Home > Agriculture, Industry > “Green Gold” to the Rescue of Nigeria

“Green Gold” to the Rescue of Nigeria

The “Green Gold”-This is the name the cassava plant has earned for itself in Nigeria where it is being mooted as both the key to national food security and the development of rural industries. Today, cassava, with the scientific name “Manihot Esculenta”, is being seen as a better alternative to “black gold” (petroleum), in the nation’s quest to provide adequate food for its 150 million people and rid itself of rural poverty.

It is for this reason that the Presidential Initiative on Cassava (PIC) was launched almost 10 years ago by former President Olusengu Obasanjo, to provide political and scientific support for the mass cultivation of cassava in a country that is both the largest producer and consumer of the crop.

Nigeria has a landmass of 98.3 million hectares, out of which 74 million hectares is suitable for agriculture but less than half of this cropland is currently being cultivated. With 70 percent of its population living on a 100 naira (US $ 0.7) per day, a boost in agricultural productivity would impact positively on its socio-economic life since farmers make up between 60 to 70 percent of its population.

Chief Tola Adepomolu

Chief Tola Adepomolu, a cassava farmer at Kwara near Ibadan in the Oyo State and National Vice- President for “All Farmers Association of Nigeria” credits the establishment of the PIC to the foresight of cassava farmers. He says “In 2002, the Nigerian Cassava Growers Association under my leadership presented research findings on the potential uses of cassava, which had not been fully exploited, to the president and the minister for agriculture. Following a series of stakeholders meetings, the PIC was established”.

Chief Adepomolu says before then, cassava was considered a crop suitable for cultivation by women and food for the poor. However, research had indicated that the crop could be processed into several food products as well as ethanol to support industrial growth. Ethanol is utilised in a number of industrial processes including liquor blending, manufacturing of plastics, cosmetics, paint, petro-chemicals, textiles and adhesives.

Cassava was considered a crop for women

Peeled Cassava

Following the launching of the PIC, a number of instruments were put in place to prop up cassava cultivation. These included a ban on the importation of cassava products to protect cassava farmers from unfair competition from other countries that had the technology to produce cassava cheaply and dump its products on the Nigerian market. The government instituted a policy that stipulated that all flour millers should incorporate 10 percent cassava flour into wheat flour. This was to secure a stable local market for cassava, in view of the massive consumption of wheat products such as bread, cakes and biscuits so that farmers could earn a steady and respectable income.

The government also established the Nigerian Agricultural Co-operative Bank, which came to be widely known as the farmers’ bank, to provide loans to cassava farmers to expand their farms. However, very few farmers could acquire loans from the bank due to insufficient funding, which constitutes one of the major shortcomings of the PIC.

“Only about ten percent of farmers received loans from the bank”, says Chief Adepomolu. Most of those who benefited were members of the Nigerian Cassava Growers Association who had already constituted themselves into cooperative bodies and thus were in a position to guarantee loans. When the population of farmers outstripped the resources of the bank, it simply stopped giving out loans. Other financial institutions refused to come to the aid of the cassava farmers.

Explaining why this happened, Chief Adepomolu says, “The Commercial banks are not interested in extending credit facilities to farmers because they do not have the kind of collateral that the banks normally demand. The commercial banks consider farming to be risky because in Nigeria we depend on nature- the sun and the rain- for our agricultural production. There are no irrigation facilities. There are so many things we do not have so commercial banks are not ready to take risks.”

Perhaps, the provision of high yielding cassava varieties for farmers under the PIC was the most successful part of the programme. At the launch of the programme, the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) at Ibadan had already developed 43 improved varieties of cassava which were not yet widely accessible to farmers. Most of these new varieties were high yielding, resistant to most pests and diseases, including the dreaded cassava mosaic disease and also possessed significantly low levels of cyanide in their tubers.

The PIC supported the multiplication and distribution of these new varieties to cassava farmers to boost their yield as well as training on new agronomic practices required for their cultivation.

Dr Gbassey Tarawali

“Improved varieties normally come out with a package of farm management practices that guarantee their maximum output. These include the timely application of fertilizer, pesticides and weeding around the crops”, says Dr Gbassey Tarawali, a researcher at the IITA.

