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Cassava demonstrates Nigeria’s economic vulnerability


CassavaCassava, the starch rusty-coloured root that is a staple in Nigeria, is a paradigm of the problem the import-dependent nation now faces as the plunge in oil prices crimps the economy.

The root is used to make “eba” and “fufu” — filling pastes that are beloved dishes in Nigerian homes — but there are a myriad of uses for cassava, including making flour and beer.

The problem — and opportunity — that cassava production presents is that Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, does not produce as much as it could, nor of the quality to make it a thriving business.

To enable Nigeria to wean itself off imports of rice and wheat, a project aims to help farmers ramp up cassava production through a new scheme with the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“Nigeria spends 635 billion naira ($3.2 billion) annually on wheat importation,” a leading agronomist and representative of the agriculture minister, Comfort Doyin Awe, said.

Cassava should emerge as a wheat substitute instead, with Nigerians baking loaves of cassava bread, she told experts at a meeting organised by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in the southwestern city of Ibadan late last month.

As it is eaten across west Africa, cassava could even become a much-needed foreign currency earner, if Nigerian farmers and processors can improve the quality of their production.

“We don’t add value to our cassava. It will help Nigeria if we do that. We need good quality cassava flour,” Awe said.

– Need finance, fertiliser, tools –
While prices are high Nigeria’s oil exports bring in plenty of foreign exchange earnings, helping underpin an exchange rate for the naira that allows the country to import major amounts of wheat flour.

But as prices have crashed from above $100 per barrel in July 2014 to around $30 now the country can no longer afford to do so.

So far the leaders have preferred to limit access to foreign currency to support the exchange rate for the naira, but that approach will soon choke off imports and many see the government ultimately being forced to devalue the unit, making imported wheat unaffordable for many.

That means Nigerians will increasingly look to cassava farmers like Sifawu Safiu.

But that hope looks forlorn as she yanks out tubers from the red soil in a village on the outskirts of Ibadan, shaking her head with disappointment.

“I am not happy with the cassava my farm is yielding,” the 61-year-old told AFP.

“I don’t use fertiliser. I need financial help to improve my yield.”

Fatima Taju, another farmer working on a nearby farm, said she needs better tools.

Unable to afford machines to do the heavy work, small farmers use hoes and machetes to harvest their crops.

The mostly illiterate farmers have scarce funds to buy fertilisers or pesticides and often cannot access resources to learn better cultivation methods.

As a result, cassava output in sub-Saharan Africa stands at 10 tonnes per hectare, far below potential yields of more than 30 tonnes.

– ‘Improve yields, quality, supply, incomes’ –
Decades of neglect of the farming industry will have to be overcome quickly if the nation of about 170 million people is to dodge an impending food crisis due to a reliance on rice and wheat imports.

That is where the African Cassava Agronomy Initiative steps in with $14.4 million in funding from the Gates’ foundation.

It aims to improve cassava yields in Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo through teaching farmers modern ways of planting and weeding, and linking them up to loan and fertiliser sources.

“This will massively improve the yield and income of farmers,” IITA spokesman Godwin Atser said, with improving quality also a goal of the programme.

Up to 150,000 households across the five countries are expected to benefit from the cassava cultivation scheme during its five-year timeframe, said IITA’s director for central Africa, Bernard Vanlauwe.

“The value of benefits from this project … is expected to rise to at least $40 million” during its five-year span, he said.

  • amador kester

    Very toxic crop containing cyanide that needs several days fermentation to biodegrade toxicity level. It also dulls kids brains if over indulged

  • emmanuel kalu

    The problem that befalls Nigeria agriculture is lack of government support and lack of leader willing to think outside the box to aid farmers. Nigeria doesn’t engage in organic composting, which is a very good and safe source of enriching soil. The ministry of agriculture should form most of this farmer into cooperative that can share information, funding, labor and machine. what is wrong with leasing on tractor to each of this cooperative, that would go around each farm and perform the needed work. our government also doesn’t encourage our educational centers to invest in research, then support them to bring that research to market. which would benefit the country, financially benefit the school and increase its capacity. Agriculture can be the quicker and enriching path for Nigeria to get out of its economical problem. it requires intense supervision and creative thinking, couple with research and transportation.

  • Maigari

    While it may be feasible to bake cassava bread the results so far do not support this hypothesis. For one wheat has gluten which makes it far more malleable than cassava. Equally there are issues of taste and baking process which so far have not been addresses.
    Instead of a Nigerian only bread which may not be palatable why not sincerely encourage tw cultivation of wheat in Nigeria? This is against the background that wheat can be grown across a wide geographical spread from Sokoto to Borno states including the Adamawa and the Mambila plateau. Efforts were made back in the 1980s but this was defeated by a combined local millers’ resistance and an foreign backed preference for Nigeria to buy wheat from the “international market”. naturally the Mill owners were given access to the US $$$ much to the detriment of the Nigerian agricultural sector. Now that the crude supplied $$$ have dried up why not encourage local production of wheat mixed with other staples if need be? The involvement of the government need not go beyond facilitating low-interest finance to willing farmers to minimise the corruption and subsequent frauds in any government subsidy programmed as we have seen all too often.