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Competition for cassava roots raises concern about food security

By Femi Ibirogba
12 November 2018   |   3:42 am
Head, Agro-Economy Desk, FEMI IBIROGBA, writes on the concern that industrial utilisation of cassava roots could pose threats to availability of staples derivable from the root crop. The rising demand for the multipurpose cassava roots by industrialists and staple food processors has raised concerns in some quarters that Nigerians might be deprived of staples derived…


Head, Agro-Economy Desk, FEMI IBIROGBA, writes on the concern that industrial utilisation of cassava roots could pose threats to availability of staples derivable from the root crop.
The rising demand for the multipurpose cassava roots by industrialists and staple food processors has raised concerns in some quarters that Nigerians might be deprived of staples derived from the crop.

The country is rated as the largest producer of the root crop, and a large percentage of the produce goes into production of staple foods eaten by all strata of the Nigerian society. Commonest among the cassava staples are gari, fufu, apu and lafun. Gari is soaked and eaten with different things such as groundnuts. It is also prepared in a form that can be swallowed after soaking in boiled water and steamed. Others in the list are prepared with hot water and eaten with different soups and stews.The following industrial applications of cassava roots in particular have deepened the demand for the product.

Cassava in composite flours
In Nigeria, bread consumption is expanding and there has been increasing dependence on imported wheat. The past Goodluck Jonathan-led administration, under Dr Akinwumi Adeshina as the minister of agriculture, promoted the use of cassava flour. All the flour manufacturers in the country are legally required to include at least 20 per cent of the cassava flour in the conventional wheat flours now.

The Composite Flour Programme, initiated by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations in 1964, was conceived primarily to develop bakery products from locally available raw materials, particularly in those countries which could not meet their wheat requirements. Bread of acceptable quality was obtained by the use of 30 per cent of either cassava or corn (maize) flour and 70 per cent wheat with experiments made by the Federal Institute of Industrial Research (FIIRO). All confectioneries are produced today with cassava-included composite flour.

Cassava ethanol
Ethyl alcohol is produced from many carbohydrate materials, but in Nigeria today, cassava is one of the richest fermentable substances for the production of alcohol. Fresh cassava contains about 30 per cent starch and five per cent sugars, and the dried roots contain about 80 per cent fermentable substances which are equivalent to rice as a source of alcohol.

Rajavelu Rajasekar, Director (Agro) Allied Atlantic Distilleries Limited (AADL), Ogun State, revealed to The Guardian that the factory has the capacity to process 300,000 metric tonnes of cassava daily, but since inception, it has been able to source about 150,000 tonnes daily. The ethanol is used for different brands of alcoholic wines from the company.
When cassava is used, the roots are washed, crushed into a thin pulp and then screened. Sulfuric acid is added to the pulp in pressure cookers until total sugars reach 15 to 17 per cent of the contents. The pH level is adjusted by using sodium carbonate, and then yeast fermentation is allowed for three to four days, and alcohol is then separated by heat distillation.

Cassava in animal feeds
Cassava is widely used in most tropical areas for feeding pigs, cattle, sheep and poultry. Dried peels of cassava roots are fed to sheep and goats, and raw or boiled roots are mixed into a mash with protein concentrates such as maize, sorghum, groundnut or oil-palm kernel meals and mineral salts for livestock feeding.

Cassava, similar to feed-grains, consists almost entirely of starch and is easy to digest. The roots are, therefore, especially suited to feeding young animals and fattening pigs. Many feeding experiments have shown that cassava provides a good quality carbohydrate which may be substituted for maize or barley and that cassava rations are especially suitable for swine, dairy cattle and poultry. The composition of a compound animal feed varies according to the animal (cattle, pigs or poultry) as well as to the kind of production (dairy, meat or eggs).

When the price of maize rises, cassava products are used extensively in Nigeria. The maximum content of cassava products in compound feeds is recommended in many countries. In Germany, it varies according to the type, but is generally as follows: 10-40 per cent for pigs, 20-25 per cent for cattle and 10-20 per cent for poultry.

Uthai Kanto, Associate Professor and former Director of Suvanwajokekasikit Animal Research and Development Institute (SARDI), Kasetsart University, Thailand, said cassava has been used to replace maize 100 per cent in animal feeds, with better performance, especially in the broiler poultry feeds.

Cassava starch
The starch produced from the cassava plant is known in world trade as tapioca flour. Starches are made in many countries from many different starchy raw materials, such as wheat, barley, maize, rice, white or sweet potatoes, cassava, sago palm and waxy xaize.

Starch and starch products are used in many food and non-food industries and as chemical raw materials for many other purposes, as in plastics and the tanning of leather. Non-food use of starches – such as coating, sizings and adhesives – accounts for about 75 per cent of the output of the commercial starch industry.

The commercial food industries consume the largest of starch and starch products. Large quantities of starch are sold in the form of products sold in small packages for household cooking. Unmodified starch, modified starch and glucose are used in the food industry directly as cooked starch food, custard and other forms; as thickener using the paste properties of starch (baby foods, etc.); as filler contributing to the solid content of pills and tablets and other pharmaceutical products, cream; as a binder, to consolidate the mass and prevent it from drying out during cooking; and as a stabiliser, owing to the high water-holding capacity of starch.

