For 15 years now, Nigeria has been seeking ways to gain from its cassava production, a crop the country has a comparative advantage in.
A report by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) on the constraints of substituting wheat with cassava flour, identified policy flip-flop, inadequate access to consistent supplies of high quality cassava, good transportation network for conveying the fresh tubers to processing plants and lack of power for processing equipment to process to high quality flour as factors limiting the initiative.
According to the report, these constraints have made cost of processing cassava tubers into flour high, making it less competitive with cheaper wheat imports from Argentina, Ukraine, Russia and other parts of the world.
The cassava flour inclusion initiative which was a laudable project when it was initiated in 2002 by the Obasanjo-led government, has failed to achieve its objective in reducing the country’s wheat imports.
Then, the Obasanjo administration mandated flour millers to substitute five percent cassava flour in wheat flour meant for baking bread and production of other confectionaries.
While the initiative increased the country’s local cassava production and made Nigeria become the largest producing nation of the crop, it failed to take root amongst flour millers, as most of them were unable to get high quality industrial grade flour for use.
This was as a result of the inadequate processing capacity to process fresh cassava tubers to high quality graded flour for industrial use.
Owing to this, research institutions such as the Federal Institute of Industrial Research (FIIRO), International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the National Root Crop Research Institute (NRCRI) in a combined efforts released improved cassava varieties to farmers for high quality cassava tubers, aiding the processing of high quality flour in the country.
In 2007, the policy, which was already gaining momentum, was abandoned as the Obasanjo led government left office thus bringing the whole policy processes to a halt.
After five years of being abandoned, in 2012, former President Goodluck Jonathan, re-introduce the policy to encourage the substitution of high quality cassava flour for wheat flour and the inclusion rate was expected to increase from 10 percent steadily to 40 percent by 2015.
On this promise, many investors made a lot of investments in cassava production and processing which is very capital intensive. Yet again, the policy implementation was slow to take effect as there was stiff resistance from the flour millers and consumers unwillingness to embrace cassava bread.
Since the Buhari-led government took over in 2016 nothing has been said or done concerning the inclusion policy.
“The commitment to see the cassava inclusion policy through is not there. It is also a function of the institutions which are supposed to see that the policy is efficient and sustainable,” said Muda Yusuf, director-general, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI).
Similarly, another major factor why the policy has failed is the stiff resistance from strong interest groups in the wheat importing and processing industry who would suffer losses if the policy succeeded.
To protect their investments, they would continue to frustrate efforts at making the policy a success.
For the government to ensure that the policy is successful, there must be policy consistency and continuity. This will help to sustain the commitment and progress made thus far and also encourage investments in the country’s cassava value chain.
Also, there must be incentives to bring down the high cost of cassava production and processing so that it can compete favourably with imported wheat. This would also make it attractive to flour millers. “Government only encourages farmers growing cassava but does not look at the processing part of the cassava into flour. There are very few firms that go into processing because it is very expensive,” said Ikechukwu Onyemenem, an agriculture expert.
There is also need for more research on cassava flour inclusion as not all wheat varieties can conform with cassava flour for bread production and other confectionaries. For example, a fabricated imported manufacturing machine can only be used for imported raw materials and would need to be re-fabricated before it can be used to process local raw materials.
Research institutes mandated for root and tuber crops need to identify the specific wheat varieties that can be easily substituted with cassava composite.
We must continue to carry out rigorous campaigns and educate Nigeria’s about the health benefits of consuming flour with percentage of cassava inclusion. This would address the high preference of consumers for wheat based and other confectionaries.
Lastly, there must be adequate investments to boost the production of high quality industrial graded cassava flour for millers to buy and use.
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