Nigeria was reported to have been importing cassava derivatives worth $600 million yearly before the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) stepped in to deepen its production and value chain expansion for industrial growth and food security. TAIWO HASSAN reports
For years, cassava has remained one of the staple food in Nigeria as well as some part of Africa. It is a good source of dietary fibre as well as vitamin C, thiamin, folic acid, manganese, and potassium. However, following its large consumption by Nigerians, the rate of demand has been high, thus resorting to importation of its derivatives (wheat and others) in order to complement the local harvest.
In a bid to reduce foreign exchange (forex) exposure to capital flight and boost local production of the commodity, the apex bank, through the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP) set-aside N40 billion out of the N220 billion Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise Development Fund (MSMEF) for Nigerian farmers. To demonstrate its support for the country’s moribund cassava sector, the apex bank included cassava in the foreign exchange exclusion list in order to encourage local farmer
In order to reduce the number of cassava derivatives imported into the country, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Nigeria Cassava Growers Association and Large Scale Cassava Processors. The MoU was signed in a meeting held between the governors of cassava-producing states and the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele. During the meeting, the CBN governor said Nigeria imported cassava derivatives valued at about 600 million dollars annually. He stated that the MoU was signed to guarantee steady off-take and processing of cassava in Nigeria going forward. He made it known that the move would maximise local benefits of all the derivatives in cassava and save scarce foreign exchange. The CBN governor pointed out that the country was blessed with several varieties of cassava that could be explored to optimum potential. Emefiele said: “In achieving this goal, we are holding consultations with the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture, Ibadan and the National Root Crops Research Institute, Umudike.” He pledged to support the NCGA at the production level under the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP) as he expects this to increase farmers’ productivity and income. The Central Bank of Nigeria had said that in 2019, it sponsored about 15,000 farmers to cultivate over 15,000 hectares of cassava farmland in 19 states in its efforts to use cultivation of 10 crops to create 10 million jobs in five years.
Apart from foreign exchange (forex) conservation, increasing cassava production is a necessity as starch, glucose, sorbitol and other products currently being imported. Emefiele explained: “Statistics show that out of the 53.0 million metric tonnes of cassava produced in Nigeria annually, more than 90 per cent is processed into food for human consumption.
“Whereas a significant industrial demand exists for the output of processed cassava, primarily as substitutes for imported raw materials and semi-finished products. “Potential demand that exists in our cassava value chain, demand High-Quality Cassava Flour (HQCF) in bread, biscuits and snacks is above 500,000 tonnes annually while supply is below 15,000 tonnes. Demand for cassava starch is above 300,000 tonnes annually while supply is below 10,000 tonnes.”
Stakeholders’ comments Sakeholders
in the agric sector had pointed out that out of government’s 10 million jobs projection, about two million jobs across cassava value chain were expected to be realised following the CBN intervention. For instance, the Lagos Chapter Chairman of the All Farmers of Nigeria (AFAN), Otunba Femi Oke, in an interview with this newspaper, heaped praises on the apex bank’s intervention in cassava value chain in the country.
Oke explained that it had been overwhelming for all cassava farmers in Nigeria. The agric entrepreneur said the apex bank’s move had generated lots of positive momentum in terms of impacts on agric empowerment towards increasing food production.
He said that local farmers were very much in support of the intervention. According to him, what the apex bank needs to do now is to ensure the compliance level of the processors, like the flour millers under the aegis of Flour Milling Association of Nigeria (FMAN) towards patronising cassava farmers. Oke noted that the issue of pricing of raw cassava from the farm by the flour millers was one of the major reasons for the exit of cassava flour bread in circulation, noting that flour millers preferred to buy at international benchmark price.
According to him, there are no flour millers in the country willing to buy raw cassava from them at their stipulated price and this area of rejection by the processors must be ironed out by the CBN. For instance, he said that they preferred to price one ton of raw cassava at N16,000 and N18,000, which is not in tandem with their selling price, considering all the factors and the hard work put in during harvesting of the cassava.
