Nigeria set to bolster cassava industry

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A push by Nigeria to boost the production of staple crops, with a particular focus on cassava, should help improve rural development and food security in the 170m-person country.

In early July Audu Ogbeh, minister of agriculture and rural development, announced the World Bank would inject $200m worth of funds for the Fadama III project to support sustainable development in the country’s agriculture sector.

Fadama III, which was approved in 2008 by the World Bank, is designed to increase income for farmers of staple crops, as well as attract private investment in agro-processing. Funds are to be dispersed throughout seven Nigerian states across four value chains: cassava, tomato, rice and sorghum.

At the launch, Ogbeh also noted that the project would not only support government plans to increase food security by capitalising on the industry’s strengths, but also increase exports to neighbouring countries.

Revenue potential

Out of the four major crops that Fadama III targets, cassava is perhaps the staple receiving the greatest attention in Nigeria, and for good reason.

Nigeria’s cassava production reached 45m tonnes last year, making it the largest cassava producer in the world, according to figures from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD), yet in many ways, the industry’s potential remains untapped.

Nigeria exported less than 1% of its cassava output in 2013, which represented $1m, compared to the country’s overall cassava output valued at $16m, according to Ousmane Dore, Nigeria country director for the African Development Bank (ADB), who presented the figures at a conference in Abuja last year.

The cassava industry is largely defined by Nigeria’s informal subsistence sector. Although the ADB estimates there are 6m smallholder cassava farmers in the country, many have limited access to inputs and market, resulting in low productivity and limited revenues.

According to Augustine Oqua, chairman of the Nigeria Cassava Growers Association in Cross River State, the country’s cassava industry has the potential to create annual revenues of up to N8.5trn ($28.5bn) if production is maximised, which programmes like Fadima III should go some way to help.

Government policy

One key pillar in the government’s strategy to increase cassava production involves stoking higher domestic consumption. To that end, the MARD is also pushing ahead with plans to promote the use of cassava as a substitute for wheat as part of a broader import substitution policy.

Currently, Nigeria’s wheat imports are valued at over 4m tonnes, while domestic production is estimated to be 60,000 tonnes. Importing such large quantities of wheat adds to the burden of Nigeria’s expensive food import bill, which is estimated to be N1.5trn ($4.8bn) annually.

The policy, which was first formulated under the previous administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, includes boosting the use of cassava in baking and brewing and increasing its commercial viability.

Taking it one step further, the current administration is advocating for local flour mills to substitute at least 10% of high-quality cassava flour for wheat flour. Meanwhile, cassava flour is also gaining momentum as a grain-free alternative.

While Nigeria currently spends N635bn ($2.13bn) on importing wheat, Ogbeh estimates that increasing the use of cassava in the baking process could save the country N127bn ($426m) each year.

Quality control

Meanwhile, Nigeria is also benefitting from regional programmes to help boost crop quality and consistency.

The African Cassava Agronomy Initiative, which has received $14.4m in funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is supporting cassava production in Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Led by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (ITTA), the project aims to improve root quality and increase crop yields through uptake of fertiliser usage and training on advanced farming methods, while also facilitating access to finance and improving farmers’ incomes.

“The value of benefits from this project in Nigeria and Tanzania is projected to be over $27m,” Bernard Vanlauwe, director for Central Africa at IITA, told local press at the launch of the scheme early this year.

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