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Why Southern, Middle Belt farmers abandon cassava cultivation

By Gbenga Akinfenwa
13 March 2022   |   3:03 am
Like the case of maize and soybeans, which have been hit by severe shortage, there are fears that cassava may soon suffer the same fate, as the produce is currently facing dire situation in the country.

Like the case of maize and soybeans, which have been hit by severe shortage, there are fears that cassava may soon suffer the same fate, as the produce is currently facing dire situation in the country.

Based on reports, while the demand for the produce is rising astronomically, supply is shrinking, as many farmers in cassava producing areas in South West, South South, South East and the middle belt are reportedly leaving cassava farming in droves for other crops.

In 2019, the Secretary of the Lagos State Chapter of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Abimbola Fagoyinbo-Francis, raised the alarm that: “If urgent solution is not provided, cassava will be expensive towards the end of 2020 and early 2021. There may not be enough cassava for garri, cassava flour and other food items. Even if cassava is available, it will be very expensive.

“Many farmers boycotted cassava cultivation in 2020, and this development could lead to scarcity of the produce. The reason for the boycott was due to the huge losses recorded in 2019 by many farmers as a result of glut.”

Just as predicted, cassava has now become a goldmine, as its price increases on daily basis, despite the country’s ranking the comity of cassava producing countries.

Nigeria is the largest cassava producer globally, accounting for about one-fifth (21 per cent) of total production worldwide. The demand for cassava and its constituents is high in the domestic economy. However, the supply has been unable to meet the huge demand.

According to PwC, it is estimated that Nigeria would need about 28.3 million metric tonnes of fresh cassava root planted yearly on about 1.2 million hectares of land to meet the country’s demand for some of the cassava by-products and derivatives like ethanol, cassava-based constituents in sugar syrup, high-quality cassava flour, cassava-based adhesives such as cassava starch, caustic soda, formaldehyde, hydrochloric acid and sodium silicate.

Currently, it appears garri, considered as poor man’s staple, is gradually becoming out of reach, as the price keeps rising.

A paint plastic of garri, which previously sold for between N300 and N350, has jumped to between N700 and N1, 300. Also, cassava flour of the same measurement, sold for N350 is now between N900 and N1, 200. The same goes for fufu, starch, ethanol and others.

Few months ago, it was learnt that many processors were forced to shutdown
their factories as the prices of the produce increases.
It was learnt that cassava prices rose to more than N85, 000 per tonne, up from N12, 000 per tonne, before receding to N25, 000 per tonne.

A farmer, Tolulope Daramola, who doubles as the Founder of Menitos Farms, Lagos, confirmed to The Guardian, that limited farmers are now into cassava cultivation in the South and middle belt, adding that the situation up north is not included.

She said: “People are not planting staples like yam and cassava in the South anymore. Even those doing it before, are now reducing their volume and introducing varieties for returns. Majority of farmers are resorting to alternatives like cucumber, watermelon, sweet corn, plantain and banana because they don’t need replanting.

“Due to the rising cost of the produce, garri – the so-called ‘poor man’s food’ is no longer affordable for the masses, as it has continued to elude them as the price rises.”

The National President, Community Allied Farmers Association of Nigeria (COMAFAS), Dr. Austin Maduka, who confirmed the development, said majority of the farmers is leaving cassava cultivation because of fear of attack and insecurity in the land, adding that the Federal Government, through the Agro Ranchers can restore hope to the Nigerian farmers.

“The report that farmers are jettisoning cultivation of cassava may be true and it may be false, but the fact is that the major challenge faced by cassava farmers across the country is herders’ onslaught.

“The implications are too many as our food demand will suffer tremendously, but if the government, as a matter of urgent national importance, can create two different programmes on cassava, it will go a long way in boosting food security in the land. The Federal Government through any of her agency can create programmes for domestic and industrial cassava cultivation,” he said. 

Maduka said for the cassava industry to address the looming scarcity of the produce, the Federal Government should fund service providers for early land preparation or at a subsidy rate for the farmers to access tractors and other farming implement within their location.

He added that the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development should also create access road, potable water and rural electrification within farming communities and introduce dry season cultivation programme for cassava.

But the Chief Executive Officer of Fourteen Farms, Ifeware/Ife, Osun State, Julian Akinremi disagreed with the claim. “I doubt if that premise is true. We have more people going into farming daily and in the South West here, the first point of call for any medium to large-scale farmer is cassava cultivation.

“And with the number of improved varieties of cassava stems, I doubt if we would have less number of cassava farmers soon. I also know there is an initiative by iitagoseed where farmers with over hectares are allowed to join their outgrower scheme. Stems are provided and the crops are purchased after harvest from the farmer.

“Not withstanding, we still need more cassava farmers and so if we have less people willing to cultivate cassava, then we would not meet the local demand for starch, local consumption need for garri and other derivatives of cassava. In addition, animal farms that use cassava to process feed will suffer,” he said.

Akinremi said the rising price of cassava is not due to the lack of cassava farmers, but due to the economic situation, adding that once the country’s economy is stable, there will be better prices for food consumed by the common man.

“We need to create more initiatives that drive farmers to cultivate larger expanse of land. We need to have more farmers’ transition from smallholder to commercial farmers.

“We also need government support in the south as regards land preparation, extension services to educate local farmers about the benefits of modern cultivation techniques, we also need to have more support for processors thus enabling them to buy more from the farmers and process more per time with state of the heart processing mills and modern logistics and storage facilities.”

An Advocacy, Promotion and Outreach Lead, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan, Oyo State, Dr. Godwin Atser, said sufficient investments must be made in the cassava seed sector to address the challenges plaguing the sector.

According to him, the high cost of cassava roots was demand-driven, and farmers’ use of local varieties significantly. To Daramola, if government can ensure provision of infrastructure, better roads, better security and equipment, most abandoned farms would resume planting.