Expert urges focus on root, tuber crops
Professor of Agriculture and Fellow of the Agricultural Society of Nigeria (FASN), Dr Vincent Imo, has emphasised the importance of root and tuber crops, and their immense contribution to the nation’s economic development.
He argued that the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, cannot succeed without paying special attention to these crops, neither will the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI), Umuahia, which is charged with the statutory mandate of developing these crops.
Imo stated this in a keynote, titled: “Unlocking the Potential of Root and Tuber Crops to Address Food Security and Economic Challenges of Nigeria: Efforts of NRCRI Umudike.”
He posited that the term root and tuber crops are synonymous with food security, the absence of which can lead to starvation in Nigeria.He listed such crops to include Cassava, Yam, Sweet Potato, Irish Potato, Cocoyam, Ginger, Turmeric, Sugar beet, Living Stone among others. He added that due to the NRCRI key roles, Nigeria remains the highest producer of Cassava, Yam and Cocoyam with their annual output as 50 million, 37 million and 5.49 million tonnes respectively.
According to Imo, over 80 million Nigerians depend on Cassava for their dietary energy source, pointing out that “in food security therefore, NRCRI Umudike , is playing a very vital role that needs commendation.
Imo, a former Vice Chancellor of the Gregory University Uturu, in Abia State, said: “NRCRI has by deploying the Appropriate Keys of Research + Inspiration, through unlocking the yield and value addition of potentials of Root and Tuber Crops, recorded a lot of achievements.”
Some of these achievements are in the areas of economic empowerment of farmers, rural women, jobs creation, use of Cassava in the Livestock Feed industry, and industrial raw material, manorial products for crop production, fuel wood etc even as they have health benefits.He recalled that some years ago, government provided 30 million bundles of high yielding Cassava stems free to farmers across the country, most of which came from the NRCRI. adding that out of the 70 per cent of Nigerians engaged in Agriculture, over 45 per cent are in root and tuber crops production.
He added that recently, “Nigeria spent $11billion importing foods such as wheat, rice, fish, and sugar, which reduced her foreign exchange drastically.” However, he said the Institute helped reduce such losses with 20 per cent wheat substitution in bread through its high quality cassava flour (HQCF).
Furthermore, he said Nigeria commenced exportation of 1.1 million metric tonnes of dried cassava chips to China, worth $136million, adding that greater foreign exchange earnings await the country if the production of cassava is increased.