• Sunday, April 14, 2024
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Unlocking the Potential of Cassava: A recipe for economic growth and food security

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Amidst global challenges to food security and the rising cost of living, Nigeria finds itself at a crucial turning point. The key might lie in one of our nation’s most abundant crops—cassava. This versatile root crop, which has been a dietary staple in Nigeria for centuries, still holds untapped potential. There is a growing call to transform cassava into more valuable products for both local use and export, providing economic benefits and addressing the escalating food crisis.

During my recent visit to Trinidad and Tobago, in my role as the Vice-President of the Academy of Women Entrepreneurs Alumnae Association (AWEAA) Nigeria, I engaged with fellow female entrepreneurs embarking on the U.S. government-backed Academy of Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) program. This initiative extends support to women entrepreneurs across nearly 80 countries, offering training, resources, and funding. Our discussions in Trinidad and Tobago centred on identifying opportunities to create value-added products utilising indigenous materials for export.

Victoria Ajayi, Deidree Lee Kin and Trinidad’s AWE Women

In a twist, I stumbled upon a waffle mix produced by an agro-processing company in Tobago. Initially appearing as just another waffle mix, a closer examination revealed that it was made from cassava flour. This encounter sparked a revelation about the untapped potential of cassava, a realisation that holds significant relevance for Nigeria.

Despite being the world’s largest cassava producer, with an impressive 63 million metric tonnes in 2021, Nigeria consumes 90% of this harvest locally, mainly as garri or fufu. Nigeria earned a modest $1 million from cassava exports, while Thailand, with 30 million metric tonnes of cassava production, generated a remarkable $1.3 billion from exports during the same period. This sharp contrast emphasises the need to optimise cassava processing to significantly boost export earnings and meet local demand.

According to SB Morgen’s research, Nigeria is dealing with a protracted food crisis that is made worse by unrest outside, like the Russia-Ukraine war, bad weather, and instability. The cost of essential ingredients like wheat flour has surged, with the cost of a 50-kg bag increasing from N31,000 in 2023 to N64,000 presently. This price spike necessitates a shift to more sustainable and locally available options like cassava flour to alleviate the strain on consumers and fortify our food supply chain.

Chow Noodle Bar, our fast-service Asian wok restaurant in Lekki, Lagos, is renowned for crafting stir-fry noodles with unique sauces tailored for the African palate. Presently, we’re exploring the use of cassava flour as a potential alternative for our noodle products. This initiative aligns with the broader goal of leveraging cassava’s versatility to create affordable, nutritious, and locally produced alternatives amid escalating food prices.

Victoria Ajayi, Co-founder, Chow Noodle Bar, writes from Lagos.