By CHIMA AKWAJA, Lagos
The federal government is about to save the country a whopping N127 billion scarce foreign exchange through the inclusion of high quality cassava flour in wheat flour for baked food.
This is the initiative of the Federal Institute of Industrial Research Oshodi (FIIRO), a parastatal under the Ministry of Science and Technology.
The agency has pioneered research and development effort in cassava production in Nigeria which led to the development of over 25 commercial cassava products.
One of such products is the development and utilization of high quality cassava flour for cassava wheat composite flour production for bread making which received presidential attention in 2004.
According to director general of FIIRO, Dr. Gloria Elemo, the institute had in the last 20 years been involved in the training of over 2,000 master bakers in cassava bread production.
In an exclusive interview with LEADERSHIP, Elemo noted that, while FIIRO has carried out consumers’ acceptability studies on cassava bread produced at various levels of inclusion of high quality cassava flour, the response had been very encouraging.
She said, “Here at FIIRO, we have been working on cassava bread for decades and there has been improvements. It tastes just like the normal bread everybody is used to and that was the whole idea- not to introduce an entirely new product but to manage what we have to taste and look exactly like what is existing.
“It has been managed through what is known as ‘recipe manipulation’ and ‘recipe readjustment’ along with the existing recipe”.
Elemo said in terms of foreign exchange saving, a whopping sum of N127 billion will be saved at 20 per cent substitution of high quality cassava flour in wheat flour.
Noting that this figure will, however, be N63.5 billion at 10 per cent substitution, the DG said, “Again, no matter how you look at it, whether in the short term or in the long term, bread is going to be cheaper and affordable through inclusion of cassava flour.
“Prices of bread could be reduced by 20-45 per cent at 20 per cent inclusion in the long term if the policy is adopted. But also, one may not rule out some resistance from some quarters due to reluctance to change but change is one thing that is inevitable.
“Some have actually said that cassava bread would cause diabetes or aggravate diabetic condition but as scientists, we have been able to debunk this through Glycemic Index (GI) studies, using human samples.
“The subjects consumed the cassava bread and we monitored the effect on the blood glucose. Interestingly, at 20 per cent inclusion, even at 10 per cent inclusion, there has been a slight drop in the GI for both breads than it is with bread baked with 100 per cent wheat flour.
“So, there is no threat and it is not the cause of diabetes. Rather, I will even say it is better to use it for management of diabetes. Cassava bread is safe just like wheat bread for human consumption”.
Explaining why there is no fear of rejection, she added: “The bread tastes exactly like any of other normal bread. In fact, studies show that people have not been able to detect which one is the cassava bread from the normal bread.
“We have the recipe and it is standardised, and because of that the FIIRO recipe has been adopted as the nationwide recipe and we have been doing a lot of training nationwide with Ministry of Agriculture to train master bakers in the baking of cassava bread at 20 per cent inclusion.”
Elemo stated that with what FIIRO is doing, it will get to a time when Nigeria is definitely going to have more than enough cassava to export. She said, “Presently, there are demands in the export market for cassava but because it is a food security crop, we are using it extensively for foods like garri, fufu. So, it is not easy to meet export demand.
“But by the time the value chain is pulled, there will be need for us to increase production. A country like China is in high demand for our cassava”.
She said FIIRO has developed over 250 technologies in its 61 years and these technologies can be deployed in the 774 local government areas for massive job creation and economic stimulation through processing and raw materials of relative advantage in each LGAs for the micro, small and medium enterprise.