• Tuesday, September 26, 2023
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Starch, flour imports hit $654mn on low quality, technology gaps


Despite being world’s largest cassava producer, Nigeria has seen its imports of cassava by-products hit $654 million (N235.4billion) in 2017, owing to low quality flour and technology gaps in the sector, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) sectorial data shows.
Nigeria industries have continued to import, starch, flour and ethanol in large quantities as they claim that not much local starch and flour meets their standards, saying that the market has failed to constantly supply high quality flour and starch.
This has puts pressure on the country’s foreign exchange reserves, money that could have been saved if the country could tap into the opportunities in cassava production and processing.
“Quality and technology are the major issues still driving the high importation of these by-products,” Tunde Oderinde, team leader, Market Development Programme in the Nigeria Delta (MADE), a body promoting the development of Nigeria’s cassava value chain said in a response to questions.
“Technology is a major issue and our local processors are not investing, most of them just go to a fabricator to pick things up in shelves without paying much attention to the right quality the industries who are users of these by-products wants.”
“We need an integrated mill to make the quality and granular of these by-products uniform, consistent, having no colour and of top quality,” Oderinde said.
According to the MAN sectorial data, Nigeria’s demand for starch is put at 600,000MT and supply is 24,000MT with imports accounting for 576,000MT (96percent). Also, local demand for HQCF is put at 504,000MT and supply is 60,480MT, with imports of 443,520MT (88 percent).
Similarly, ethanol demand is put at 350 million MT and local supply is put at 10.5 million, with imports accounting for 339.5million MT (97 percent).
Starch and cassava flour are by-products used across the food and beverage industry for the production of caramel, biscuits, bread and confectioneries. It is also used in pharmaceutical and non-food industries such as gum and super glue, among others.
“We in the pharmaceuticals industry import heavy tonnage of corn starch because the modified cassava starch does not meet up with the acceptable pharmaceutical standards,” Orimadegun Agboade, chairman and managing director, Orfema Pharmaceutical Industry Limited told BusinessDay.
Currently, Union Dicon is one of the companies making huge investments in starch production, 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, has replaced Cargill as the core investor in the $100m Alape Staple Crop Processing Zone in Kogi State.
According to experts, more of such investments are needed across the cassava value chain to help increase productivity, quality and technological use-age in the sector.
“Nigeria mostly operates in the upstream cassava sector rather than the downstream and this has continued to limit the advantages Nigeria can get in cassava production,” AfricaFarmer Mogaji, CEO, X-Ray Farms Consulting Limited said.
“The price of fresh cassava tuber from the farm is higher than the price of imported processed cassava chips and other by-products. Our cassava yield is still low even if we are the largest producers, there are no equipment for planting and harvesting,” Mogaji said.
“We need to be price competitive and this requires a lot of investments in the various value chains. We need to increase the productivity of our smallholder farmers from an average of 12 metric tons per hectare presently to about 24 metric tons per hectare to drive down the price of fresh tubers, thereby making our by-products price competitive,” he added.
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, yet has failed to maximise the opportunities in cassava production.
The biggest challenge confronting farmers is low yield per hectare, experts say.
“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 that 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 stated that 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.
“Our level of patronage from industries has been on the decline and this is due to the high importation of cassava by-products into the country. Many processors are shutting down because of low patronage,” Femi Salami, managing director, Oamsal Nigeria limited whose firm currently operates less than 20 percent install capacity told BusinessDay.


Josephine Okojie and Bunmi Bailey