Nigeria is the largest producer of cassava in the world with an annual production of 59.49million metric tons in 2017. This represents approximately 20% of global production and a 37% increase in the last decade. The commodity is grown in virtually all states in Nigeria, although it thrives in the North Central and South-South states such as Edo, Benue, Kogi, Cross River, Imo and Rivers. Despite being the world leader in production, the country’s position in the global cassava market is insignificant.
Cassava remains a basic rural and urban staple, mainly processed into foods such as garri, lafu and fufu to meet the needs of Nigeria’s growing population. Little has been done to make it commercially viable to serve industrial purposes. Processing cassava into flour and industrial products accounts for just 10% of total cassava output. This is minute compared to countries such as Brazil, where processing accounts for 85% of output and Thailand, where it accounts for 95%. Nigeria’s inability to meet its industrial demand led to an increase in the importation of commodities such as starch, chips, syrups and ethanol. The import bill on cassava byproducts is as high as $650million annually.
Given the deficiency in domestic industrial supply as well as increasing global demand, especially in Asia, it is expedient that Nigeria step up its game to explore these new business opportunities. For the country to harness its potential in the production of this commodity, it is important that cassava production also becomes an industrial raw material and livestock feed. For this to be achieved, Nigeria needs an integrated seed system, a developed cassava processing industry and policies to encourage public-private partnership.
These steps could significantly position the country in the global market and serve as a means to diversify the country’s revenue base and boost economic growth. However, a new disease known as the “Cassava Brown Streak Disease” has been recently confirmed to be ravaging East Africa – Tanzania, DRC, Kenya and Mozambique and it is gradually finding its way into West Africa. Therefore, in addition to improved seedlings and storage facilities, efforts need to be geared towards preventing its outbreak into Nigeria for the country to remain the world’s largest producer. An outburst of this disease will reduce cassava output, thus increasing the price of commodities such as garri (a major staple), fufu and lafun.
Critical focus areas for the cassava industry
Two key areas that need urgent attention in the cassava industry are low quality seedlings and processing challenges. Despite being the world leader in production, Nigeria ranks 98th in cassava yield. Cassava farming is dominated by small scale farmers who do not have access to quality seedlings. To improve cassava yield, it is important to improve access to quality seeds and transition from subsistence to commercial production. Scaling the adoption of quality seedlings requires a sustainable and efficient integrated seed system, combining both formal and informal systems.
The formal seed system is a structured one that involves a chain of activities leading to clear products – ‘certified seed of verified varieties’. It ensures that the seeds produced are of optimal physical, physiological and sanitary quality. A major challenge of this system is that officially recognized seed outlets are limited in number. This creates a role for an informal seed system, locally organized, in which the farmers access seed directly from their harvest or through exchange by barter from friends, neighbors or relatives. The informal seed system is highly accessible. An integration of these two systems requires putting in place a support system to coordinate the activities of both sectors. To this end, the formal sector could partner with cassava associations such as Nigerian Cassava Growers Association to distribute high quality seedlings.
In addition to the integrated seed system, Nigeria’s cassava farming needs to transition from subsistence to commercial cassava production. This involves the use of sophisticated farming techniques requiring capital intensive equipment purchases. Public-private partnerships can help with financing through investment friendly policies. Another factor that plagues the cassava industry is the lack of processing.
The Nigerian cassava processing industry is severely underdeveloped. The bulk of the cassava produced in the country is for domestic consumption. To maximize Nigeria’s potential as the world’s largest cassava producer and to take advantage of the growing demand for industrial raw materials, there is a need to encourage public-private partnerships to strengthen cassava processing. These partnerships can promote and provide technical and commercial assistance, such as export logistics, with a view to promote and sustain competitiveness of the cassava industry in the global market. The Nigerian government introduced policies to encourage the substitution of high quality cassava flour for wheat flour in bread baking by mandating, in 2015, a 10% cassava flour inclusion.
Beyond this, the government could create tax holidays to incentivize cassava processors. Such a policy would help to bolster the cassava processing industry. An expansion of the cassava processing industry will require more cassava tubers for processing. This implies that existing farmers will have to scale-up production. It will also make cassava production attractive to new entrants. The resulting effect of this will be a reduction in poverty among farmers and lower unemployment.
Lessons from Thailand
Thailand is the fourth largest producer of cassava in the world. Unlike Nigeria, cassava is grown as an industrial rather than a staple crop. The country dominates the cassava export market. It controlled approximately 65.79% of cassava chips exports and 33.92% of cassava starch exports in 2015.4 Thailand’s cassava industry has benefited from the emergence of strong and active commodity specific trade associations and research institutes. Some of the trade associations specifically tailored to the cassava industry include:
Thai Tapioca Trade Association; Thai Tapioca Starch Association; Thai Tapioca Products Factory Association; North Eastern Tapioca Trade Association; and Thai Tapioca Development Institute. These trade associations and research institutes often assist in the promotion and dissemination of new cassava seed varieties as well as training farmers on farm management and the use of new cost-savings technology. They also participate actively in policy dialogue and organize trade missions and investors’ visits, sometimes with the government.
These initiatives have played significant roles in developing and enhancing cassava production and processing in Thailand. Not only did cassava production spike by 78% in the last two decades, the country’s position as the world’s leading exporter of cassava by-products such as starch, dry chips and pellets was sustained. Approximately 80% of its cassava root tuber production is processed and exported.
More importantly, Thailand’s cassava yield increased to 230,731hectograms per hectare in 2017 from 168,570hectograms per hectare in 2000, at a time when Nigeria recorded a 10.8% decline. Apart from achieving improved yield and farm productivity, Thailand focused on creating market opportunities through cassava product promotions and the development of policies such as the export-led industrialization policy, trade and investment liberation and common agricultural policy to attract appropriate investments.
It took Thailand over two decades to fully develop its cassava processing industry to become the world’s largest cassava by-product exporter. Just as in Thailand, it is important that specific trade associations and research institutes are in place in Nigeria. These, in addition to agricultural business-friendly policies, will assist Nigeria to invest in research and development, which is critical for identifying seedlings of good quality.
For Nigeria to be a key player in the global market and maximize its potential as the world’s largest cassava producer, it is important that the commodity is processed into industrial raw materials and livestock feeds. This requires improving access to quality seedlings and developing the cassava processing industry through an integrated seed system and the encouragement of public private partnership. A developed cassava value chain will increase the country’s revenue by at least 15%, assisting the government in its revenue diversification efforts. It will also increase employment as more labor will be needed.