Mr. Ayodele Omowumi David is the coordinator of the Cassava project and the Agricultural Project (CAMAP), the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF). He reveals that cassava is one of the greatest ways to attract young people, solve the problem of poverty and ensure food security, as well as the need for mechanization to improve production efficiency. FEMI IBIROGBA presents excerpts.
Nigeria is the largest producer of cassava in the world. Can we use the production, processing and marketing of cassava as a tool to reduce the high rates of poverty in Nigeria?
Yes we can. I believe that an understatement can be said that cassava can be used to reduce poverty. I will say that cassava can be absolutely used to eradicate poverty and enrich Nigerians. But we must have a genuine commitment. Having learned the value chain of cassava, from production, processing and marketing, you can win a lot. In Nigeria, we produce more than 50 million metric tons per year, and more than 26 states out of 36 in Nigeria produce a crop. If we adopt best practice, productivity can be more than 45 tons per hectare. Cassava is in fact a good tool for Nigeria to overcome poverty. The largest part of the population is a youth category, and therefore it is a plus for us if we have their participation, because cassava is our gold ore at the moment.
Can you estimate the number of people employed in the industry for the production, processing and marketing of the value chain in Nigeria?
Having experience so far, it is difficult to quantify. Nevertheless, we have more than 60 large processors that use at least 200 tons a day. Thus, none of these factories should occupy at least 300 people. When you multiply them, you will get at least 18,000 working directly. Considering the different uses of cassava and its by-products, you will be amazed at the multiplier effect of studying the crop potential. Cassava is processed into starch; cassava starch, used for the manufacture of paper and textiles. It is processed into high-quality cassava flour (HQCF) for cooking cakes, bread and biscuits. It is processed into chips suitable for animal feed. It is processed into ethanol, which is used as biofuel in combination with additives. Cassava is also processed into fructose, used in the industry for the sweetening of carbonated beverages. Cassava is processed in fufu, gari and apu, e.t.c for local consumption.
This sector has the opportunity to attract young people to agriculture and with the advent of technology, they should be more interested in the production of cassava. For eight years, intensive mechanization was carried out through various projects. We brought guns for planting, harvesting and transporting cassava. At the same time, young people should be more interested. The main thing that still affects us is the productivity per hectare, and this is due to the fact that only a few farmers went mechanically.
If we increase productivity and expand production, can these processors absorb everything? Will there be no excess?
They will swallow everything up at the moment. For example, Allied Atlantic Distillery Limited (AADL) did not create capacity from the very beginning. He lacks the roots of cassava. If production increases, processing will increase. Thus, this increases the productivity of existing companies and will help to start processing more. And this also increases employment opportunities for young people. When our productivity grows, we will be able to compete in the international market.
I often said that Nigeria is difficult to compete in the global cassava market because of the productivity per hectare and infrastructure facilities for processing finished products that will be exported. At the moment, our production cost of cassava is two and a half times higher than world production costs, simply because of mechanization.
With your experience, what can farmers do to increase productivity per hectare?
The basis is knowledge about agronomic practices and the use of improved technologies. Secondly, we need to go to full mechanization from the preparation of land, harvesting and even processing, in order to reduce the cost of production and compete favorably in the market.
Are there any improved varieties of cassava that can improve performance?
Yes. In Nigeria, we have about 40 varieties of cassava, which were published by the Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria (ARCN) in partnership with other research institutions in Nigeria. Farmers can consult with their nearest ADP stations, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the National Root Research Institute (NRCRI), Umudike, to improve cassava.
Cassava products are constantly becoming more expensive, although Nigeria is the largest producer in the world. Why is it difficult to reduce prices?
The cost is growing because of the production practice. Currently, one ton of cassava is between N15,000 and N20,000 on the open market. With the current production cost, the price can not be reduced. The only way to reduce prices for products based on cassava is a fully mechanized approach to economies of scale by significantly reducing unit costs per hectare.
How much do you need to fully mechanize the cultivation of cassava to a hectare?
In Agridrive Nigeria Limited, which is a social enterprise company that provides mechanization within the AATF, it is N54,000 per hectare for full packaging – plowing, harrowing, planting, fertilizing and spraying herbicides in the bay to create cassava.
Taking into account the traditional problem of fragmentation of land by farmers of small farmers, we ask the farmers-kassau to group groups of 20-25. This grouping helps us to reduce the cost per hectare, because the fields are contiguous. The only thing that farmers need to do is their contribution – the stalk and cassava. If all operations for plowing, harrowing, landscaping and spreading arrows, plowing, spreading and scattering of small arms will be done in a timely and efficient manner, farmers may not need weeds before harvesting.
How, for example, do industrial processors buy a ton of product from farmers?
It depends on the season. Right now, between N15,000 and N20,000, but from time to time it grows. There was a time when farmers sold from N30,000 to N35,000 per tonne, mainly in January, February and March. Nevertheless, all this depends on the cost of production. We can only break the cost when we mechanize. Therefore, I believe that we should go to mechanization to reduce the cost of production in order to make cassava competitive for export.
We are the number one manufacturer in the world, and we are the lowest exporter among leading manufacturers. We consume more of what we produce, and when we consume in the first place, it is very difficult for us to compete.
If a young graduate enters a cassava growing business with one hectare, how much profit is he likely to make at the end of one year?
All inputs are properly used, the maximum is to invest 150,000 yen. And he should expect, at least, a net profit of N300 000 per hectare. This means that it can sell cassava in the amount of 450,000 hectares, which is minimal.
This is approximately 300%. We saw how farmers make and receive money than this estimate. We also saw farmers who have tractors from the profits received from the cassava business. We do a lot for farmers, and we do not leave them only in our fields. We also link them to the market and reputable suppliers of materials, and we do technical support, which will give a good result at the end of the day.
Now, will you advise young people to go into the production of cassava?
Yes, I advise. At some point, young people will advise themselves when they see that people are doing well in agriculture. They will be moved. I've seen young people in the states of Oyo and Ogun who are no longer looking for work, because now they are farmers.
If you prepare the land well, how many times do you need to harvest the Kassavy lands before harvesting?
The weed seems to take about 60% of the cost of cassava production per hectare, but AATF's partners with the IITA for weed management and periodic training courses are organizing steps to effectively control weeds on cassava farms. When the land is properly prepared, and farmers properly follow all methods, there is no need to endanger the weed. I do not want to hear about weeding again; this is the history of the past. Over time, our hoes and sleds will be sent to the museum.