The continent also produces half of the world’s supply and the production of the root, has become important to the Nigerian economy. Therefore, there is a growing interest in the plant due to its multi-purpose nature and it’s grown in most of Nigeria’s states.
“Nigeria is supposed to be the biggest producer of cassava in the world. Naturally, Nigeria has a comparative advantage in producing. Cassava is also used to produce different products. We eat it in different ways,” Ayo Balogun, director of NOVUS AGRO told CNBCafrica.com.
With the objective of promoting the crop as a foreign exchange commodity for Nigeria, the government introduced the Presidential Initiative on Cassava in July 2002.
“Government has seen that cassava can be used to produce different things like flour and sugar. For example, we are bread eaters in [Nigeria] so the government is pushing for cassava bread. Government wants a percentage of cassava flour to be introduced into bread wheat instead of completely introducing it at once.”
The root can be made into various products which include flour, chips, ethanol, glucose syrup and bread to name a few. Such products are in high demand within Nigeria and have a potential within the export arena.
“The confectionaries import glucose which you can get from cassava. Other confectionaries can make use of cassava starch to make their products. Even in pharmaceutical it’s useful. It can be used to make ethanol. In terms of quantity cassava is the biggest produce in Nigeria.”
There are new projects aimed at increasing and improving the production of cassava and developing new ways to use the crop. Nigeria’s hopes to use a crop as a way to diversify the economy away from Brent crude.
(READ MORE: Has oil-focused Nigeria forgone a diversified economy?)
“The government exports cassava chips also, this conversation started in the [Olusegun] Obasanjo time. A significant produce of cassava is consumed in Nigeria. Cassava is perishable, from production you have 48 hours to dry it up completely if not it becomes completely useless and losses its value. From the farmers’ perspective, they will rather not harvest if they don’t have a buyer,” he added.
“This also makes farmers get processors that are closest to them so that the processor can dry the cassava a bit and they can continue with what they want to use it for so they don’t lose their produce and at the same time money invested in transporting.”
Nigeria wants to focus on making use of cassava also as flour. This process requires availability of good processing plants which is not yet readily available. Steps are being taken to make these plants available for this process.
“To convert cassava to flour, not a lot of processing plants do that in Nigeria so government is trying to encourage people to set up plants to convert them to flour and also to starch. Some years back Nigeria had a few starch processing plants and I think almost all of them folded up for one reason or the other. It was either due to a lack of produce because of the distance the product had to be transported to get there and in the process a lot of produce is destroyed before it gets to them.”
The challenge of industrialisation within the cassava industry lies with the reducing costs of production and transformation. This will allow for the supply of cheaper processed products of desired quality and standards to markets.
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“Government is working hard to making breweries and confectionaries to start introducing cassava products into their processes. The government is also working on getting better cassava seedlings. The seedling we have in Nigeria produce about seven to 10 tons per hectare while in some other places they can get about 35 tons per hectare. The government needs to introduce new fertilisers that are actually adapted to cassava to improve production.”