The sector players in the cassava value chain have advocated the need to leverage resources from the private sector players, to expand the root crop into a major cash cow and maintain its position as the largest producer in the world.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation Statistics (FAOSTAT) website, Nigeria in 2019 produced 59.19 million tons of cassava to keep its spot as the leader in the sector on the global scene. Despite this, yield per hectare has stagnated at below 10 tons per hectare, making farmers in the country uncompetitive, especially in the export market.
In 2019, cassava worth $735,000 was exported from Nigeria, according to the Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC), making the country the 61st largest exporter of the product in the world.
Stakeholders are of the belief that Nigeria has the prospect to turn cassava to gold, and one sure way is to ensure that the cassava seed sector is the private sector-driven for the country to make the best of it.
The outgoing Executive Director, Foundation for Partnership Initiatives in the Niger Delta (PIND), Dr. Dara Akala, said the country has the potential to generate $427.3m from domestic value-addition and earn N1tr ($2.98b) from the export of the produce per year.
Akala disclosed this at the 2021 National Cassava Summit, in Abuja, organised by the PIND Foundation, the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and other stakeholders, with the theme: “Catalysing and Scaling Private Sector-Led Cassava Seed Development In Nigeria.”
The main focus of the summit was to listen to case studies of successful seed entrepreneurs, identify and engage with experts on the policy reforms required to galvanize the cassava seed sector to raise productivity and drive industrial growth projections.
The first edition of the Cassava Summit was in 2016 where the vision for cassava becoming an engine for economic growth was first shared with a targeted gross value of $5b per year both in investments and income.
Akala said while cassava had been gaining relevance in Nigeria as an industrial crop, low productivity has being a major challenge. He revealed that the key factor he identified is Nigeria’s cassava farmers’ struggle to deliver roots to large-scale processors as the cause of low productivity and loss of capital in the sector.
“Cassava cultivation in Nigeria is still largely driven by small-scale farmers using rudimentary implements and with a landholding of between 0.5 to 2.5 hectare per individual farmer. One company alone needs around 240 tons of FCR per day,” he said, but argued that the involvement of the private sector is important.
“The private sector is the cornerstone of development and should be enabled to champion these innovative approaches in the cassava sector.”
According to him, the PIND Foundation has played significant roles in pushing up the cassava value chain. He disclosed that the Foundation has made an investment of $800,000 since 2016, which had worked to “increase cassava productivity, strengthen coordination and relationships of cassava value chain actors, and promoted improved technologies for cassava production in the Niger Delta region.
“Through this, we have reached approximately 300,000 farmers with information and training and facilitated the creation of not less than 2,500 full time equivalent jobs and built a network of private service providers and private essential providers in the Niger Delta,” he explained.
According to the Senior Program Officer, Agriculture, Bill & Melinda Gate Foundation, Nigeria, Audu Grema, cassava is the gold that God has given Nigeria. Grema advocated that there should be a correct profiling of the cash crop for better harnessing of its enormous potential.
“I want to make three suggestions. I think we need to profile the germplasm in Nigeria. The country needs a genetic pool of all the species and varieties. This will help in research to find traits for disease resistance and others, as well as the need to access variety genotypes to clarify the varieties farmers have. IITA has the right technology, personnel and partnership to bring this to fruition.”
“The third suggestion is around the hidden economic importance of cassava. Cassava has developmental value. It is the crop that most of the population depend on for food and nutritional benefits,” he added.
There is a cheery news with the progresses made at the IITA and the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI), Umudike, Abia State, where they have developed cassava varieties with yield potential of more than 30 tons per ha.
“The task is to get the varieties to farmers in an economically sustainable manner and tackle the challenge of low yield,” says the Director for Development & Delivery at IITA, Dr. Alfred Dixon.
Dixon disclosed that IITA through its Building an Economically Sustainable Integrated Cassava Seed System Phase two (BASICS-II) project model, was also able to successfully build a seeds’ system in Oyo State, during the height of COVID-19 in 2020, by supporting the state government to invest in seed production.
More farmers need increased access to these improved seeds, says Senior Program Officer, Agriculture Development Programme, BMGF, Seattle, Lawrence Kent, noting that awareness around improved cassava seed is low. He expressed his desire for a sustainable seed system driven by the private sector.
Dixon, underscored the imperative of deploying technologies and innovations to boost food production in Nigeria and Africa. He advocated the promotion of inclusive investment in the cassava sector, while calling for strategies for launching cassava into a high performing and growth-oriented sub-sector.
The Officer-in-Charge, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Nigeria, Patrick Habamenshi, said: “We are just scratching the surface here in Nigeria when it comes to cassava,” he said, “and it is important that we are starting the discussion where it matters most, the seed and engaging the private sector.”
Participants at the summit underscored the need to leverage resources from the private sector players to expand cassava farming in the country.
This was particularly emphasised by the Director of Agriculture and Agro-industry at the African Development Bank (AfDB), Dr. Martin Fregene, who also advocated the mechanisation of cassava planting and harvesting, combined with high-yielding variety and complementary agronomy practices that will lead to competitiveness and economic breakthrough for the cassava farmers.