Consequently, Cassava farmers all over Nigeria were clustered to make it easier for researchers to reach them with information on the right agronomic practices and inputs for the new cassava varieties. One of such practices was the use of herbicides to control weeds, since this was less laborious and cheaper.

However, the use of herbicides was a complex technology for most farmers. If the herbicides are too concentrated, they kill off young plants and when they are over diluted, they became ineffective and fail to kill off the weeds. Rather than leaving farmers to their fate, the IITA organized weed control groups, made up of young people who received training on how to use the various herbicides and were linked to chemical companies from where they could purchase herbicides. It thus became the duty of these weed control groups to move from one cassava farm to another spraying off weeds as and when required.

The introduction of new cassava varieties coupled with the right agronomic practices led to a twofold and even sometimes threefold increments in cassava yields- from 10 tonnes per hectare to between 20 to 35 tonnes per hectare- depending on the variety and management practices adopted. But even then, there is still room for improvement: “In Zimbabwe, farmers can harvest up to 60 tonnes per hectare from these same varieties due to good management practices backed by mechanization” says Dr Tarawali.

Cassava being processed into gari

A year after the PIC was launched cassava production rose from 28 million metric tonnes per annum to 36 million tonnes, rising to a peak of 46 million metric tonnes a few years later. Nigeria also began exporting ‘gari’ and cassava ‘fufu’ flour to overseas countries.

The sudden increase in cassava production resulted in a glut necessitating the establishment of the Cassava Value Chain Project. Under the project, mobile graters were used to reach cassava farms in remote areas that lacked modern processing centres. Explaining why there was the need to grate cassava on farms, Dr Tarawali says, “By grating, you reduce the weight of the cassava by 70 percent because most of the weight is moisture. This reduces the cost of transportation and also helps prolong the shelf life of cassava, which is a highly perishable crop”.

More cassava processing centres, mostly manned by women, were also established to process cassava into “gari”, tiny granules that can be used to make a variety of dishes. Most of these processing centres provided employment for the marginalized such as widows, unskilled and out of school youth with some employing up to 400 people thus reducing unemployment in Nigeria.

People peeling cassava in a processing factory

A further boost to processing was achieved by the establishment of the Cassava Enterprise Development Project (CEDP) jointly funded by the Federal Government of Nigeria, Shell Oil Company and the USAID. CEDP operates mainly in the Niger Delta Region where the PIC was officially launched as a competitor to “black gold”. Eleven states benefited from the programme including Imo, Abia, Delta, and Cross River States.

One processing centre, Olubori Enterprises, is located on the outskirts of Abeokuta. Mr. Ayo Olubori, an agricultural engineer and Managing Director of Peak Product Enterprises said he started his business purely as a cassava processing enterprise but ventured into the fabrication of cassava processing equipment following its high demand under the PIC. “The PIC was really a boost to cassava business in this country. It was rural empowerment, poverty alleviation and technological development at a go and opened the eyes of Nigerians as to what we can get from cassava”, he says.

Mr Olubori started his business in 1996 processing cassava into starch and flour with no equipment and only his son, wife and siblings as workers in his factory. However, the demand for cassava flour and starch was in excess of what he could supply through sun drying. Drawing on his technological expertise as an engineer, he designed a self-fabricated equipment to boost his output, an undertaking which earned him a favourable career as a fabricator under the PIC.

People who visited his factory demanded to have similar processing equipments made for them upon seeing his own and this demand was further enhanced by the PIC since cassava processing equipment was in short supply.

Mr Olubori thinks the PIC heralded a new era in the cassava industry, especially for fabricators, saying, “Before the PIC we had no challenges, we had no drive, no urge or pressure on us to come out with improved flash dryers or other processing equipment. But with the advent of the PIC, feedback from buyers helped us to improve upon existing technologies.’’

A flash dryer undergoing the process of fabrication

Just 18 months after the commencement of the PIC, the number of large scale processors using modern equipment rose from less than five to over a 100. The expertise of Mr. Olubori was in high demand and he installed over 85 functional flash dryers in Nigeria.

