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Path to maximising cassava value chain in Nigeria

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Although Nigeria has attained the status of largest producer of cassava in the world with its production accounting for 21 per cent of total production of the crop globally, thanks to recent interventions by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in the agro sector, there are indications that concerted efforts are still required to effectively position the country’s cassava in regional and international markets to ensure sustainable development of the sector. These efforts will equally lead to increasing the contribution of cassava to economic transformation through key stakeholders’ involvement and building an agribusiness economy capable of delivering sustained prosperity for food security, exports promotion, sustainable income and job growth.

CBN’s intervention in the sector effectively began in November 2019 when its Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, announced some measures towards addressing the challenges bedevilling the cassava industry in spite of huge investment and government initiatives in the past.

He announced the measures at a meeting with governors of cassava producing states and the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Cassava Growers Association and Large Scale Cassava Processors in Abuja.

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“This will involve support to the Nigeria Cassava Growers Association at the production level under the ‘Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP) and support to Large Scale Cassava Processors under the CACS and DCRR programmes,” Emefiele said.

He had disclosed that the CBN was holding consultations with the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan and the National Root Crops Research Institute, Umudike, with the aim of encouraging adoption of improved varieties and practices that would guarantee better yield, better processing efficiency, increased profit and improved standard of living for Nigerian farmers.

“We place a high premium on cassava because the commodity can generally be used for different uses along the value 11 chain.

The value chain has enormous potential for employing over two million people in Nigeria if well harnessed, due to the diverse secondary products that it offers. Some of the products include highlighting the potentials of the industry.

“Increasing cassava production is a necessity as starch, glucose, sorbitol and other products currently being imported proffers no future for the nation in the long-term, in view of the fact that Nigeria imports cassava derivatives valued at over $600 million annually.

“Permit me to share with you the gap and potential demand that exists in our cassava value chain: Demand for High Quality Cassava Flour (HQCF) in bread, biscuits and snacks is above 500,000t annually while supply is below 15,000t; demand for cassava starch is above 300,000t annually while supply is below 10,000t; demand for cassava-based constituents in sugar syrup is above 350,000t annually while supply is almost non-existent; potential demand for ethanol in Nigeria as a fuel for cooking, to power vehicles (E10) and other industrial uses exceeds one billion litres, while production is nearly zero,” Emefiele said.

Findings by The Guardian showed that despite the huge investments in the sector by the apex bank over the past 20 months, these gaps still exist even as the potential of the sector remain largely untapped.

An agribusiness expert, Bernard Olusegun Siwoku, attributed the situation to some factors like inadequate funding, insecurity and climate change.

He said: “Let’s start by looking at the Anchor Borrowers’ Scheme. There are so many laudable projects by the government but most times implementation is always a challenge. If you check the number of farmers that have been able to access this scheme, it is still very low. And if there is no cassava root, there is always a challenge of raw materials to supply to processors who need these roots for their own final products. So, that is already one challenge.

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“Equally, we have the problem of insecurity going on in the country now with herdsmen invading farms and the thing is that the cassava varieties we have now are the sweet varieties, which is edible to animals, not the old bitter varieties. So, you see that after consuming the leaves of the cassava plant, some herdsmen uproot the cassava and chop it off for the animals to consume. And when the farm owners confront them, it becomes confrontational to the point of attacking and maiming some of people. That is another challenge facing the sector.

“Then again if you look at funding support, farmers want some assistance for land clearing. When you have a factory in your proximity, you can decide to supply them. You have the land but the land is virgin land and you will need to clear it. One, the bulldozers and tractors are not readily available; two, when they are available they are always very expensive. As we speak now, it costs between N225,000 to N250,000 to clear just one hectare. Now, the bulk of the production we have in Nigeria is by smallholder farmers and they cannot afford this. They will rather use that money to cultivate in other places than to clear land; and that money cannot be recouped in one season. It will take them some years before they are able to recoup the cost of land clearing.

“Then there is the issue of climate change which is also rearing its head now. The rain pattern cannot be predicted as it used to. Now, that is also a concern because we are still relying on rain-fed agriculture. When the rains are not regular or according to the initial pattern, there will be a challenge. For sometime now, even maize farmers experience a serious challenge. When the initial rain came, they thought the rain was here and planted but the rain seized.”

