Thursday, 28th September 2023

The economics of cassava, corn and yam

By Adolphus Aletor 
07 November 2022   |   2:51 am
I have listened to the speech of a famous politician repeatedly where he said, “recruit 50 million youths into the Army.

Corn milk

I have listened to the speech of a famous politician repeatedly where he said, “recruit 50 million youths into the Army.

What will they eat? Cassava, Agbado, Corn, Yam……it is grown here”. Though now turned comical, the message should not be lost on the government and the entire citizenry. This article intends to focus on the import and not on political orientation.

Firstly, Nigeria is a country with a high unemployment rate. The latest report shows that people below 30 years constitute about 70% of the population. Broken down, below 15 years is 42%, while 15 years to 30 years is about 28%.

While the United Nations defines youth as those “persons between the ages of 15 and 24 years without prejudice to others”, the Nigeria Youth Policy (2009) defines youth as 18 – 35 years though a new policy (2019) now puts it at 18 – 29 years. To put it in perspective, Nigeria has a youth population of about sixty-one (61) million if we go by an estimated total population of 219million.

The Unemployment rate is the share of the labour force without work. However, they are available and seeking employment. It currently stands at 33% (2022). It has grown over the last five years against a population growth rate of 2.6%.

Yam market

Secondly, the Nigerian Army is said to have a total of two hundred and twenty-three thousand (223,000) personnel with an average annual growth rate of 1.6% in the last seven years. Compared with other countries like Brazil, Indonesia, and Pakistan, whose populations are within the same range of 200million to 300million as Nigeria, the size of their army far exceeds that of Nigeria.

For instance, Brazil has a population of 213million and an active military size of three hundred and sixty thousand (360,000) personnel, while Indonesia and Pakistan, with populations of 275million and 238million, have army sizes of four hundred thousand (400,000) and six hundred and forty thousand (640,000) personnel, respectively. In comparing the size of the Paramilitary, the three countries of Brazil, Indonesia and Pakistan have 400,000, 280,000, and 500,000, respectively, while Nigeria maintains 80,000 personnel.

Thirdly, Wikipedia puts the unemployment rate in Brazil at 9.5%, Indonesia at 5.8%, Pakistan at 4.4%, and Nigeria at 33.3%. If this is anything to go by, we may be able to draw an inference that there is a relationship between the size of a country’s army and the (Un) employment rate. I consider this my assumption.

Fourthly, in a country where managing the foreign exchange rate has become more physical, having “defied all known economic theory” or even spiritual rather than the interplay of demand and supply, Nigeria needs to, more than ever before, look inwards. Looking inwards will reduce the pressure on the foreign reserve. It means the consumption of locally made goods and services. It will lead to self-sustenance. One way this can happen is to produce our food and kill our penchant for foreign-made goods and services.


Common staple foods in Nigeria are Cassava, Corn, Yam and permit me to add Beans. They all have by-products that we can make into different flavours and diets. It graces the table of families from the North, South, East and West of Nigeria. All of them are grown in Nigeria with no soil preference. They can be for subsistence or large-scale commercial. They have also proved to have high export value.

For instance, Cassava has an annual export potential of $2.9bn. Nigeria’s production capacity for Cassava is 59.5million metric tonnes. It is unable to meet demand by a shortfall of 775metric tonnes combined for flour and starch. The sum of $427.3million is what we realize from domestic value addition and $2.98billion in export. Nigeria contributes 21% to global output in terms of production.

Another instance is Corn; Nigeria’s production capacity is 11metric tonnes while our consumption stands at 15metric tonnes, leaving us with a 4metric tonnes gap. Of the production, only 10% is for household consumption as food, while the rest is industrial, ranging from animal feed to breweries. An example is in Q3 2020 alone, when Nigeria spent N26.6bn importing maize from Argentina and three other countries. Experts projects that Nigeria will pay $285million on Maize importation by 2029.

Lastly, the alternatives to these products consumed in Nigeria today are finished products of the same food items packaged abroad and imported into the country.

For instance, we import sweet corn and cornflakes into Nigeria under different brands worldwide. Nigeria spends an estimated $22bn on food importation annually, which is about 5% of GDP. Most of these food items are produced locally. Some critical sectors are begging for that allocation.

The government and citizens should think of the mileage we can all collectively derive from engaging in habits that will not only generate employment but motivate local production, export and consumption of locally made goods and services.