Private sector, donor agencies urged to assist in agriculture value chain
Current economic recession in Nigeria has made it inevitable for the private sector and donor agencies to support the Federal and State governments’ drive to make the cassava value chain a major contributor to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The Ogun State Deputy Governor, Mrs. Yetunde Onanuga, who spoke in Abeokuta, insisted that such a gesture would serve “as a tool in addressing youth and women unemployment, youth restiveness as well as achieving sustainable transformation in the rural economy.”
She spoke while declaring open a two-day workshop on Cassava Mechanisation, which attracted experts from Asia, South Africa, Brazil, Kenya and South America. It was organised by the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), in conjunction with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.The workshop is aimed at identifying systematic and sustainable pathways of improving cassava productivity and reducing drudgery through mechanisation and good agricultural practices in the country.
Besides, the participants are to think through policies that would build an economically sustainable and commercially viable business case for individuals, for profit-equipment importers and mechanisation service providers.
Cassava is a staple crop for the 350million people in Sub-Sahara African, accounting for 55 per cent of the world’s cassava production.Although Nigeria is acknowledged as the highest cassava producer in the world with over 50million metric tonnes per year, the output per unit area is still very low (11 metric tonnes per hectare) as compared to over 22 metric tonnes per hectare recorded in South East Asia.
Onanuga affirmed, “Nigeria remains the largest producer of cassava in the world, but the level of productivity along the cassava value chain is still undesirable… Raising productivity along the entire value chain of cassava in Ogun State in particular and Nigeria in general, is therefore, of immense importance.”
Onanuga disclosed that AATF, “working among smallholders as well as commercial farmers ate in the past four years, through her cassava mechanisation and agro-processing projects (CAMAP) had succeeded in introducing productivity solution to cassava production.”
The Director, Technical Operations of AATF, Dr. Emmanuel Okogbenin, told journalists that “Among the main objectives of this workshop is to try to find a way to make mechanisation accessible to farmers.”
According to him, “We are using individual approach, where we meet famers, who really have the wherewithal to be able to reach us. But we know that not all farmers can do that, so we are also using the clusters approach, where we put famers together, we are using government existing projects, like the FADAMA project. We are using also internationally funded projects with all these; we hope to really reach millions of farmers. “
Enock Chikava, Deputy Director, Agricultural Development at the Bills and Melinda Gates Foundation, also told journalists, “We operate in several areas, we are in global health, agriculture; we work in nutrition, we also work in financial services for the poor, we work in water as well as sanitation.
“But now, we are focusing more on agriculture development, particularly looking at the uses of cassava within and outside Nigeria.
“Cassava is a very important crop, it is an important food, an important staple crop with almost 3.5million hectares of land, but the yield here is very low, what the average farmers are getting here (Nigeria) is 12 tonnes per hectare compared to some other successful cassava producing countries, like Brazil that is already around 40 tonnes. This means there is a huge opportunity and there are several ways we can do that.”
Chikava continued, “We need to come up with newer and better varieties of cassava that will give you a much needed bigger yield potential. One of our roles at the Foundation is to identify where the gaps are and we have realised already that in terms of research and development, there is not much private money getting into agriculture research, especially for crops like cassava.
“So within the past 10 years, we have been involved in research and then working with the CG system and ITA which is based here in Nigeria, in Ibadan, which have been doing a lot of great work in coming up with better, yielding cassava varieties.”
“Right now, we are beginning to see big companies like Flour Mill of Nigeria, Dangote Flour Mill and other companies who are now exploring places where cassava is traditionally grown.”
A member of AATF, Mr. George Marechera, noted that “In the recent past, AATF and other organisations have developed programmes in Nigeria and other African countries aimed at demonstrating that a package of technologies, including mechanisation of planting, weed control and harvesting can triple cassava productivity for small-scale farmers.”