Pastor Segun Adewumi is the National President of Nigeria Cassava Growers Association. He featured recently on Owena Press Platform where he bared his mind on how Nigeria can trigger industrial revolution through cassava and how it can equally boost her foreign earnings through export. Excerpts:
Is there a justification for Nigeria to import food?
There is none. There is no justification for Nigeria to be importing food, rather, there is justification for Nigeria to export food and feed the world, particularly the northern part of Africa, where they don’t have access to the cultivable arable land. Nigeria has that potential.
Now coming to your area of interest which is cassava, what do you think Nigeria can benefit being a cassava growing country.
Cassava is the most wonderful crop in the world. I will explain myself. Apart from the food value; in Nigeria the local food varieties you get from cassava, the local food types, starting from garri and pupuru, it is more than twenty local food types and there is one particular one that is very interesting, that is garri. It’s an instant food. You can eat as it is, you can soak it in water and eat, you can prepare it into morsels and eat with soup. There is something very attractive in garri, which is the aroma, the aroma is very inviting, that even when you are full you still want to taste it. Whenever we conduct, either the minister or anybody round a place where garri is exhibited, the temptation to taste it is always there, everybody wants to taste it because the aroma is so compelling.
If Nigeria is promoting garri, but has the same value, even more, than what we have in bread and rice. I used to have a garri factory, and for four years the garri that I had prepared for the federal government was kept in the silos and was preserved. It has long shelf life if it is well prepared.
But the importance of cassava in the industrial area. It has five major industrial products: ethanol, industrial starch, glucose syrup, cassava flour and sweetener. Sweetener is what is used to get coca cola. All the beverage companies, you can get their concentrates from cassava. You can imagine if they are using coca cola for all their products in Nigeria.
All the breweries in Nigeria will be supplied with ethanol. We import up to 98 percent of the ethanol we need in Nigeria that is over N800billion, and we can get it from cassava.
The pharmaceutical companies, the insecticide companies, the perfume companies, etc use ethanol. But this ethanol is imported and it can be generated from cassava.
So when it comes to industrial starch. We have a few companies in Nigeria and they are able only to produce less than four percent of industrial starch that we need in Nigeria. Nestle uses starch and all the food companies.
Then the pharmaceutical, we have tablets that are mashed up with cassava starch. Over N500billion is used to import industrial starch, and even the quality they import does not meet up with the quality of what you get from cassava starch, because they use corn starch, some of them are modified, not edible, and they import them into the country, we don’t know how they were prepared.
Glucose syrup is demanded all over the world. All these things you see in the hospitals, things that you use as infusion, you get them from cassava.
When you are talking about cassava flour, right now if we substitute flour by 50 percent with cassava flour, we would be gaining N200billion of foreign exchange. We import over N1trilion worth of wheat. And cassava flour is healthier than the white wheat that we import.
If we now come to sweetener, you can imagine all the beverage companies in Nigeria, that use sweetener, which we can generate from cassava. The biggest sweetener producer in America came to Kogi state, to acquire 25,000 hectares for the production of sweetener. I don’t know how it went. So they actually focus on Nigeria for these things.
All these listed items are raw materials for various utility industrial items with limitless domestic and export market potentials.
You can imagine what you can get from ethanol, more than 100 industrial uses, that we cannot do without. It is an essential item. So you can see how cassava can trigger industrial revolution in Nigeria.
And apart from that, the cultivation of cassava is the simplest, once you put the stem down and two rounds of rain fall on it, it does not die. It grows with the rain, survives with dews.
You use to have Hausa Fulani herdsmen problem because of cassava because it will be the only leaf that will be green during the dry season, others will be dry, but that of cassava, if it does not rain for three months it will remain, that is why it attracts the invasion of the Fulani herdsmen. So cassava is so easy to cultivate and it can develop in any part of Nigeria, from Maiduguri to Rivers State.
Given the kind of scenario you have painted, is there anything specifically wrong with Nigeria, that Nigeria cannot tap into this cassava revolution, to provide jobs for people and make the country an industrial giant?
Yes what is wrong is that most of the time the people that come into government are focused on governance without… there is no research, they have no correct orientation. For instance in America, the issues will be placed on the table, e.g. job creation, and everyone will come to tell them how they are going to go about it. The one that can convince the electorate, but Nigeria is a little bit different, that is why I think we have not been able to reach that level. But the government should synergise with farmers, talking about commercial farmers.
About a year ago cassava went for as much as N40,000 per tonne, this year it has come to N10,000 per to tonne, the cost of production is about N18000, whoever is cultivating cassava now is losing.
At times, the cost of harvesting cassava will sometimes surpass the value of that cassava. There is a regular glut and scarcity cycle.
When the cassava is scarce people will rush to the farm, the following year it will be so much because there are no processing facilities to change the cassava to the industrial products desired, the derivatives desired, so the few industrial factories are overwhelmed with cassava and they bring down the price, so the cassava farmer is always laughing and crying, every other year. So the fall some of the times will make them to abstain.
