‘How youths can make millions of naira in cassava farming’
Mr Ayodele Omowumi David is the Cassava Project and Agro-processing Project (CAMAP) Coordinator, African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF). He reveals to The Guardian that cassava is one of the greatest means to engage youths, solve poverty and ensure food security, as well as the need for mechanisation for production efficiency. FEMI IBIROGBA presents excerpts.
Nigeria is the largest cassava producer in the world. Can we use cassava production, processing and marketing as the tool to reduce high rate of poverty in Nigeria?
Yes, we can. I believe it is an understatement to say that cassava can be used to reduce poverty. I will say cassava can absolutely be used to eliminate poverty and enrich Nigerians. But we must have genuine commitment. Having known the value chain of cassava, starting from production, processing and marketing, there are a lot to gain. In Nigeria, we produce over 50 million metric tonnes yearly, and over 26 states out of 36 in Nigeria produce the crop. If we embrace good practices, productivity could become over 45 tonnes per hectare. Cassava is actually a good tool for Nigeria to overcome poverty. The largest portion of the population is the youth category, and so it is a plus for us if we have their involvement because cassava is our goldmine for now.
Can you estimate the number of people employed in the industry for production, processing and marketing value chains in Nigeria?
With experiences so far, it is difficult to quantify. Nevertheless, we have over 60 major processors that use minimum of 200 tonnes per day. So, none of these factories should employ no fewer than 300 people. When you multiply these, you will get no fewer than 18,000 workers directly employed. Looking at the various uses of cassava and its by-products, you will be amazed with the multiplier effect of exploring the potential of the crop. Cassava is processed into starch; the cassava starch used for making paper and textiles. It is processed into High Quality Cassava Flour (HQCF) to make cakes, bread, and biscuits. It is processed into chips usable for animal feeds. It is processed into ethanol, which is used as bio-fuel when combined with additives. Cassava is also processed into fructose, used in industry for sweetening fizzy drinks. Cassava is processed into fufu, gari and apu, e.t.c for local consumption.
The sector has the capacity to involve the youth in agriculture and with the advent of technology, they should be more interested in going into cassava production. For eight years, there has been intensive mechanization through different projects. We have brought the implements for cassava planting, harvesting and transportation. With these, youths should be more interested. The basic thing still affecting us is the productivity per hectare, and this is because only a few farmers have gone mechanical.
If we increase productivity and expand production, can these processors absorb all? Won’t there be a glut?
They will absorb all for now. For instance, Allied Atlantic Distillery Limited (AADL) has not produced to capacity since inception. It is in shortage of cassava roots. If there is increase in production, there will be increase in processing. So, it increases the performance of the existing companies and will help more to come into processing. And it also increases job opportunities for the youth. When our productivity increases, we will be able to compete in the international market.
I have often said that it is difficult for Nigeria to compete in the global cassava market because of the productivity per hectare and the infrastructural facilities to process into finished products that will be exported. For now, our cost of producing cassava is two and a half times higher than the global cost of production, simply because of mechanistion.
With your experience, what can farmers do to increase productivity per hectare?
The basis is knowledge about agronomical practices and the use of improved technologies. Secondly, we need to go for full mechanisation from land preparation, harvesting and even processing to reduce the unit cost of production and compete favourably in the market.
Are there improved cassava varieties that can increase productivity?
Yes. In Nigeria, we have about 40 varieties of cassava which have been released by the Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria (ARCN) in partnership with other research institutions in Nigeria. Farmers can consult their nearest ADP stations, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the National Root Crop Research Institute (NRCRI), Umudike, for improved cassava.
Cassava products are constantly expensive though Nigeria is the largest producer in the world. Why is it difficult to bring down the prices?
The cost is rising because of production practices. Currently, one tonne of cassava is between N15,000 and N20,000 in the open market. With the current cost of production, the price cannot come down. The only way to reduce the prices of cassava-based products is by going fully mechanised to enjoy economies of scale through significant reduction in unit cost per hectare.
How much does it take to go fully mechanised in cassava cultivation per hectare?
At Agridrive Nigeria Limited, which is a social enterprise company which provides mechanisation under AATF, it is N54,000 per hectare for full package – ploughing, harrowing, planting, fertiliser application and boom spraying of herbicides for cassava field establishment.
Considering the conventional challenge of land fragmentation by small holder farmers, we ask cassava farmers to cluster themselves in groups of 20 to 25. This grouping helps us to scale down the cost per hectare as the fields are contiguous. The only things the farmers need to bring are their inputs – fertliser and cassava stem cuttings. If all cassava production operations of ploughing, harrowing, planting and boom spraying, fertiliser application and cultivating are timely and efficiently done, farmers may not need to weed till harvesting.
Like how much do industrial processors buy a tonne of the product from farmers?
It depends on the season. Right now, it is between N15,000 and N20,000, but at times, it goes up. There was a time farmers were selling N30,000 to N35,000 per tonne, mostly in January, February and March. Nevertheless, all of these depend on the cost of production. We can only break the cost when we go mechanised. So, I believe we must go mechanisation to reduce the cost of production to make cassava competitive for export.
We are the number one producer in the world and we are the lowest exporter among the leading producers. We consume more of what we produce and when we consume primarily, it tends to become very uneasy for us to compete.
If a young graduate is coming into cassava cultivation business with one hectare, how much profit will he likely make at the end of one year?
All inputs adequately used, the maximum is to invest N150,000. And he should expect at least the net profit of N300,000 per hectare. This means he can sell cassava of 450,000 per hectare, which is the minimum.
It is about 300% gain. We have seen farmers doing and getting the money than this estimate. We have also seen farmers that have tractors from the profit gained from cassava businesses. We are doing a lot for farmers, and we don’t leave them to their fields alone. We also link them to the market and reputable input suppliers and we do technical backstopping, which will give a good result at the end of the day.
Now, will you advise the youth to go into cassava production?
Yes, I do advise. At a point, youths will advise themselves when they see people succeed in agriculture. They will be moved. I have seen youths in Oyo and Ogun states that are not looking for jobs again because they are now farmers.
If you prepare the land well, how many times do you have to weed cassava farmland before harvest?
Weed apparently takes about 60% of the cost of production of cassava per hectare, but AATF partners with IITA on weed management and periodic courses of training are organised about steps to efficiently control weeds on cassava farms. When land is properly prepared and farmers follow all the techniques appropriately, there is no need to be threatened by weeds. I don’t want to hear about weeding again; it is a story of the past. With time, our hoes and cutlasses will be sent to the museum.