How farmers can successfully market cassava roots
Intermittently, cassava producers in Nigeria express frustration and lamentation over inability to sell their fresh cassava roots. Head, Agro-Economy, FEMI IBIROGBA writes on ways the farmers can sell their cassava roots profitably.
Every three or three years, industry specialists have observed, the price of fresh cassava root crashes, bringing financial losses to farmers. This intermittently recurs as the majority of the farmers tend to suspend cassava farm operations, leaving only a few cultivating the root crop the following year.
This, obeying the natural law of demand and supply, leaves the few farmers making higher profit in the third year because production could not match demand.
Again, because of the higher price in the third year, old and new-entry farmers jump into the cultivation again, culminating in excessive supply over demand in the fourth year. And the cycles country.
The scenario has landed many cassava farming greenhorns in financial troubles, especially if done in a large scale with no plan to add value to the roots, and has also discouraged thousands of farmers from cultivating the crop described by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) as ‘golden crop.’
Nigeria is the largest producer of the crop in the world with and estimated figure of around 60 million metric tonnes, and with the capacity to double or triple the production figure if the product is fully industrialised.
Ways farmers can sell cassava roots profitably
There are ways cassava farmers can strategically market their products even in the face of gluts, so say cassava breeders, scientists and processors. The following ways, they explained, would help to reduce the burden of the farmers concerning marketing and selling of their products.
Leaving the comfort zones
Most farmers, no matter how remote they are, always want to sell their farm produce in their localities where everyone else produces the same product and no processor localises.
Experts believe farmers should cooperate, harvest the roots, weigh individual’s harvest and aggregate for onward delivery to ethanol, starch and cassava flour processing factories which offer a relatively higher price per tonne than the middlemen and local food processors.
Harvesting and supplying in bulk to the factories give the farmers two advantages. One, the cost of transportation could reduce drastically by hiring articulated vehicles and labour collectively. Two, the power of collectivity could mean negotiating a very good price.
Another way cassava producers can insulate themselves against price fluctuation is through contract production, where the buyer agrees to a minimum price benchmark to buy whatever quantity the farmer produces and supplies to the factory.
Dr Richardson Okechukwu, a cassava specialist at IITA, Ibadan, while explaining to the Guardian how farmers could market their products, said any cassava farmer planting more than one acre of farmland should think of where to sell the products before cultivation.
He advocated that smallholder farmers should synergise by forming clusters or cooperatives so that they can hire trucks at reduced price and convey their products to processing factories. He also said farmers could approach aggregators collectively, saying collectivity would pull harvests together and give them a negotiating power.
Large-scale farmers, Okechukwu explained, hardly have challenges of where to sell, for they have an advantage of volume, economy of scale and marketing strength over small-scale farmers.
Professor Lateef Sanni, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), while advising the farmers in a response to The Guardian’s inquest into how farmers could fare well selling their farm products, said cassava farmers, in particular, “should adopt a staggered planting system at different times” where their farmland would be divided into three or four parcels, depending on the number of acres or hectares under cultivation, and planted indifferent month.
He equally advised farmers to form cooperatives, reach out to industrial processors, and agree on a price that is reasonable to the buyers and the farmers, adding that the price sold to garri processors might not be acceptable to industrial processors who could buy in large quantity. Therefore, he said, farmers should consider a relatively lower price for industrial processors.
The most important solution to the farmers’ inability to sell the root crop, he emphasised, is for them to collectively have a processing cluster with essential machines that could enable them to add value and sell their products at better prices.
“They should form cooperatives and own farm-gate processing machines to add value on their farms. Livestock sector operators are looking chips and grits. And they should always harvest their cassava roots after 12 months. They should note that cassava roots of 18 to 20 months are not good,” the don said.
Need for a marketing plan
A former Regional Coordinator of the Cassava: Adding Value for Africa (C:AVA), Prof. Kolawole Adebayo, also said farmers should have a very good marketing plan before embarking on cassava cultivation to prevent loss of income to post-harvest challenges and inability to sell products as reasonable prices.
“A good marketing plan for the sale of fresh cassava roots starts even before planting. A commercial cassava farmer should maintain a cordial relationship with processors, particularly the intended buyers,” Adebayo said.
He explained that farmers should obtain from the potential buyers the quality and quantity of cassava roots they require, specifications containing the starch content level, dry matter content level and agree on a specific price ranges before resources are deployed to cassava root cultivation.
“The farmer should use the information to plan his farm in terms of staggered planting to provide the best roots for the buyer for the most parts of the following year. This way, when the cassava roots are mature for harvest, a ready and steady market is available,” he said.
Improved varieties of cassava
Cassava-growing farmers are also advised to plant improved varieties of the root crop to boost productivity per hectare and meet starch content specification of most processors.
The old varieties are low in starch content, but the improved varieties have up to 25 per cent starch content level, which, according to a major processor of cassava ethanol, Mr Rajavelu Rajasekar of the Allied-Atlantic Distilleries, Oguns State, is the acceptable and profitable level for both the farmers and the processors.
With the 25 per cent level of starch, he added, flour, ethanol and industrial starch (all being derivatives of cassava roots) producers would gladly buy the roots of the improved varieties of cassava. And combined with other plans, the improved varieties would help in alleviating trouble of most farmers in the process of selling their products.