Professionals blame cassava flour policy’s failure on government’s insincerity
According to agricultural scientists, Nigeria’s cassava yearly production fluctuates between 50 and 60 million metric tonnes.
Professor Sanni Lateef, a cassava value chain specialist and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), said the root crop “is an important staple in the tropics and is grown in increasing amounts per capita. Cassava is still a “food crop” – more than 90% consumed as traditional foods. Though traditionally processed for food, it has been increasingly used throughout the world in textile, food, pharmaceutical, and biochemical industries.”
Realizing the critical role the cop could play in the efforts to eradicate hunger and poverty, the ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo-led administration, laying the foundation for economic diversification through agriculture, deepened the cassava production and utilisation by encouraging cassava flour in wheat flour to reduce importation of wheat. This was in tandem with the government’s policy on import substitution.
Though Obasanjo cracked the door ajar, the Goodluck Jonathan-led administration opened it a little wider by taking the initiative into a higher level, with his minister of agriculture, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, methodically driving the inclusion.
The period, 2011 to 2015, saw massive investments in high-quality cassava flour production lines, with giants in the confectionery industry buying into the policy either through backward integration or outsourcing of the cassava flour production from emerging producers.
The political will, it must be emphasised, of the two previous administrations made Nigeria the largest producer of the root crop in the world, with the concomitant development of the ancillary industries in processing equipment fabrication, bio-fortification, and further industrialisation through starch and ethanol production.
Speaking with The Guardian recently on the import substitution policy, a cassava-to-ethanol processor in Nigeria, Mr Rajavelu Rajasekar, claimed that the policy was introduced to be 10 per cent and later 20 per cent in wheat flour.
But, “Truly speaking,” he added, “it is not properly implemented. It is not being strictly implemented by the Federal Government. I do not think any miller is using 20 per cent of the cassava flour now.
“I think they do, to some certain, level. But I do not think any miller is mixing up to 20 per cent because they feel that 20 per cent does not give good quality products, though the research says they can mix up to 20 per cent. So, they have reduced the cassava flour content to a little.”
The immediate former minister of agriculture, Audu Ogbeh, while shedding light on the situations around the policy, admitted that “We had a problem when I came in. The bakers came and said that if they used the flour with 15 per cent of cassava flour, the bread would refuse to rise. And the bread must look full so that they could sell it for the price.”
The minister had told The Guardian that the bakers wanted to import an enzyme to make it work, and a Nigerian abroad said he could do it.
“But he said we should order for some first. And I said if he could do it, we would help him to produce it here.”
He said those who set up cassava flour factories had to stop because the flour millers were not buying them, saying, “That is what we want to revive, and we insist that everybody must use it, even if it is five per cent.”
Shedding light on the background to the policy, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), Professor Sanni Lateef, explained that cassava flour inclusion policy started with a strong political will in 2004 to 2007 and 2009 to 2014.
“These periods,” he added, “witnessed investments worth billions of naira. Lots of farmers, processors, and bakers received training from various organisations. Projects like Cassava: Adding Value for Africa (C:AVA); Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA), Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT), among other policies, sustained the drive for the inclusion policy till 2019.”
Past efforts on cassava/sorghum flour
A bill for an Act to provide for a mandatory 20 per cent inclusion of High Quality Cassava Flour or Sorghum to wheat flour and its derivatives and the establishment of a special tax regime for the mixed wheat flour was the subject of deliberations of farmers, processors, dealers, bakers and the media in the country from 2012 to 2015.
Part of the draft bill says, “As from the commencement of this bill (Act, if passed into law), it shall be mandatory for all makers of edible flour in Nigeria to ensure the 20 per cent inclusion of the high-quality cassava flour in wheat flour produced in the country or imported.
“AS from the commencement of this bill, it shall be mandatory for all makers of edible flour in Nigeria to ensure the 20 per cent inclusion of the high-quality sorghum flour in wheat flour produced in the country or imported.”
