Pastor Segun Adewumi, President, Nigeria Cassava Growers Association, in this interview with CALEB ONWE, bares his mind on how the full potential of cassava can be harnessed to resuscitate the economy. He also spoke on other issues in the industry. Excerpts:
Recently, a cassava summit was held in Abuja, as the president of Nigeria Cassava Growers Association, could you give us more insight into what necessitated the summit and what it holds for Nigeria?
The summit provided great enlightenment to stakeholders and the public on the progress, challenges and prospects in the cassava industry. Cassava is Nigeria’s gold, even though such recognition has not been given to it. I would be bold to state that it is better for us as economy promoters to give attention to developing the full potential of the cassava industry than pursuing fuel. Cassava can actually give us more than N15 trillion annually going by the present exchange rates.
Our association is already championing a crusade to make cassava a national product, we want all stakeholders at all levels to give priority attention to cassava. We are trying to be above board in creating the enlightenment.
Secondly, cassava is cultivated all over the country from the North to the South. Cassava grows and lives with water but survives with heat, the fact that there is no water for three months cannot affect cassava, so it is so easy to grow and Nigeria is known as the highest producer of cassava in the world, so, it is what we have that we will promote. Cassava is the only farm produce in the world that Nigeria has been recognised globally as a leader, so it is very necessary to promote cassava.
The country is targeting $5 billion on cassava annually, is it realistic?
In my opinion, that projection is very modest. It is possible for us to actually get three times that amount if we are focused on cassava. Let me give this analysis, right now, Nigeria has up to 84 million hectares of yet to be cultivated arable land.
If we can give five million to producing cassava, we will get 200 million metric tone of cassava and that 200 million, if you look at the industrial factors, at the ratio of four tons of fetch cassava root to one ton of cassava starch, you will get up to 50 million metric ton of starch. And the same value can also be got from other bye products of cassava, which we can process and export to earn foreign exchange. We have had a lot of policies geared towards developing the potential of cassava and yet, appreciable progress has not been made.
What do you think that Nigeria is doing that is likely going to hinder the vision of developing the cassava industry?
Beginning from the regime of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo when cassava started receiving attention, I can tell you that what he did during his regime in the cassava sub-sector of agriculture was inspirational. He sold the vision to us and partly implemented it though he couldn’t get the strategy to do it well.
Akinwumi Adesina, the immediate past minister of agriculture, who did pretty well to promote cassava bread, also picked up that vision for cassava production. We were convinced that he was going to intervene, and bring about the desired turnaround, he tried, but certain things could not fall in the right place. Regarding cassava bread, countries like Cameroun and Brazil have already achieved up to 20 per cent of cassava flour in bread baking, but in Nigeria, we are yet to achieve that. The problem we have here is implementation of workable strategies.
The last regimes did its best, but due to certain challenges, all that was desired as far as tapping the full economic value of cassava was not achieved. And I think the present regime is trying not to fall into the same pit. For instance, N10 billion was released for the promotion of cassava bread, the money was shared between, growers and processors of cassava, the master bakers and other areas where it was necessary.
In our own case, the Bank of Agriculture disbursed to us and we cultivated 29,500 hectare of cassava, however, by the time the cassava sowed matured, I think something went wrong with the processing, they didn’t have the equipment to off-take and the cassava rotted away. That occurred due to lack of reliable facilities for processing and I think based on that, the working capital that was supposed to be given to them was not available for them, the money was a grant that doesn’t require the type of measures the banks were introducing, measures that the people could not fulfill, so our cassava rotted away.
I think the present government is looking into it so that they will not repeat the same mistake. I want you to know that the concept is that 50 per cent additional charges on import duty will be added to importation of wheat floor, and if we import N250 billion worth of wheat in a year? That means the 50 per cent added will bring it to N100 billion annually that could have been collected for the past five years. I also believe that the N10 billion that was released for cassava programme was not enough.
Now Nigeria is targeting 45 million jobs from cassava, if we must realise this what do we need to do around cassava?
We have already made our presentation to the present minister of agriculture and rural development, we recommended creation of a Cassava Commission or a specialised committee under the ministry to drive the cassava programme. There is need for a commercial programme and such initiative cannot thrive under the bureaucratic system of the ministry without the private sector driving it. We also want the ministry to establish a commercial centre for cassava that will be driven by the private sector.
Secondly, we want to promote cottage industries in the rural areas where this cassava is produced, though am aware that in 2009, about N1 billion was deposited in a certain bank to help establish the cottage industry, but the money was not disbursed, we have brought this to the notice of the present minister.
There is also the need for mechanised farming in Nigeria, if we want to create massive jobs, I will tell you those farmers in America are not up to five per cent of the population of America, yet they produce enough food for their country and also export to other countries. So, mechanised farming is needed to trigger industrial revolution that will create opportunity for massive employment.
I will tell you this, the three major cassava industrial products, ethanol, industrial starch and cassava floor, that we are concentrating on now are raw materials to numerous industrial items with limitless market potentials, even if the entire land mass in Nigeria is used to plant cassava, it would not be enough to meet the needs of our people. There is massive opportunity for employment in the cassava sub-sector of agriculture if we can do the needful.
In our association, we are already considering youth empowerment through cassava farming, the believe that if they cultivate about 10,000 hectares of lands that will be cleared and allocated to them by the government, at least every youth stands the chance to make up to N2 million profit annually after expenses, and if such youths decides to take it up as a career, we can form them into cooperative that can own facilities with specialised equipment.
This is because. specialised equipment will bring down cost of production, like harvester that can do more than what human labour can do; planter is also one of such specialised equipment. All these strategy will not just create employment but will help us to compete in the world market. I can also tell you that our cassava is the most expensive in the world, even in terms of quantity.
There was a time when the issue of cassava chips came up, Fadama invited me to talk about it, I told them that selling cassava chips is slave mentality like what is happening with our crude oil, which we sell and they will refine it and resell to us at their price. We believe it will be better to process the cassava here get all the value in it and then sell them to the end users anywhere in the world.
Now Nigeria is collaborating with China to improve the economy, and China has a lot to do with cassava product; and instead of exporting raw cassava to China, government is talking about cassava chip, why can’t government invite the Chinese investors to come to Nigeria and establish processing facilities here and refrain from exporting our job opportunities. I know that at a point, the bakers were actually brought into the cassava initiative, so that they can put at least 10 per cent of cassava flour in baking bread, but it appears that certain interest is trying to frustrate that initiative.
Can you tell us how much foreign exchange that cassava has brought into the country in the last two years?
For now cassava has not brought in any foreign exchange into the country, apart from garri that is being taken out, there is nobody exporting raw cassava out of this country, because the cost of production here is too much for the world market.
Even the garri that is taken offshore, we have a challenge with it because it has not gained international recognition, those who are taking it out had to put a label that gives it Ghanaian identification. We are working with government to standardise the processing of our garri processing and packaging. From what is happening to the economy now, the only option left for the country is agriculture, so government cannot afford not to give adequate attention to it.