• Saturday, June 15, 2024
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BusinessDay

Industries look to high-yield cassava, good processing methods to guarantee quality starch, flour

cassava

As Nigeria prepares to transform into a non-oil economy, local industries are expecting the country to develop cassava varieties with high starch content, while adopting better processing techniques that will guarantee availability of high quality starch, flour and animal feeds.

Local manufacturers say the country needs to have an efficient weed control method, while governments at all levels must make cassava farming attractive by subsidising cost of inputs, which are now considered very expensive for local farmers.

They add that the country needs a value re-orientation that will ensure that small-scale processors move from processing cassava for consumption or subsistence reasons, to doing so for commercial and export purposes.

“The problem is the will of our people to engage in detailed processing,” said Frank Udemba Jacobs, president, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) in a telephone interview.

“Companies that mainly use cassava starch, for example, are mostly pharmaceuticals. They are supposed to use modified starch, which is not mostly done here. So they tend to import corn starch because nobody has taken the pain to reform cassava,” said Jacobs.    

“The problem is not just the machines, because we can fabricate them locally, but the determination of our people to go into thorough and complete processing,” he said.

He further said many Nigerians limit value addition/processing to what they eat because it’s simple, adding that the country plays mainly in the upstream cassava sector, rather than the downstream, which limits advantages the country can derive.

Ike Ibeabuchi, CEO of a chemical making firm based in Nigeria’s south-east, said the country needs high-yield cassava seeds that will have an end-to-end impact on the value chain. Ibeabuchi said most Fast-Moving Consumer Goods firms look outside the shores of Nigeria for starch, flour and other cassava byproducts because of poor quality of local inputs, saying that the solution begins from planting ,down to processing.

Africa’s biggest economy is the world’s largest cassava producer, but it is among the top global importers of cassava by-products such as starch, flour and animal feeds. Unconfirmed sources say Nigeria spends $580 million yearly on importation of cassava byproducts.

Nigerian brewers have also continued to import barley, rather than tap into the possibility of producing beer with cassava, which is currently thriving in Mozambique, Uganda, Ghana and South Africa. Since 2011 when SABMiller launched cassava beer in Mozambique, the brewer has sold 100 million bottles, while getting cassava from smallholder farmers, BusinessDay findings show.

Nigerian brewers can sell much more than this in four years, given Nigeria’s demographic advantage. By so doing, they improve and develop the cassava value chain, while empowering local farmers and earning foreign exchange by exporting the beer beyond Africa.

BusinessDay found that consumers in countries where cassava beer is produced, enjoy the product because it is healthier and has a different taste than the usual.

Starch is used in many across food and beverage firms for the production of caramel, biscuits, bread,  and confectioneries. It is also used in non-food industries such as battery firms, gum and super glue, among others.

Nigeria is the largest producer of cassava in the world, with about 46 million metric tonnes and an average yield per hectare between 10.6 to 15 metric tonnes.

“The government is ignorant about the opportunities in the cassava value chain. Nigeria currently imports over 95 percent of industrial starch used in the country,” said Segun Adewunmi, president, Nigeria Cassava Growers Association (NCGA).

“Currently, industrial starch sells for over N200,000 per ton, which means we can generate N10 trillion  annually from cassava production,” Adewunmi said.

He further observed that many cassava processing industries in the country have collapsed due to inadequate, irregular, unaffordable all-year round supply of cassava.

Union Dicon is one company showing massive interest in starch, having acquired 15,000 hectares of land in Ebonyi to produce cassava, starch and other food products.

The firm, driven by Chuka Mordi and Bex Nwawudu, recently agreed with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) to replace Cargill as the core investor in the $100m Alape Staple  Crop Processing Zone in Kogi State.

Only very few firms like Yale Foods are tapping into the cassava flour industry. Frank Jacobs told BusinessDay that a few manufacturers are already using cassava flour mixed with corn flour for production.

Cassava has major industrial products like industrial starch, ethanol, flour, glucose syrup, sweeteners amongst others. These products are also raw materials to numerous industries with limitless domestic and export market potentials.

Nigeria imports a great percentage of animal feeds, as many still do not wish to tap into processing cassava for feeds. There is also an absence of awareness on the part of the government.

The biggest challenge confronting farmers is low yield per hectare. “Farmers are not getting the yield they are supposed to get and this makes them not to break even. If the production of cassava is not attractive, farmers will not expand their production areas,” said Abdulai Jalloh, project leader, African Cassava Agronomy Initiative.

He said some of the limiting factors to increased productivity in cassava production are poor weed control and high cost of farm inputs.

Research across the globe show that some countries have started using micro-nutrients to upscale cassava yields to about 100 metric tonnes per hectare, with starch content of cassava up-scaled to 38 percent in India and 40 percent in Malaysia.

Jalloh said if Nigeria must take advantage of the high potentials in cassava production, farmers need varieties with high starch content, adding that government must initiate policies that would boost cassava production in the country.

Cassava requires less labour than all other staple crops. However, it requires considerable post-harvest labour because the roots are highly perishable and must be processed into a storable form soon after harvest, experts say.

ODINAKA ANUDU &JOSEPHINE OKOJIE