Cassava is a multi-useful crop that is grown by millions of farmers in the country. Nigeria alone produces over 45 million metric tons of cassava every year, but unfortunately most of our farmers, businessmen, investors and industrialists are unaware of the investment opportunities which the cassava industry offer.
Despite being consistently ranked the world’s greatest producer of cassava, Nigeria still depends on oil as an alternative means of income, whereas cassava is gradually being transformed from a famine-reserve commodity and staple food to a cash crop for urban consumption.
Farmers in the country do not usually add value to this crop as a result; the country has the challenge of excess production of cassava, which most times results in farmers getting little value for their efforts as supply is higher than demand.
New Policy on Cassava
But going forward, the federal government recently awarded contract for the construction of 18 high grade cassava flour processors capable of processing 1.3 million metric tons of cassava flour for local use to mix with wheat to bake bread and other confectioneries. The 18 plants would make Nigeria the biggest cassava processor in the world when they are completed in the next 24 months.
Also with the various intervention of President Good luck Jonathan, it has been estimated that Nigeria’s cassava production would rise to over 51 million metric tons by 2015. The Jonathan government is also introducing policies to encourage the substitution of high quality cassava flour for wheat flour in bread-baking.
The government promised that bakeries that are able to transit to using cassava flour in the next 18 months will enjoy a corporate tax incentive of 12 per cent rebate if they attain 40 per cent blending.
Most Nigerians are now aware of the commitment of President Jonathan to promoting the eating of bread partly made from cassava. Similarly, the president stated that from July 1, 2012, wheat flour will attract a levy of 65 per cent to bring the effective duty to 100 per cent, while wheat grain will attract a 15 per cent levy which will bring the effective duty to 20 per cent.
It is estimated that over N60 billion in wheat import bills will be saved from the substitution of 40 per cent of bread wheat flour with cassava flour annually by the country from the policy.
The minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, decried the current situation whereby Nigeria imports N635 billion worth of wheat annually, whereas she is the largest cassava producer, further stressing the need to give adequate attention to cassava production, noting that the produce is in high demand globally, as it is used in the manufacture of glucose, ethanol, starch, animal feeds, among others.
Reacting on the issue of cassava flour bread, Adesina, stated that there are those who make a lot of money doing this importation of wheat flour who do not want any effort of government to do partial substitution of wheat flour with cassava flour to work.
Although, the private sector is already successfully substituting cassava flour for wheat flour in bread and confectioneries, two of the largest bakers in the country are commercialising healthy cassava based bread and confectioneries. UTC Plc and Food Concepts have gone ahead to train more bakers who are ready to adopt the new technology.
The issue of use of cassava in bread is also an economic decision. While Nigeria spends 635 billion importing wheat and keeping farmers of wheat exporting countries employed, its displacement of jobs at home is not good for a nation.
Benefits of cassava over wheatflour
Recently, a statement in the media that cassava consumption was not good for those with diabetes has been discredited. In an interview with LEADERSHIP SUNDAY, the President of the Nutrition Society of Nigeria, Prof. Ignatius Onimawo, disclosed that glycemic index of wheat flour is higher than that of cassava adding that the statement giving percentages of those that are diabetics as between 20 and 30 per cent is misleading.
According to him, Nigerians eat eba, fufu, amala all made from cassava and no health problems have ever been reported from the consumption of these foods. Our local foods are much healthier than imported over-processed foods that cause cancer and aggravate diabetes, such as white wheat flour, he said.
The minister has noted that cassava flour is good for health. “White wheat bread is actually bad for health. By including cassava flour in bread, we will be improving the health benefit of the bread we eat since the lower level of glycemic index in cassava flour will help to reduce the high level of glycemic index in wheat flour,” Adeshina stated.
Also, commenting, a large-scale farmer, Mallam Salisu Ahmed, revealed to LEADERSHIP SUNDAY that research institutes have assisted in no small measure by developing improved cassava varieties that would boost farmer’s production and keep the country in the lead as the world’s largest producer of the root crop.
Post-harvest losses which occur largely due to the absence of viable storage and processing facilities are some of these challenges which have impoverished farmers and dampened their enthusiasm for farming.
Global dependence on cassava
Over 800 million people world-wide depend on cassava as a regular source of energy. Per capital consumption in West Africa is more than 120kg per annum, while that of Central Africa is more than 300kg per annum. Food and beverage industries use cassava by- products 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 also find ready use in the manufacture of dry cell battery, textiles, school chalk, etc. Cassava cubes are used mainly in the compounding of livestock feeds. Thus, there is a very high demand for cassava products in both the local and international markets. Also, cassava tubers may be processed into a variety of products such as chips, flakes, cubes, peelers, starch, flour, pellets, etc.
Many European and American countries, including Germany, United Kingdom, France, and the Netherlands among others demand huge quantities of processed cassava products annually. In fact, the use of cassava for compounding livestock feeds has gained wide acceptance in Latin America and Asia.
There is booming export market and the European Economic Community (EEC Countries) import over 10 million metric tons per annum.
Poultry usage of cassava
Recently, the minister of agriculture met with the Poultry Association of Nigeria were the issue of rising costs for poultry feed and the need to find solutions was discussed. While all the members went to work to find domestic solution, at the end substitution of 10 per cent of maize with cassava grits was proposed as a relatively new product from cassava.
Adesina added that the quantity of cassava grits required annually is about 480,00 metric tons and stakeholders have been assured that 10 per cent is just the starting point since it has been proved that 50 per cent inclusion is possible, while the Poultry Association of Nigeria is offering 50 per cent of the cost of maize for cassava grits and has promised to patronise the producers since they are looking for a cheaper alternative to maize.
The Federal Government recently released four improved cassava varieties, products of about a decade-old conventional breeding research.
They include: NR 01/0004, CR 41-10, TMS 00/0203 and TMS 01/0040. TMS 00/0203 and TMS 01/0040 were bred by scientists at the Ibadan-based International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), while NR 01/0004 and CR 41-10 were bred by Umudike-based National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI) and the Colombia-based International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) respectively.
Although cassava is hardy and can survive where most other crops cannot, it responds to good environments when it finds one.
The new varieties seek to strengthen Nigeria’s leadership in cassava production, increase farmers’ incomes and guarantee food security.
Researchers say the key to mitigating changes in environmental conditions and pest and diseases among many others depends on the deployment of suitable varieties that would not suffer from sudden changes in the environment.
Cassava is typically grown by small-scale farmers using traditional methods, and often on land that is not suitable for other crops. Cassava is propagated by cutting a mature stem into sections of approximately 15 centimetres and planting these prior to the wet season. These plantings require adequate moisture during the first two to three months, but are subsequently drought resistant.
The roots are harvestable after six to 12 months and can be harvested any time in the following two years, thus providing farmers with a remarkable amount of flexibility.
It is believed that the global demand for cassava would spur rural industrialisation, contribute to the economic development of producing, processing and trading communities, as well as the well-being of numerous disadvantaged people in the world whose lifestyles would be enhanced by improved production of cassava in Nigeria.