Cassava Pillar, Beacon Of Food Security in Nigeria – Dixon

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Cassava summit
The director for development and delivery, International Institute for Tropical Agriculture, Dr. Alfred Dixon (fourth from left) flanked by IITA officials and other participants during the cassava summit in Abuja.

The director for development and delivery, International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Dr. Alfred Dixon, has underscored the important role cassava plays in Nigeria’s food value chain, saying it must remain a pillar and beacon of Nigeria’s food security.

He made this assertion at the 2021 National Cassava Summit, themed “Catalyzing and Scaling Private Sector-led Cassava Seed Development in Nigeria” organised by the IITA, the Building an Economically Sustainable Integrated Cassava Seed System Phase 2 (BASICS-II), Foundation for Partnerships Initiatives in the Niger Delta (PIND) and the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) yesterday in Abuja.

Dixon, who noted that a lot of progress has been recorded in the sector since the first cassava summit in 2016, maintained that more needs to be done to achieve the cassava sector of Nigeria’s dreams.

Listing some of the reasons for the summit, he said they bordered on the need to increase yield per hectare significantly above 20 tonnes per hectare, up from the current 9 tonnes per hectare to make Nigeria globally competitive.

He pointed out that the cassava sector needs to attract new investments to cut imports of other alternatives and save foreign exchange; stressing that jobs and wealth need to be created to engage the nation’s young men and women.

To achieve these goals, he pointed out that the nation must urgently develop her cassava seeds’ sector which has, hitherto, been largely informal with about 60 per cent of the seeds grown in Nigeria being local varieties with low-yield potential.

According to him, a sustainable cassava seeds’ system goes beyond cultivating improved varieties on a parcel of land; rather, it involves the careful arrangement and establishment of breeder, foundation and certified seeds in a manner that engenders genetic purity and quality assurance, and brings about commercialisation and wealth creation in the seed value chain, while intergrating the development of a pipeline of improved varieties by breeding programmes.

“BASICS-II project has developed its model to deploy, replicate and disseminate improved end user-preferred varieties of cassava and tackle the challenge of low yield in an economically sustainable manner. It links root producers, processors and consumers with early generation seed (EGS) producers (breeder seeds and foundation seeds) and certified commercial seed producers (CSPs) providing feedback from consumers, processors and farmers to continuously improve product profiles used by breeders for varieties preferred by end-users (farmers and processors). The seed regulatory agencies provide oversight along the seed production value chain with emphasis on EGS production,” he added.

He said the summit aims to fill the gap in seeds’ demand and the huge role the private sector has to play in providing farmers with access to affordable, quality-assured seeds of the cassava varieties in demand by local food and processor markets through the establishment of a commercially viable seed value chain operating across breeder, foundation and commercial seed levels.

“We must produce food in ways that create wealth, The present upwards trajectory of catalyzing and scaling private sector-led cassava seed development portrays a bright future for the country and will lead us to the promised land.

“We are changing the narrative where cassava is seen as a poor farmers’ crop to the pace-setter of African rural development,” he added. 

Earlier, in his opening remarks, the PIND executive director, Dr. Dara Akala, said cassava has steadily gained recognition and importance in Nigeria as an industrial crop since the first national summit.

“Since 2016, we are happy to see the entry and growth of many large industrial-scale processors across our regions. These industries supply starch, ethanol and sorbitol to our multinational end-user industries. To complement the effort of the private sector players, development partners across the country have also invested in supporting farmers to increase cassava output.

“For example, our foundation since 2016 has invested almost US$ 800,000 to increase cassava productivity, strengthen coordination and relationships of cassava value chain actors and promoted improved technologies for cassava production in the Niger Delta. Through this, we have effectively reached approximately 300,000 farmers with information and training, facilitated the creation of almost 2,500 FTE jobs and a network of 150 service providers as PEPs,” he stated.

Akala pointed out that Nigeria has the economic potential to generate revenues of US$427.3million from domestic value-addition and earn an income of US$2.98 billion in agricultural exports of cassava per annum. Furthermore, local value-addition to cassava via local manufacturing and processing could potentially unlock about US$16million in taxes to the government per annum.

In his remarks, the BASICS-II project manager, Prof. Lateef Sanni, agreed that the summit is one of many engagement platforms with public and private sector stakeholders to develop a sustainable cassava seeds’ system.

Sanni described the summit as a “system that would give farmers access to quality seeds of improved varieties to provide the best raw materials to food and processing industries and stimulate economic growth along the cassava value chain.”

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