CASSAVA is a perennial crop, growing in tropical and sub tropical places in the world and is the third largest source of food carbohydrate in the tropics, after rice and maize.
THIS product, of which Nigeria is the world largest producer and Thailand the largest exporter, serves as a source for many essential items which include: food products, animal feed, alcohol, starches for paper and textiles, sweeteners, biodegradable products, confectioneries, plywood, monosodium glutamate, pharmaceuticals, building material and adhesives.
BUT it seems that Nigeria is not taking advantage of the economic benefits which it provides, specifically in its industrial use, which has strong export potentials, through the production of ethanol, industrial starch, sweetener/syrup and flour.
AS it is, cassava already contributes nearly half of agricultural GDP in Nigeria, majorly for food and domestic usage, while its industrial processing and utilisation are severely limited and therefore offer the biggest window of exploratory opportunity. Cassava is mainly consumed locally as staple foods, with the greater potential lying in turning it into products for industrial use.
CASSAVA starch is unique because of its high paste viscosity, clarity and high freeze-thaw stability which makes it highly desirable for many industrial use. And it is the main constituent of cassava which is about 25percent of the wet tubers and 60percent of dry cassava chips.
IT has a high level of purity, excellent thickening characteristics, a bland taste, good texture, and the raw material is relatively cheap, when compared to other sources like maize, wheat, sweet potato and rice. It is preferred in adhesive production because it is more viscous and works more smoothly, providing stable glues of neutral and offers a clear paste. Cassava starch can also be used to make noodles.
ANOTHER derivative of cassava is cassava flour, which is gluten free and can be used in place of wheat. It is used in recipes instead of wheat with the difference undetected and works well for all baking needs. It can replace a portion of flour when the baking requires the flour to rise, but in baking needs that does not require rising, cassava flour can totally replace wheat flour.
FOR those with health challenges like diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, cassava flour is a flour of choice because it has extremely low salt/sodium, sugar and fat and it is free from refined carbohydrates and synthetic ingredients, helping to maintain normal blood sugar and providing a good source of energy.
IN 2016, Nigeria spent $11billion to import wheat and flour, replacing those by fifty percent will save the foreign earnings by $5.5billion.
IT gladdens the heart that efforts are being made to reverse importation through the production of ethanol from cassava. Already, two plants are being geared to be set up in Ondo State, one in Ore, in Odigbo Local Government by Chinese investors with one million tonnes capacity per annum and another in Okeluse, in Ose Local Government in collaboration with NNPC to produce 60million tonnes per annum, both facilitated by the Ondo State government.
THOSE two coming on board have the potential to provide thousands of jobs and put the state on industrial map.
ANOTHER derivative from cassava is cassava syrup, which is a natural liquid sweetener. It is adjudged an healthier alternative to processed sugars and artificial sweeteners. Natural enzymes are employed to convert raw cassava into this syrup, which is fructose free, vegan and gluten free with lower calories and carbohydrate than cane sugar and can effectively replace it.
GLUCOSE syrup is of important use in food, confectioneries, and pharmaceutical industries, with local production unable to meet the demand hence heavy dependence on importation,
WHILE starch is one fourth of the cassava root, starch converts at ratio 1:1 to sugar. And according to available estimates, Nigeria demands for 3.5 million tonnes of sugar per annum and only 2.4 million tonnes is produced locally. Therefore, $400m can be saved in foreign earnings if we are just able to meet the local demand.
THE HOPE believes that for the nation to harness these potentials from cassava we need cassava development committee that will see to all aspects of the development of cassava and translate it to those derivatives that sulk up our foreign exchange earnings, seeing that we are spending N3trillion to import those things that can be derived from cassava, helping the economy of other countries while depriving ours.
BESIDES, a lot of ground can be covered with the right national policy on cassava which is already the highest agricultural contributor to our GDP. We need not wait any further to make this a reality. This is an idea that could be explored, by giving cassava the status of the national crop.
COMPARATIVELY, it is better as a nation to focus on cassava than rice, because it is drought resistant and can be successfully cultivated all year round and across the country with minimal input. This crop can successfully wean us from dependence on petroleum and lead us into another agricultural gold mine.
IT is without doubt that a huge potential waits to be unlocked with regards to cassava exploration in Nigeria.