To him, the pricing regime played crucial role on why the flour millers jettisoned government’s 20 per cent cassava inclusion in wheat flour bread and all other flour-based products. He said: “The fault is not from us (Nigerian farmers), it’s the flour millers who intentionally refused to patronize us in getting cassava for making of cassava flour bread in the country. “You know that we have to contribute the 20 per cent of the cassava flour needed with the wheat flour for them to make the cassava flour bread. But for so long, most of the flour millers have not been getting the 20 per cent cassava needed for the production of the cassava flour bread from us even though, we are ready to meet up with their demands.
“I can tell you that the only flour miller we have now that collaborating with us is Thai farms in Ososa in Ogun State. But unfortunately, Thai farms based on what they are getting from most of our farmers on cassava from our farms are not encouraging at all. The profit margin is not encouraging for us as farmers.
“For a ton of cassava, the flour millers will be demanding to offer between N16,000 to N18,000, this is not encouraging at all, so we prefer to supply the industrial industries and exports for us to make more ends meet.” National President, All Farmers of Nigeria (AFAN), Arch. Kabir Ibrahim, in an interview with New Telegraph, commended the CBN for its intervention in Nigerian agriculture by making credit available for Nigerian farmers, which is something that has been lacking for decades.
Ibrahim commended the management of the CBN’s for its role to aggressively increase cassava production and its value chain penetration in the country. The AFAN national president, however, charged the CBN to ensure effective monitoring of the intervention funds among the farmers to ensure that it served agric purposes only for transparency and accountability. Similarly, an agronomist at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Dr. Richardson Okechukwu, said in a chat with this newspaper that it was an “excellent way to facilitate agricultural enterprises that have for long been neglected.”
He added that government should ensure recipients of the cassava grant were linked to off-takers and utilise improved seeds of good varieties along with quality inputs. Okechukwu also suggested mechanisation as important to agriculture post COVID-19.
He said: “A shift from hoe and cutlass is long overdue. This intervention, if handled well, will create jobs and reverse rural urban migration. Beneficiary farmers of the cassava intervention fund should endeavour to repay back their loans, which luckily, are interest-free, to ensure the facility is extended to other farmers.” In his reaction, the National President of the Nigeria Cassava Growers Association (NCGA), Pastor Segun Adewumi, lauded the efforts of the CBN towards re-positioning the country’s cassava value chain, saying the impacts of the intervention funds were already being felt by local farmers in the country. Adewunmi explained that the penchant for continued importation of wheat from abroad by the flour millers at the detriment of patronizing local sourced cassava has been a challenge for Nigerian farmers and need for government to checkmate this.
He stated that wheat importation is taking huge toll on the country’s foreign exchange, adding that government needs to wield big stick by compelling flour millers to go back to use of local cassava in the making of flour and other confectionary foods in the country. While speaking on the benefits of cassava to the growth of the Nigerian economy, the cassava association president stated that Nigeria could generate N20 trillion from cassava as revenue if government ban wheat importation.
“Nigeria can realizmse N20 trillion from cassava as revenue more than twice what we get from oil if we can get it right. Let me explain, the things we import into this country which we can generate cassava from is worth more than N3 trillion, that is; if we processed our cassava into those items like ethanol and others sources. “We imports 97 per cent ethanol at the cost of N800 billion. Also, industrial pulp, we import like N500 billion. So, it is the flour millers that don’t want it so that they can continue to import wheat in bread production. “Alarming, the total supply of cassava to the flour millers is less than one per cent in Nigeria now. They are always complaining of one thing or the other so that there won’t be market for cassava in the production of bread,” the cassava president association said.
In light of the above, agric stakeholders have unanimously stated that the apex bank’s intervention in the country’s cassava value chain is actually creating employment opportunities and helping to diversify the economy following adequate financial support.