric tons, followed by Cross River 3,302,470 metric tons, and Oyo 2,920,000 metric tons.  Sokoto State recorded the least figure in production with 3,700 metric tons.

Nigeria has very good soil for cultivation and agriculture-friendly weather yet the country spends billions on food imports: about 600 million tonnes of food is imported annually. The country is said to be the highest importer of rice; spending N75 billion on it every year. Another N60 billion is spent to import sugar, N165 billion goes to the importation of wheat and N105 billion on fish.

This is obviously due to the fact that over the decades the federal governments of various military regimes and civilian administrations have not considered agriculture a priority because they had crude oil to export. This has resulted to poor funding of agriculture and even today agriculture gets less than 3% of the entire national budget.

In past few years, a lot of stakeholders in the agricultural sector have been drumming up attention for this root crop: Cassava (manihot esculentus).

The appetite for Garri, Eba and ‘African Salad’ is increasing in the country. Just like chicken and turkey, Eba, a meal made from Garri continues to be glamorised and included in the menu of major social events, like other local dishes. Also the popularity of trendy restaurants with local dishes has resulted in all the major fast food restaurants including Eba on the menu. Not to forget the Garri-Sugar snack that is catching on amongst school kids especially in the suburbs.

The high price of wheat flour is affecting the price of bread and bread is practically a necessity in every home, especially for breakfast. The situation with wheat is expected to get worse as Nigeria continues to import more and more wheat flour.

Fortunately, bakers can now include cassava flour in bread making following the Federal Government’s new policy of having 40% cassava flour input in bread made and consumed in the country.

The new policy, expected to come into operation on July 1, 2012, proposes that bread made in the country will comprise 60% wheat and 40% processed cassava flour. Brazil is usually cited as the country where cassava content in bread is highest at 30%.

In the meantime, while stakeholders in the bakery and confectionery sector have expressed doubts as regards the success of the policy because of the plethora of logistic and operational challenges that are yet to be solved, some say 100% cassava bread stands a chance of becoming a delicacy someday, just like corn bread. Also some noodle makers are quietly using cassava to supplement wheat flour which is more expensive. The chances are that bread consumers may not even know their bakeries have switched to cassava flour. But there is more to Cassava than all of this.

Over 800 million people world-wide depend on cassava for food. The consumption in West Africa is more than 120kg per annum/per capita while that of Central Africa Republic is more than 300kg per annum/per capita.

Demand for Cassava

The annual demand for processed cassava products by American and European countries is huge, especially in Germany, UK, France, and the Netherlands, because of its many uses.

But food is what cassava is mostly used for. Cassava chips or pellets are just right for groundnut cake, palm kernel cake, soya bean cake, bone meals, etc. Cassava chips are also used in the animals feed industry, and this has made them to receive tremendous patronage around the globe.

The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) reports claim that Nigeria’s cassava is superior – based on research results and we are responsible for 80% of the world’s output.

‘Cassava food’ includes: Gari, Cassareep, Palaver, Fufu, Eba, Tapioca, Cassava cake, Cassava bread, Tapai, Getuk, krupuk and the list is growing. Also the cassava leave-soup is a daily delicacy in Liberia. It is also used to make alcoholic beverages.

Processed cassava serves as industrial raw material for the production of adhesives bakery products, dextrin, dextrose glucose, lactose and sucrose. Dextrin is used as a binding agent in the paper and packing industry and adhesive in cardboard, plywood and veneer binding.

The food and beverage industries use cassava products derivatives in the production of jelly caramel and chewing gum; pharmaceutical and chemical industries also use cassava alcohol (ethanol) in the production of cosmetics and drugs. The products are also used in the manufacture of dry cell, textiles and school chalk and more.

Interestingly, cassava can be used to make ethanol biofuel and the clamour for alternative to crude oil-fuels especially petrol would increase the demand for maize and cassava for fuel. Nigeria alone produces over 10 million metric tons of cassava per annum.

