Opportunity mounts for plantain growers as Nigerians demand for flour, snacks rises

Nigerian farmers can tap into the fast booming plantain processing business to create wealth and earn foreign exchange as the demand for plantain flour, snacks continues to rise.

Plantain which produces fruit all year round and cultivated on a variety of soil type, can be process into flour and snacks which is highly consumed by Nigeria’s younger population.

Currently, Nigeria’s plantain flour production is put at 25,000 metric tons (MT) and demand is 125,000MT, leaving a gap of 99,800MT, a recent plantain report by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation states.

The data shows huge potential in the production of plantain flour for investments opportunities, experts say.

“Plantain business is booming now in Nigeria because there is a strong demand for the flour,” said Adjarho Oghenekaro, national president, Banana and Plantain Farmers Association of Nigeria (BAPFAN) in a telephone response to BusinessDay.

“Processing plantain helps in reducing post-harvest loss of the crop which is currently about 30 percent,” Oghenekaro said.

He called for the support of processors of the produce with cheap agro finance to enable them purchase processing machines and dryers as well as advocacy on health benefits in plantain consumption, noting that some Nigerians still have wrong perception that its consumption is meant for only diabetes patients.

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Plantain crop can produce for up to 100 years and it is suitable for intercropping.

It can be grown in 17 states across the country with major production occurring in the humid forest agro-ecological zones which aligns with the South-South and South-West. Oyo, Bayelsa, Edo, Ondo, Ogun, Taraba, Ekiti, Osun, Cross River and Akwa Ibom accounts for over 60 percent of Nigeria’s total annual production.

Besides cocoa, cashew and sesame, plantain is another crop in Nigeria that has huge export potential.

The snacks are currently being exported by some entrepreneurs to Europe, United States and Asia to earn foreign exchange.

“There is currently high demand of the plantain snacks both locally and internationally. Lots of small businesses are taking advantage of the opportunity and producing the snacks for export to African’s in the diaspora,” said Adenike Ademola, a plantain snack manufacturer said.

“I process over 50 bunches of plantain daily to produce the snacks I supply to my customers. The business does not require a huge capital,” Ademola said.

Plantain can be eaten raw when ripe, processed into flour to make ‘elubo’, a local meal consumed in Nigeria with soup and also serves as industrial raw material in firms producing sanitary pads, fabrics and also for the food and beverage industry for making baby foods, biscuits, bread and cakes.

Its nutritional benefits include low-fat, good for blood pressure, a key source of vitamins and minerals, high in fibre and rich in protein. This makes the consumption of plantain a great option for diabetic patients.

Currently, one of the major challenges for plantain farmers and processors is the unavailability of cheap agricultural finance for the subsector and the informal nature of activities in the industry.

“The country is yet to realise the full potential in the production of plantain because activities in the subsector are still largely informal and unregulated. Also, most farmers and processors cannot easily access cheap credit,” Oghenekaro who is also a processor and was earlier quoted said.

He called for the proper organisation and coordination of activities in the subsector to explore opportunities in plantain production to create jobs and generate income, adding that the industry has the potential of generating $2.5 billion annually from export.

The plantain fruit is an all year crop but its main seasons are August through December.