However, the experiments of the mixtures indicated that cassava flour blends better with wheat flour. Sorghum flour had not been thoroughly researched and developed.
As incentives to wheat flour millers, cassava flour and bakers, the bill also proposes a tax relief ranging from five to 10 per cent to those who comply.
“A tax regime herein established to provide incentives for the producers of mixed wheat and cassava flour as follows: The recipients of the tax regime for the mixed wheat flour are wheat milling industries; the legal entities that manufacture high quality cassava flour; the legal entities that manufacture high quality sorghum flour, and the recipients of the reduced tariff regime for the importers of wheat as follows: Wheat importers who include 10 per cent cassava or sorghum flour, a 5 per cent reduction in tariff on imported wheat.”
The draft also says “for wheat milling industries, (there is) a 10 per cent reduction in corporate, personal income and VAT on mixed wheat and cassava and sorghum flour sales revenues: for legal entities that manufacture high quality cassava flour, (there is) the suspension of corporate, personal income and VAT; for legal entities that manufacture high quality sorghum flour, (there is) the suspension of corporate, personal income and VAT.”
The initiative has been technically killed through refusal to conclude a bill that is capable of catalytic multiplier effects on the economy.
Politics of cassava flour policy
The toughest of the challenges, analysts explained, is poor political willpower on the part of the Federal Government. The poor political will, as some critics have said, emanates from ethnic distrust, politicisation of good agro-economic policies and age-long suspicions between the south and the north.
Cassava, they argued, is a root crop produced mainly in the Southwest, North-Central and eastern states, as against grains produced in the north.
Prof Adebayo Kolawole, a former Regional Coordinator of C:AVA, said the major challenge preventing legislation and implementation of the cassava inclusion policy in Nigeria is lack of seriousness of the national leadership.
“It is a no-brainer that the country that produces the largest volume of cassava in the world should have a policy guiding its use for reducing imports of wheat that gulps foreign exchange and enriches farmers in other nations. This is one policy that has been talked about for almost 20 years and yet, no legislation to back it up. This, to me, is an indication of non-willingness on the part of Nigerian leaders to make it happen,” the professor of agricultural extension said.
While expressing frustration over the counter-productive attitude and inaction of the government, he added that “our electioneering process is not issue-based. So, you can’t make it an issue for discussion even during political debates or campaigns. It is depressing to think about it anymore.”
Prof. Sanni equally explained that there is no law for the enforcement of the inclusion, and the inconsistency of the government’s position in the use of cassava flour in bread and confectionery products is the major challenge.
The private sector operators, such as bakers, equipment manufacturers and cassava flour operators were ready and invested heavily, but the government’s willpower so far is doubtful.
He added that the National Assembly and executives are yet to see critical reasons for the bill. This needs lobbying and serious awareness campaign, he said, adding, “the government is charging higher tariffs on wheat, yet, nothing is expended to develop the industry.”
Ex-Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh, also admitted that lack of political willpower had hampered the progressed recorded during the Jonathan-led administration.
“It is not in the gazette yet because the flag-off has not really happened formally. When it is, we will put it there and the National Assembly will have to put it in the law of the land. Even then, we have to follow up slowly, because, between you and me, the guys who have their wheat businesses would want to make their money,” he had told The Guardian.
The ex-minister had argued that the commercial or trade wars were more vicious than wars with bombs and tanks because economically powerful nations dominate the weak ones.
“We are weak. But we must resolve to be strong and stronger by using what we have, utilising what we have at home.,” he had said.
As the country celebrates another independence, stakeholders demand that the government get its policy synchronized, avoid ethnic-biased policies and be sincere for once about moving the agricultural sector forward.
Part of the reality, they said, is that cassava flour bill should be re-presented to the National Assembly, reviewed urgently and be passed into law to revolutionise the economy through the root crop that has been described as “Gold of Africa.”
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