In fact the International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC), the Dutch government, the Dutch Agricultural Development and Trading Company (DADTCO), three Nigerian state governments: Rivers, Taraba and Osun, and a non-governmental organization, Communicating For Change (CFC) have begun the ‘Cassava Revolution’.

More companies are going into the processing of Garri. It was predominantly produced by local makers back in the day. Things have changed now and farmers are very delighted to sell off hundreds of tons of the cassava roots in one transaction to a company.

In April 2005 Nigeria began exporting cassava chips to the People’s Republic of China under the Presidential Initiative on cassava. The first export was 40 metric tonnes of cassava chips in two batches of 20 metric tonnes. HarvestPlus is at this point striving to achieve its goal of having more than 150,000 Nigerian households eating vitamin A fortified yellow cassava by the year 2014.

HarvestPlus, an international agricultural organisation, is partnering with the IITA which is leading a global effort to breed and disseminate micro-nutrient-rich staple food crops to reduce hunger in malnourished populations. This means that more of the Garri consumed in the country would be processed by cassava processing companies.

In June 2011 Roberts Ungwaga Orya, Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of the Nigeria Export-Import Bank said that the bank had “provided funding windows of N500 million” for the export of cassava and provided about N1.1 billion to five companies for value added processing of cassava to flour, chips and glucose syrup.

Government’s latest effort

The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr Akinwunmi Adesina, recently announced that the Federal Government has concluded plans to ensure Nigeria export one million tonnes of cassava chips in 2012.

Dr. Adesina, who spoke at a platform to commemorate the 2012 Democracy Day celebration on May 29, said the target would be met through the various reforms initiated on improving the cassava value chain in the country.

He noted that cassava was one of the five crops that the present administration had identified as a prospective foreign exchange earner for the country under the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA).

Other crops being developed are sorghum, cotton, rice and cocoa.

The Minister added that the Federal Government had concluded arrangements for the establishment of 18 cassava processing plants across the country, while he expressed optimism that these plants would process 1.3m tonnes of cassava, making Nigeria the largest cassava processor globally.

Dr. Adesina urged Nigerians to patronise bread made from cassava flour, saying that it is the only way to promote the product.

Meanwhile, the demand for the cassava root in Nigeria is rising and the clamour for modern farming and food processing technology as well as the expanding international market for cassava and it processed forms creates bigger openings for bigger business ventures and bigger profits.

Getting involved

To become an exporter of cassava and cassava products information is key. The Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC) can provide this information while consultations from practitioners in the sector will go a long way to educate potential investors. However, prospective investors need to identify which of the cassava products they intend to focus on.

The opportunities that cassava based businesses have are vast but Nigeria has not harnessed it even though stakeholders have been creating the awareness in their own capacities for several years.

The farmers still battle with poor technology, poor transportation, poor infrastructure and pests (cassava mites).

The information on how to get started is available (even on the internet) and this includes addresses of local makers, fabricators of the cassava processing machines, information on the cassava production technology, appropriate packaging to meet the export standard, processing cassava and its derivatives, export procedures, documentation and marketing in the international market, procedures for collecting 30% rebate on export of agricultural products, and contact data of foreign companies seeking to buy cassava products.

As for the cassava root itself, an investor would also need to know how to keep their tubers fresh for months, which varieties of cassava are of the highest/most sort after quality for the product the investor is focusing on as well as high yielding varieties, and details on how to order for supplies of cassava chips.

This information is also available online and on request from the various stakeholders, including their respective unions. Information on how to actually process cassava is also available and this includes the making of cassava flour which food processing companies purchase more than 1,000 tonnes daily. One could also seek information on funding as cassava is one of the ‘new brides’ of the ministry of agriculture.

Once an investor has decided what point of the equation he or she would want to come in, the next stage is to learn the processes and the details. The information is available on request. Meeting with some of the players in the ‘line of choice’ is a very good idea; prospective suppliers of your raw materials and consumers of your products.

Then the issue of funding comes up. It is believed that it is easier to get funding with the help of any of the government schemes for cassava processing so as to enjoy the incentives. An investor can also team up with existing companies and thus ride on their backs to make huge profits.

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