However, the rush to install modern processing equipment such as flash dryers following its implementation still failed to provide enough processing equipment to meet what was required for the PIC to function smoothly. For Mrs Bola Adeyemo, it was a typical case of ‘putting the cart before the horse’ since this was an indication that the PIC was carried out without any thorough planning.

According to her, in rushing to implement the initiative without first putting in place supporting infrastructure such as processing centres and good roads to ease transportation of the tubers to marketing centres, the PIC was doomed to fall short of its objectives right from the beginning of its implementation.

A former banker and a farmer, Mrs Adeyemo is the Managing Director of Agro Allied Limited at Ibadan which cultivates a variety of food crops including cassava. When the PIC was launched, she jumped on the bandwagon, putting 25 hectares of land under cassava cultivation only to realize she could not process her produce due to a shortage of processing centres.

Undaunted, she bought her own processing equipment and a generator to power it since she had no access to electricity. Midway, she abandoned her decision to process her produce into gari and cassava chips when she realized she was running at a loss, allowing the cassava to rot on her farm.

Mrs Bola Adeyemo

Mrs Adeyemo’s experience, which undoubtedly was experienced by other farmers, point to certain factors that hinder agricultural development in Nigeria –mainly the lack of adequate infrastructure and other forms of support for agriculture. The lack of feeder roads to transport farm produce to marketing centres has being a major hindrance to agriculture for decades in a country where post harvest loses range between 20 to 40 percent. Coupled with the lack of processing facilities, inadequate sources of energy, low mechanization, the absence of irrigation facilities and inadequate supply of potable water, the agricultural sector constitutes one of the most poorly resourced sectors in the country.

Having such resources in place would not only have made the PIC more successful but would have ensured the success of any endeavour in agriculture.

For Mr. Ninji Lucas, an engineer and fabricator of cassava processing equipment, based in Lagos, the main shortcoming of the PIC was its failure to establish a technological base for the programme. “The PIC had good intentions but along the line there was something wrong with the whole process. There was no grant for research on the fabrication of cassava equipment which constitutes a key component of the programme”, he says.

A worker fabricating cassava equipment at Ninji Lucas' factory

However, while the PIC did not fund any research undertakings, it spurred on research at his company, Ninji Foods Limited, due to the high demand for processing equipment that it generated.

‘‘I invested over 25 million naira in research and development on cassava processing equipment at the height of the initiative which in turn boosted my business by over 50 percent. But then I was expecting to reap profit for the next 20 to 30 years on my research and development only for the PIC to come to a stalemate.’’

Back at the IITA, Dr Tarawali pores over data on cassava cultivation that was emailed to him by extension officers on the field on his computer. He says ‘‘I Have just received information that a farmer harvested 30 tonnes of cassava from his one hectare farm and has sold it to a company at 10,000 naira per tonne. That means he made 30,000 naira from just one hectare of cassava which is more than what the drivers at the IITA earn per month. Our drivers only earn 10,000 to 20,000 naira per month.’’

Dr Tarawali believes that cassava does hold the key to the enhancement of food security in Nigeria and the enrichment of the rural population but also agrees that a lot more needs to be done for this to be realised.

‘What I want tot tell our leaders is that agriculture cannot do it alone. Government has to provide the enabling environment. Increasing cassava yields and production is not enough. What about roads, water, electricity and medical facilities?

There is no doubt that the PIC did chalk some limited success in Nigeria in spite of its shortcomings. It did not wipe out poverty but it did enhance food security; it did not halt unemployment but it did take some marginalised people off the streets. This means that re-launching an improved version of the programme that addresses the lapses that undermined it when it was first launched would make the programme more successful.

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  1. July 14, 2012 at 2:22 pm

    please help direct me to an agency/organization that will help start a farm project. ryweah@yahoo.com, p.o.box 1139,monrovia, liberia, west africa,+231880778668
    moses blah road, behind coca cola factory, mount sinai church. we have good land but no means to start as the our home is far from monrovia. thank you very much.
    roosevelt y.weah, 46, three children.

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