The current national economic predicament is a direct result of the failure of the federal government to diversify the country’s economy. Succeeding administrations in the country have for long been paying lip services to the development of the non-oil sector, but have all failed when it comes to actualisation. For instance, various administrations in the country have come out with different policies and programmes aimed at transforming the agriculture sector but the results have not always been anything worthwhile. The much celebrated ‘Operation Feed the Nation’ and ‘Green Revolution’ of the Obasanjo led military government and the civilian administration of Sheu Shagari respectively did little to ensure food security for the country.
But then, all hope is not lost as salvation beckons on the Nigerian economy. Ironically, the help could be from an unusual source. Take the back seat, crude oil! Enter Cassava, the magical crop! Cassava is one of the most drought-tolerant crops in the world. It can be successfully grown on marginal soils, and gives reasonable yields where many other crops do not grow well. Cassava is well adapted within latitudes 30° north and south of the equator, at elevations between sea level and 2000 meters above sea level, in equatorial temperatures, with rainfalls of 50 millimeters to five meters annually, and to poor soils with a pH ranging from acidic to alkaline. These conditions are common in most parts of Africa and South America.
Sadly, this all important crop has been neglected for long as its potential has not been fully maximized, especially in African countries. However, that is beginning to change as this long neglected but economically viable crop is presently experiencing a positive change of fortune. This, of course, is a welcome development since the crop feeds half-a-billion people in Africa every day, and is also grown by millions of subsistence farmers in the continent.
In 2012, a major event that boosted the market value of the crop occurred when research revealed that cassava could be one of the most climate-resilient crops for smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. Equally, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) recently revealed that cassava would become a miracle crop in Nigeria, if its potential was maximized. IFAD President, Dr Kanayo Nwanze, once disclosed that the crop would go a long way in serving both the poor and the rich in the future.
However, for us in Nigeria to maximize the potential of cassava, there is a serious need to encourage the full participation of agro allied industries. This is where agri-business high-level conference comes into fore. We need to bring on board seminars and workshops to be handled by experts in the field with a view to enlightening investors on the diverse economic potentials of the crop.
Recent development in the evolvement of the crop has shown that cassava is not only a food crop for ‘garri’ as the flour can also be made into bread, muffin, range of cookies and pastries. It can also be used for animal feed, particularly ruminants like goats; cassava produces sorbitol which is a highly sought-after component for the industry. It can also be used in the production of industrial starch. This is where the motivation comes in for agriculture based industries as the possibilities for returns on investment are simply limitless.
It is quite evident from recent discoveries that cassava is a multiple-use crop. Similarly, it has been revealed that cassava flour will serve as a substitute to many food produce as well as cut down the country’s import bill. And this is where our agro-industry must be part and parcel of this process. The private sector needs to contribute to the process of developing the crop as it has a tremendous potential to contribute to the use of cassava as the potential miracle crop for the agricultural sector of Nigeria.
However, in order to facilitate the active involvement of the private sector in maximizing the crop’s potential, all tiers of governments need to create a conducive environment for both local farmers and potential entrepreneurs. A private sector investor desires to make profit just as the poor local farmer. If the local farmers are to be encouraged to produce more, we must encourage the private sector to be able to buy their produce. So, there is need to put in place concrete policies that will stimulate private sector investment in cassava related issues. Government must also put infrastructure in place, especially roads to rural areas where most of the farming takes place to cut cost and increase profit in marketing.
It is clear that the potential of cassava is enormously exhilarating but there is an urgent need by the appropriate authorities to step up effort that will promote research and other activities that will enhance the full utilization of the crop’s potential. There is need to mobilise local researchers to work with other researchers across the world to join the Global Cassava Modeling Consortium, where they can share their research to help better understanding of the physiology of the plant, and explore avenues for improving its management and delivering better varieties to farmers.
The old order of spending so much on food importation needs to be reversed. For instance, the federal government spent N98trillion on the importation of food for four years under the previous administration. In 2010 alone, the nation spent a staggering N635billion on wheat importation while another N35trillion was spent on rice importation as well as N217billion on sugar importation and another N97billion spent on fish importation!
Now that the federal government and various States in the country are groaning under severe economic burden is the exact time to pay adequate attention to the unlimited potentials of agriculture as it offers unlimited opportunities for job and wealth creation as well as accelerated economic and industrial growth.
With an array of vastly available agricultural friendly land, we need not look further as cassava cultivation would not only ensure food security but also address the question of unemployment. Agriculture remains one major sector that could readily take care of youth restiveness as well as unemployment in the country, if only the various authorities concerned could step up efforts in this direction.
Globally, Cassava cultivation is currently undergoing a revolution that will turn it into a money spinning venture, our country must not be left behind.
Ogunbiyi is of the Features Unit, Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.