Resolving the perceived conflict
Dr Richardson Okechukwu, a cassava commodity specialist and Senior Scientist at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Onne station, Rivers State, said the demand for the roots from different sub-sectors is neither a conflict nor a serious competition.

“The fact is that the off-take of the cassava roots to produce just the staple foods like gari and the likes is not sufficient to mop up the volume of production in Nigeria. At the moment, gari offers the highest price for the cassava roots, but it gets saturated and once it is saturated, there is always a massive glut,” he explained.

The specialist said farmers would begin to complain of inability to sell if there was a glut and they would abandon the farms. “When they abandon the farm the following year, there will be scarcity in the third year. To break the cyclic gluts, there must be industrialisation. The industrial processors are there now, but the industry offers lower prices than gari and other staple food processors.”

He also suggested that the industrial sector players should relocate their factories to places where there are clusters of farms so that they become closer to the farmers. That would also reduce the cost the farmers incur in transporting the roots. There is no threat to gari, fufu or any other staple because the sub-sector still offers the highest price for the cassava roots. The farmers will naturally want to sell to these staples producers first, Okechukwu said.

The only difference, he added, is that the industries are better organised in the ways they source the roots than the small-scale staple foods producers who buy one or two pick-up loads of the roots intermittently.

Supporting the position of IITA’s Okechukwu, Professor Kolawole Salako, Vice Chancellor of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), said, there was a time the Federal Government promoted the export of cassava and this led to over-production and gluts in the market. People were encouraged and they produced a lot, but in the short run, the market price collapsed.

The following year, he added, the farmers did not produce. And the third year, the price improved. “But the price is a bit stable now in the sense that even the export aspect has reduced, and we have more of the local industries using the products. In Oke-Ogun area of Oyo State, some companies are there and they have out-growers producing cassava for them. With that alone, they can separate those producing for food from those producing for industries.

“Many of the industrial users have out-growers. These out-growers know where to sell their cassava when they produce. For now, the competition between industrial and food processors over cassava is not that serious,” he said.Mrs Bolanle Adeyemo, a vitamin-A cassava processor working in collaboration with Harvest-Plus Nigeria in Oyo State, said the fear that industrialisation of cassava use could cause food scarcity is not true. She suggested that what Nigerians should be looking at is shifting from white cassava to yellow-fleshed vitamin-A bio-fortified cassava so that industrialists could mop up the white-fleshed cassava roots for industrial products.

White-fleshed cassava, she emphasises, gives mainly carbohydrate, while the vitamin-A cassava gives both carbohydrate and vitamin-A that the body system needs. “Every farmer should embrace planting vitamin-A cassava so that we could have more of it for food purposes. There is a glut for cassava now because industrialists cannot even mop up all the roots produced. The farmers are suffering and there is none to take off their products,” Adeyemo said.

Explaining the situation, she said, “The problem is that these factories are now cultivating large hectares of cassava farms, and this reduces their off-takes from the farmers.”If the industrial utility is very high, she added, the industrialists will always make arrangements for the transportation of the roots from the farmers to their factories.

“They have always done that. They have problems selling their products now too.The white cassava gari producers are producing at a loss, because a kilogramme of it is sold for N100. Today, farmers are suffering because a tonne of cassava is bought from them at the rate of N5,000,” Adeyemo added.Professor Aliyu Olawale, Provost of the College of Agriculture, Kwara State University (KWASU), said the cassava market also obeys the age-long law of demand and supply. He pointed out that when industrialization is deepened, the supply would meet the demand. If the supply could not meet up with the demand, then the food production might be temporarily affected.

He insisted that the threat could only be temporary because the demand would force farmers to produce more and more people would join agribusiness. “If a farmer produces two tonnes, and the demand exceeds the supply, he will scale up his production automatically. The threat to food derivatives of cassava can only be temporary, because we have capacity to produce more,” Olawale said.

Mechanisation and intensification of production
There should be intensification of production so that there would be higher yields, with less inputs so that the price per unit would be lower enough that it can also conveniently meet the price offer of and serve the purposes of the industrialists, Okechukwu insisted. Farmers should embrace technologies and mechanisation to reduce cost of production. They should mechanise and use improved technologies. There is no other way to achieve more production without these.

Rajasekar said the country has the capacity to export ethanol to other countries in Africa, and then to other continents if the cost of production is minimised through technologies and the ethanol production is made cost-effective. This could be done by boosting productivity per hectare, he said, and mechanization, adoption of improved cassava varieties, good weed management and the use of fertiliser are sure ways of increasing productivity. Cassava roots are usually abundantly available in the rainy seasons, especially from September to November. The price is usually low, for it is easier for most farmers to harvest their products using manual self-help labour.

However, the dry season from January to May each year always presents a difficulty for most smallholder farmers who find it difficult to harvest the roots manually. And because they are the largest producers commutatively, the price automatically goes up in these periods of scanty harvests. With mechanical harvesters, however, more cassava roots could be harvested by smallholder farmers when the price is better than in the rainy seasons.