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Exploiting the wonders of cassava

Cassava is one of the most drought-tolerant crops in the world. It can be successfully grown on marginal soils, and gives reasonable yields where many other crops do not grow well. Cassava is well adapted within latitudes 30° north and south of the equator, at elevations between sea level and 2000 meters above sea level, in equatorial temperatures, with rainfalls of 50 millimeters to five meters annually, and to poor soils with a pH ranging from acidic to alkaline. These conditions are common in most parts of Africa and South America.

Sadly, this all important crop has been neglected for long as its potential has not been fully maximized, especially in African countries.  However, that is beginning to change as this long neglected but economically viable crop is presently experiencing a positive change of fortune. This, of course, is a welcome development since the crop feeds half-a-billion people in Africa every day, and is also grown by millions of subsistence farmers in the continent.

In 2012, a major event that boosted the market value of the crop occurred when research revealed that cassava could be one of the most climate-resilient crops for smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. Equally, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) recently revealed that cassava would become a miracle crop in Africa, if its potential was maximized.

Recent development has shown that cassava is not only a food crop for the production of garri (Cassava flour). It can also be made into bread, muffin, range of cookies and pastries. It can also be used for animal feed, particularly ruminants like goats. Cassava also produces sorbitol which is a highly sought-after component for the industry. It can also be used in the production of industrial starch.  This is where the motivation comes in for agriculture based industries as the possibilities for returns on investment are simply limitless.

Cassava is, therefore, a multi-purpose crop. Indeed, many have termed it as the next miracle crop needed to unleash the boundless potential of the agricultural sector in Africa. In Nigeria, what is needed to fully exploit the crop’s prospect is for all stakeholders in the agriculture sector to fashion out effective strategy to maximize its potentials. The Lagos State government is already working in this direction as it is collaborating with critical stakeholders to learn more about the crop.

In order to really get more out of the crop, both the public and private sectors must device means of encouraging local farmers and potential agro-preneurs to develop more interest in the crop. A private sector investor desires to make profit just as the local farmer. If local farmers are to be encouraged to produce more, the private sector must be encouraged to buy more of their produce. So, concrete strategies that will stimulate private sector investment in cassava production must be put in place. Government must improve infrastructure, especially access roads to rural areas, where cultivation mostly takes place, to cut cost and enhance profitability. 

It is clear that the potential of cassava is enormously exhilarating, but there is an urgent need by appropriate authorities to step up effort that will promote research and other activities that could enhance the full utilization of the crop’s potentials.  There is need to  mobilise local researchers to work with other researchers across the world to join the Global Cassava Modelling Consortium, where they can share their research to help better understanding of  the physiology of the plant, and explore avenues for improving its management and delivering better varieties to farmers.

The old order of spending so much on food importation needs to be reversed. For instance, the federal government spent N98 trillion on the importation of food for four years under the previous administration. In 2010 alone, the nation spent a staggering N635 billion on wheat importation while another N35 trillion was spent on rice importation as well as N217 billion on sugar importation and another N97 billion spent on fish importation!

Now that federal and state governments in the country have come to term with the urgent need to diversify the local economy is the exact time to pay adequate attention to the unlimited potentials of agriculture as it offers unlimited opportunities for job and wealth creation as well as accelerated economic and industrial growth.

With an array of vastly available agricultural friendly land, we need not look further as cassava cultivation would not only ensure food security but also address the question of unemployment. Agriculture remains one major sector that could readily take care of youth restiveness as well as unemployment in the country, if only the various authorities concerned could step up efforts in this direction.

Cassava, especially, could be the next magic crop for African countries. Globally, its cultivation is currently undergoing a revolution that will surely turn it into a money spinning venture with huge potential for job creation, empowerment and industrialization. We must do all we could to take advantage of this.

Tayo Ogunbiyi

Ogunbiyi is of the Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja

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