Siwoku, who is currently the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Spine Edge Consulting Limited, noted that on the side of the processors, the Coronavirus pandemic has impacted both negatively and positively on them.

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“The positive side for our sector now is that things are not coming in as they used to. So, end users and manufacturers are now looking for alternative local sources, which would have aided a lot of processors to be working but then the raw material that is not available is affecting them. So, now they can produce locally and sell; the market is there but the challenge is the raw material, which is cassava roots. That is one area we also need to look at,” he added.

Siwoku, who was the Business Development Expert for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-funded Cassava Adding Value for Africa Project Phase I and II implemented in five African countries of Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda, Malawi and Tanzania for over 11 years (2008-2019), urged the Federal government to develop a holistic policy to support the sector and enhance its value chain.

“If we have a policy that is holistic in nature, that is looking at local content, that is encouraging manufacturers to buy and utilise locally produced raw materials, that again will translate into increasing GDP, increasing employment rate and reducing rural-urban migration. So, we need to have a policy that will be holistic. But what we have is just a mention of cassava in some policy documents,” he noted.

A major player in the cassava value chain industry, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, corroborated Siwoku’s view. According to the source, adopting a holistic approach to maximise the sector would help to increase the contribution of cassava to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and lead to job creation.

The expert stated that this projection for the cassava sector could only be actualised by identifying and developing new market opportunities for import substitution and export; stimulating increased private sector investment in the establishment of export-oriented cassava industries; ensuring the consistent production and supply of fresh cassava roots with high starch content to end user industries; advocating for supportive policy and institutional reforms for the development of the Nigerian cassava sector; facilitating the establishment of targeted support infrastructures that would reduce transaction cost and increase competitiveness of the entire cassava commodity chain in Nigeria and integrating the rural poor, especially women and youths, into the mainstream of the national economy.

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Speaking on the investment outlook of the sector and what is required to effectively drive the vision of transforming the cassava sector into a multi-billion dollar industry, the expert said: “This will require additional investment in the establishment of processing facilities to produce food grade starch, ethanol, high quality cassava flour and glucose syrup. This will also open export market for these products in the West Africa sub-region. The establishment of additional plants will also lead to cultivation of additional hectares of land for cassava. The bulk of the investment is in the traditional food chain of gari, fufu, lafun etc. and the increasing trend of production of packaged foods for both local and international markets.

“The ethanol production facility will also have a huge investment for both set up cost and the fresh cassava root requirement. Currently, a sorbitol plant is at the stage of commissioning, and it is the first of its kind in the country and it will be using cassava as raw material. There is still an untapped opportunity in modified starches that can be produced in-country and exported to earn more foreign exchange for the country. Other investors are installing HQCF, ethanol and starch processing facility.

“Cassava processing equipment fabrication is also another area of investment in the country with some Nigeria fabricated equipment being supplied to other African countries. The equipment that has left the shores of the country include the flash dryers, automatic garri roaster, hydraulic presser, stainless steel roasting pans, graters, wet and dry hammer mills.”

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On the enabling policies required to achieve the target, the source urged the Federal Government to enforce its plan to reduce wheat importation by implementing 10 per cent HQCF inclusion in bread policy, adding that this would bring about additional investments in the establishment of large scale HQCF factories in the country.

The source also called for the promotion of local content in cassava industrialisation; promotion of crop cultivation insurance contracts policy excluding exogenous default risks; import restriction on cassava-based products and close substitutes; no Import Duties on agricultural machineries and agro processing equipment; single digit credit facilities for cassava value chain actors on clear financial products and tax holiday for new investors in the commodity value chain sector.

“For the transformation and realisation of the multi-billion US$ cassava industry, the road map should involve ensuring the consistent supply of fresh cassava roots to end user industries by targeting increased productivity per unit area and ensuring that farmers are clustered around processing factories. This should involve the commercial production of fresh cassava roots with high starch and dry matter content that will be affordable to the industrial end-users,” the source added.

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