Making Cassava Nigeria’s Next Cash Cow

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IITA Cassava
An IITA farm officer, Anetor Omonuwa, holds cassava variety undergoing field testing for high yield potential in IITA’s Ikenne research station in Nigeria. Photo by IITA

“Before 2020, these women [Benue women] were producing certified stems on about 5 hectares. We worked with the women in 2020 using the BASICS model, trained them using the Six Steps to Cassava Weed Management and best planting practices, strengthened the group and linked them to the market. The women were able to increase their hectarage in 2020 to 42 hectares. This year [2021], the women acquired 100 hectares to grow quality cassava stems,” the director for development and delivery, International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Dr. Alfred Dixon, told stakeholders at the 2021 National Cassava Summit.

Dixon told participants who convened in Abuja to deliberate on the state of the cassava sector in Nigeria, that the IITA, through its Building an Economically Sustainable Integrated Cassava Seed System Phase 2 (BASICS-II) project model, was also able to successfully build a seeds’ system in Oyo, during the height of COVID-19 in 2020, by supporting the state government to invest in seed production.

According to him, the state through the Oyo State Agribusiness Development Agency (OYSADA) was linked to IITA GoSeed and has cultivated 100 ha of improved cassava seeds. The plan, he said, is to make the state the hub of cassava seeds’ production in Nigeria.

Nigeria is the largest producer in the world but the yield per hectare has stagnated at below 10 tonnes and production has not changed much; a situation that has made growers in the country non-competitive, especially in the export market.

Agriculture in Nigeria, as well as other African countries, is bedevilled by several challenges, including climate change, pests and diseases, low productivity, an informal seeds’ system that constrains the dissemination of improved varieties, amongst others.

Experts in the sector have pointed out that Africa is spending about $35 billion annually importing food, due to the constraints mentioned earlier. They project that if Africa does nothing about this, food imports would rise to $110 billion by 2025. If this happens, Africa’s trade and, particularly, exchange rates, will be in jeopardy. This implies that Africa will be exporting jobs and importing poverty, unemployment will rise and raise the tempo of youth restiveness.

However, as crude oil continues to take a dip because of the global search for more sustainable ways of energy generation, stakeholders in Nigeria’s cassava sector believe the sector can be revitalised to become the country’s next cash cow.

Sequel to this, the IITA, BASICS-II, Foundation for Partnerships Initiatives in the Niger Delta (PIND) and the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) organised a summit with the theme, ‘Catalyzing and scaling private sector-led cassava seed development in Nigeria’ to discuss and seek ways to improve the cassava seeds’ system, to transform the root crop into a cash cow for the nation.

In his opening remarks, the PIND executive director, Dr. Dara Akala, said Nigeria has the economic potential to generate revenue of $427.3 million from domestic value-addition and earn an income of $2.98 billion in agricultural exports of cassava per annum.

According to him, local value-addition to cassava via local manufacturing and processing could potentially unlock about $16 million in taxes to the government per annum.

Highlighting the importance of the crop in Nigeria’s food value chain, Akala said cassava fits well into the farming systems of the small-holder farmers in Nigeria because it is available all year, providing household food security.

“Cassava cultivation in Nigeria is still largely driven by small-scale farmers using rudimentary implements and with a land-holding of between 0.5 to 2.5 ha per individual farmer.

“Most of the products from cassava are often used as intermediate raw materials for food and industrial processes. Products like food-grade starch, high-quality cassava flour, sorbitol or glucose syrup, ethanol, etc., are used by breweries (Nigerian Breweries, Guinness, etc), flour mills (HQCF), bottling companies (COa by-product from ethanol production), distilleries (ethanol) and so on,” he said.

Akala further lamented farmers cannot access the quality and quantity of seeds required at the right time, resulting in the highest per cent downtime, low productivity, gross under-utilization of turnkey processing machines and, ultimately, a loss of capital.

He maintained that the combination of high-yielding, virus-free varieties, mechanized systems and good agronomic practices (including six steps in weed management), could be Nigeria’s game-changer in root supply.

In his goodwill message, the senior program officer, agriculture, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), Nigeria, Audu Grema, described cassava as “Nigeria’s gold extensively grown around the country”. But he called for the correct profiling of the cash crop for better harnessing of its enormous potentials.

“I want to make three suggestions. I think we need to profile the germplasm in Nigeria. Nigeria needs a genetic pool of all the species and varieties. This will help in research to find traits for disease resistance and others, as well as the need to access variety genotypes to clarify the varieties farmers have. IITA has the right technology, personnel and partnership to bring this to fruition. The third suggestion is around the hidden economic importance of cassava. Cassava has developmental value. It is the crop that most of the population depend on for food and nutritional benefits,” he added.

Similarly, the officer-in-charge, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Nigeria, Patrick Habamenshi, described the summit as part of the transformation of Nigeria’s economy from the grassroots.

According to him, cassava is a “wonderous crop” in the light of all the things one can do with it in terms of food, animal feed, industries – starch, methanol etc.

“We are yet to scratch the surface of the potentials of this wonder crop in Nigeria. When you see all the things that are imported and fill our shelves in the market, there is an urge to develop the sector. There’s a lot to do and it is good that we’re starting the discussion. How do we get quality seeds? How do we get the private sector to invest in the seeds? Here, in this summit, we must look beyond the seed. The seed is only relevant if we understand the market, we are trying to provide the cassava for.

“We must bring our investors to invest in transforming and adding value to the cassava to meet the market requirements. Let’s also work with policy-makers to have the right policy environment because that is the challenge for cassava producers. Let’s try to look at the different dimensions as we move forward,” he cautioned.

Habamenshi averred that there’s a lot that can be done for this crop, even as he urged stakeholders to see how they can innovate and transform it, so [that] it can meet the demands of today’s economy.

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