• Wednesday, May 29, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

Nigeria’s cassava business threatened by disease

businessday-icon

Nigeria’s tall plan for cassava bread and other cassava-related businesses may be short-circuited by new outbreaks and the increased spread of Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD), BusinessDay can report.

Nigerian cassava production is by far the largest in the world, who experts now say produces 50 million metric tons of the crop per annum; a third more than production in Brazil and almost double the production of Indonesia and Thailand. Cassava production in other African countries, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Madagascar, Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda, appears small in comparison with Nigeria’s substantial output. But Nigeria is nowhere in global cassava trade.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is turning this around by rapidly developing the value chains for cassava into new products that will expand markets and raise incomes for cassava farmers. This includes the use of cassava for high quality cassava flour (HQCF) to do partial substitution for wheat flour, cassava chips, starch, sweeteners and ethanol.

The ministry spearheaded the production of high quality cassava flour for use in composite flours to substitute for some of the imported wheat flour being used in the baking industry. Corporate bakers have already started commercialising the inclusion of 20 percent high quality cassava flour in bread.

But this noble drive is currently threatened. Cassava experts are reporting new outbreaks and the increased spread of CBSD, warning that the rapidly proliferating plant virus could cause a 50 percent drop in production of a crop that provides a significant source of food and income for over 250 million Africans.

The “pandemic” of CBSD now underway is particularly worrisome because agriculture experts have been looking to the otherwise resilient cassava plant, which is also used to produce starch, flour, biofuel and even beer, as the perfect crop for helping to feed a continent where growing conditions in many regions are deteriorating in the face of climate change.

“Cassava is already incredibly important for Africa and is poised to play an even bigger role in the future, which is why we need to move quickly to contain and eliminate this plague,” said Claude Fauquet, a scientist at the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (known by its Spanish acronym CIAT) who heads the Global Cassava Partnership for the 21st Century (GCP21).

“We are particularly concerned that the disease could spread to West Africa and particularly Nigeria—the world’s largest producer and consumer of cassava—because Nigeria would provide a gateway for an invasion of West Africa where about 150 million people depend on the crop.”