• Tuesday, July 16, 2024
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Need for law to protect growing cassava industry


New companies producing high quality cassava are springing up, creating jobs for vibrant young Nigerians and ready market for cassava farmers simply because imported wheat flour is being substituted with about 20 percent cassava flour. Yet, there is still ongoing fierce debate on whether this should be backed by legislation or not.

A school of thought insists that the industry should be allowed to grow on its own and compete with imported wheat, which of course would keep enriching foreign farmers who already have everything it takes (infrastructure, low cost of funds, right government policies in their nation, and so on) to beat the Nigerian farmers hands down. This school of thought also argues that Nigerians should be allowed to choose if they want bread and confectioneries substituted with cassava flour.

But another school of thought points out that Nigerians are never asked in the first place if they wanted 100 percent wheat bread before the markets were flooded with bread and confectioneries made with wheat.

The push for substitution of imported wheat with cassava flour and flour from other crops such as sorghum is actually a local content policy for the agric sector comparable to the oil and gas industry. It has the potential of boosting the economy as investors’ confidence would increase and more investment flows into the industry – primary production, processing, marketing and other allied services and products. So, stakeholders at a recent forum in Abuja tagged the Cassava Executive Bill have renewed the push for a law to back the policy, discussing what should be in the Act to be presented to the National Assembly.

This proposed bill also entails a mandatory requirement for all makers of edible flour in Nigeria in the Northern part to mix 20 percent sorghum flour with wheat produced in the country or imported. Millers in the Southern part would be mandated to mix wheat flour with cassava flour. Incentives such as tax exemptions have been included by the stakeholders for compliance and punitive measures, which may involve total shutdown of the business, have been made for non-compliance by businesses. Also, incentives have been included for producers of High Quality Cassava Flour and High Quality Sorghum Flour.

Louw Burger, a South African and chief executive, Thai Farm International Limited, with headquarters in Lagos, producing High Quality Cassava Flour with a database of over 2,000 farmers, said at the forum: “We buy about 320 metric tons of cassava per day from farmers spread all over the country. We write cheques of nearly N3 million per day seven days a week. If the bill is well handled, it would ensure the long-term future of the industry, which means we have a reliable market for our flour, which means we have to buy more cassava tubers, which means the farmers have a steady market. I think the bill has become very necessary. The bill is good for Nigeria, for farmers and would be good for agriculture industry if it is well put together.”

On job creation and supplies by his company, he said: “We have 106 staff, and about 100 are Nigerians, but the real employment is 2,000 farmers and each farmer represents about 10 people. The staff are good and we would double our staff strength. Cassava flour is now cheaper than wheat flour, in my factory, you can get 50kg cassava flour for N4,000, but in the market, 50kg wheat flour costs N6,700. I am amazed that people still have resistance to cassava flour inclusion.”

Finally, he said: “We have got one of the flour millers to bring out bags of composite flour with 10 percent cassava flour and that will be available nationally , we are working with flour milling industry to distribute to their network so that the baker can go and buy HQCF. The only argument against this bill is for some farmers in other countries who want to sell their wheat to Nigeria.”

Anthony Egba, consultant on cassava mechanisation to the minister of agriculture, said “this current administration recognises the possibility of cassava in creating jobs by mechanising the production. What we do is to form small farmers into clusters to make it easy for mechanised implements to be used on large stretch of land, but now we are also developing hand pulled machines. Mechanisation would eventually bring down the cost of production but the initial investment may be expensive, but we are developing nucleus farms that the government would subsidise the mechanisation and it would be shared to farmers.

“We are also promoting agric equipment hiring services that would be run by the private enterprises providing jobs for young engineers, school leavers and other investors who will make mechanised implements easily available to farmers in the country.”

Ibukun Odusote, permanent secretary, federal ministry of agriculture, said about 60 percent of the estimated farmers in Nigeria were involved in cassava production, that is about 12 million of the estimated 20 million farmers in Nigeria. Odusote however expressed concern that about N635 billion was spent annually on wheat importation, saying actualisation of the 20 percent cassava flour inclusion would save the country about N127 billion foreign exchange annually as well as create about 1.3 million jobs. “Rural agro-industry would be developed through processing activities and farmers’ livelihood would be highly improved and the nation would be better off,” she stated.

Currently, the country produces 45 million metric tons of cassava annually, worth over N3 trillion. It is expected that this can be sustained and increased through legislation.