What we need is a cassava development committee that will see why we need to develop cassava and translate it to those derivatives that have taken away our foreign exchange. For instance we are spending N3 trillion to import those things that can be derived from cassava.
If you look at Ondo state ethanol project, what do think can serve as impediment to the success of that project and what are the economic consequences if that project succeeds in Ondo State?
I am aware the NNPC once acquired land in the Akoko side almost 20 years ago. I was the chairman of the caretaker committee for Nigeria Cassava Growers Association and I was the one linking cassava farmers with NNPC as at that time.
But the programme did not commence. We are hearing the rumour that they are interested in it but we have not been invited to be part of the project.
When you want to talk of the merit of the product, at that time we were working towards 15000 hectares. Conservatively, if it is what you call mechanised farming, will give us a yield of 25 tonnes per hectare, 15000 hectares if you demarcate it into plots of five hectares, almost 4000 youths will be employed. There will be service providers, the tractor operators, the chemical applicants, and things like that. So in the area of farming, it can give us 10,000 jobs, apart from the skills and unskilled industrial workers, But we have the understanding that NNPC is trying to establish it jointly with Ondo state, but we have not been invited to be part of the project.
Elsewhere all over the country, we are at the forefront of such projects.
Can you mentions them?
Kastina is going to have five different cassava based factories: ethanol, cassava starch, etc and I am the chairman of the committee set up to oversee it.
(cuts in) that Kastina project, is it a private venture or owned by the state?
The government is a party, our association is bringing foreign technical partners are bringing foreigners. There is a fund that is in the central bank that we can draw from but we have to draw it through the commercial bank.
For example in Ogun state they have just given us another 2000 hectares for our farmers. In Ekiti State, the government gave cassava growers association, 9500 hectares, which we paid for and have the Cof O. We are bringing in an ethanol plant to the place and the Federal Ministry of Agriculture graciously approved that a 45 kilometre rural road should be made inside the farm, and they approved two clinics.
We delivered over N2.4bilion to farmer. And in Ondo state, the association delivered 500 hectares to WECA, gave them N40million for farming four years ago. You can check with them.
Taking a look at the importance of Nigeria Cassava Growers Association and the ethanol project in Akoko land, we could say that your association is not carried along now, is it proper for the NNPC to have done that?
What kind of synergy exist between farmers and our tertiary institutions , is there a kind of understanding whereby your association gives directive…?
If the institutions have the means and financial capacity to produce it, does the farmers have the financial capacity to even purchase when it’s produced, there have to be a national planning that will tailor. An average farmers in South Africa have about two or three tractors but in a state where we have more than two milloin farmers, and we don’t have a single tractor we can have access to, because of the scarcity of tractors we have to queue up for two weeks to get it rented. When it’s available the tractor will track to your farm, using your fuel, if anything is wrong with the tractor you are responsible, all these kind of things cannot allow commercial farming and where you do have commercial farming you are not producing at the cost of the two hence where, if we don’t have commercial agriculture we have not helped food security.
On FUTA manufacturing tractor, the institution said there’s nothing they cannot produce and if we have a national policy that says either FUTA or FUNAB that in five years time we want to see a local tractor, is it possible?
There are some tractors that are hand-driven and are not too expensive. If there is a national planning, it is the political will that drives this kind of idea, the society has changed and everything is monetised but I know nature will intervene. If the press can call the attention of the government to it and with God’s intervention, our living condition will improve.
Is there any way cassava product can help textile industry ?
Textile needs industrial starch, one of the users of industrial starch is textile industry, but generally I think there should be a planning committee for Nigeria economy. Our association cannot dabble into textile industry and there’s a wider implication when you have an industry, so one of the things cassava produces is the major input in textile industry.
Nigeria happens to be the second largest producer of cassava in the world, why has it been difficult for the country to explore this to generate more fund?
Nigeria is the highest producer of cassava in the world. The only thing is that we eat it, other countries that produce cassava they don’t eat it as much, they transit it to industrial product. The highest exporter of industrial cassava is Thailand, Malaysia has started using micronutrient, the quality of cassava is much determined by its starch content. India has 38% of cassava starch, when we have 18%. Malaysia has 14%. We are the highest producer of cassava but we eat it a lot especially in the Southwest.
My strategy to help cassava was this, the northerners believe that it’s a southerner crop but it does better in the north than the south, I took my time to go and meet the Emirs and the governors because in the north we can have 1000hectares contiguous farm. The soil in the north is loose and softer so we don’t need heeps. Once you put cassava down there the roots will begin to penetrate, weeding is less, and when you are harvesting it, it doesn’t break because the place is porous, so I now told them the industrial importance of cassava. Cassava is far better than rice as economic promoter of the country, so if it’s seen as a national crop it would be better, but Nigeria produce more than any other country in the world though our cost of production is the highest as well.
Do we have a national policy on cassava?
We are trying to do that especially for cassava bread. Since the time of Obasanjo he wanted to do cassava national policy, but he couldn’t succeed. When Adesina he was there was a cassava fund of 15% addition on import duty to help cassava, only N10biliion was released for cassava development over six years ago.