Interview with the National President of Nigeria Cassava Growers Association (NCGA), Segun Adewumi, on the recent activities in the cassava sector, and how cassava can be used to boost the nation’s economy.
There is so much talk about food security and industrial potential of cassava. What can you say about this?
Cassava provides over 20 domestic food types for Nigerians and that includes, Gari, fufu, lafun, starch, tapioca, pupuru, etc at the same time it has five major industrial products namely, ethanol, industrial starch, cassava flour, glucose syrup and sweetener. Incidentally, they are also raw materials to numerous utility items with limitless domestic and export market potentials. Cassava can trigger massive industrial revolution that will earn Nigeria over N20 trillion yearly. Cassava is actually the answer to the economic woes of Nigeria.
How can this be achieved?
All we need is to devote 5 million of the 84 million hectares of the arable land in Nigeria to cassava development and that will yield 200 million MT of cassava. Using Industrial Starch as example, 200 million MT of cassava will produce 50 million MT of starch. 50 million MT of Starch sells for N350, 000 per ton and that will generate 17.5 trillion naira. Fortunately, cassava can be cultivated in all parts of Nigeria. It is even better cultivated in the North where weeding is easier and land clearing is much less expensive.
Is the government aware of this opportunity?
Yes, we made a comprehensive presentation to the Honourable Minister of Agriculture stating all the facts and our presentation was well received and appreciated.
What delays the take off of the programme?
I think the government is taking her time to ensure that the programs are well delivered. All that is required is provision of enabling environment for agriculture and Industry to prosper. Right now we have some impediments that need to be removed for inflow of foreign Investments and prosperity of the local investors. Some of these are non acceptance of agricultural land as collateral security for loan; on the account of the failure of Nigerian banks to accept agricultural land as collateral security for loan, many Investors have relocated to other countries like Ghana.
Recently an American investor who intended to install 100,000 litres ethanol plant per day for cassava growers relocated to Ghana because the land for which farmer had spent hundreds of millions to acquire could not form part of the collateral for bank guarantee that is required for foreign loan. Another one is the need for modern agricultural practices. We appreciate the anchor program of the Central Bank of Nigeria. It will boost food security. At the same time, agricultural commodities required for industrial use need to cost less for its products to penetrate the International market. This is beyond what our aging farming population can provide.
We need modern practice of agriculture that only the educated youths can do. For example, Malaysia and other countries have started to use micronutrients to upscale cassava yield from between 10-22 MT with average 18 per cent starch content per hectare obtained in Nigeria to over 100 MT with 40 per cent starch content. Apart from garri, no Nigeria cassava product can penetrate the international market on the account of its cost of production.
Recently there is a complaint that our food especially from the northern part of Nigeria is being marketed to some North African countries and the fear that this situation will cause food shortage. What can you say about this?
I see it differently. I think export of food is a most positive development capable of triggering the real diversification of our economy that we yearn for. As said earlier, we have 84 million hectares of arable land, we have millions of youths that have no job, and all we need is to commence serious agricultural revolution now that ready market is available. People like me, “may be, out of ignorance of some important facts” wonder why we continue to destroy and burn down illegal oil refineries. Why not upgrade them and license them as alternative to using our meagre resources to import refined oil. We need a well articulated, focused and result oriented economy policy that will bail us out of our predicament.
How can we finance agriculture?
We can finance through the Bank of Agriculture (BOA). We are aware of the effort of the Federal government to recapitalize Bank of Agriculture (BOA) and we consider this very unnecessary. All the government need to do is to reorganise the banks and support it to draw money from local and foreign money market with Federal Government guarantee and to mitigate the interest on the loan to 5 per cent. Monies wasted by the government as subsidies that never got to the farmers should be used to mitigate interest in agricultural loan; agricultural loan will be in two categories.
But how will the loan be recovered from the farmers
If our proposal is considered, default of repayment of agricultural loan will be less than 10 per cent. It is as follows: Loan for youth farmer: Cultivation of crop must be market pull, determined and oriented which is to say off-takers of the commodities are readily available before crops are cultivated. Crops will be cultivated in clusters around the off-takers. For example a cassava farm could be in the size of 5,000 Ha around a Processing Factory that uses 240MT of cassava per day. A tripartite agreement is drawn between the farmers, off-taker and the Bank. Bank finances cultivation, off-takers pays the bank upon harvest and the profit of the farmers are worked out and paid into his account. In this way farmers are not in position to decide whether to pay or not.
Who supervises the project?
This is where the Agricultural Transformation Agency comes in. There should be a National Planning on every Agricultural Commodity. Consultant who will own vast land will be appointed for different crops. The consultant may not be a farmer but businessman who will employ professionals as Extension Officers (EO) under whom farmers will be grouped. The Consultant will give youth farmer monthly allowance, the total sum of which will be deducted from the proceeds of his crop at harvest.