Audu Ogbeh
Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh

Alexander Williams

For many decades, the issue of overdependence on oil as Nigeria’s major revenue earner has been on the front burner of national discourse. There is a consensus among stakeholders that it is dangerous for a country of close to 200 million people to solely depend on one source of revenue as is the case with Nigeria.

So, to rescue the country from underdevelopment and put it on the path of economic growth, it is expedient that the nation looks for other ways to develop other sources of revenue. And there is no gainsaying the fact that the number one sector that needs to be exploited is agriculture.

But again, it is a notorious fact that government alone cannot bear the burden of development, especially in developing nation like Nigeria where we are confronted with many challenges with meagre resources at the disposal of government.

This explains the intervention of the private sector and indeed Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to underscore the fact that partnership was a sure way of achieving better results than an initiative that is wholly public or private.

In this breath, the United Kingdom Department for International Development (UK-DFID) is sponsoring a rural and agricultural market systems development programme for the nine states that make up the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. The goal of the Programme is to increase the income of at least 150, 000 poor men and women in the Niger Delta by promoting a market development programme that supports the non-oil economy by stimulating sustainable, pro-poor growth in selected rural markets, and improving the position of the poor in these markets, to make them more inclusive for poor people.

The Market Development in the Niger Delta (MADE) which is facilitating agricultural market systems development programme facilitated a one-day Private Sector Investment Forum themed: ‘Opportunities in Cassava as Live Stock Feeds/Pellets’ in Owerri.

The Private Sector Investment round-table brought together strategic representatives of different links in the cassava processing value chain, livestock feed millers, technology fabricators and finance institutions, addressed key issues militating against the development of the sector and proffering actionable solutions that would move the region forward.

The forum offered farmers in the region the opportunity to interface with representatives of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Bank of Industry, Partnership Initiative in the Niger Delta, BRACED Commission, Access Bank, Bank of Agriculture, LAPO MFB, AFEX Commodities exchange and Raw Materials Research Development Commission and a host of other critical stakeholders.

The discussion centred on converting cassava waste to wealth and the need for investors to take immediate action as well as promoting business to business (B2B) linkages between cassava value chain actors for symbiosis partnerships.

Nigeria is the largest producer of cassava tubers in the world with an average annual production of about 35 million metric tons over the last 5 years. About one-third of the total national output comes from the Niger Delta region where many households depend on it as main source of food and income. It has been estimated that the number of small commercially oriented cassava producers within the region would be in the range of 70,000 – 120,000 and over 400-500 cooperatives and cottage industries, 800,000-950,000 traders, 46 small medium processing industries and one large processing industry in the region.

Mrs. Olachi Chuks Ronnie, Regional Coordinator, DFID, who spoke on the sustainable potential in the agriculture sector, said, “Many years ago before now, most of the facilities we see around the country were built through agriculture”.

The need to embrace cassava as an alternative in the making of livestock feeds was also brought to the fore. It was unanimously agreed that the price of maize which constitutes the bulk source of livestock feed has increased in geometric progression, which has led to a corresponding increase in the cost of feed in the market. The solution, according to stakeholders is to embrace cassava as a viable alternative raw material for livestock feeds.

Mr Tunde Oderinde, MADE’s Team Lead, in an earlier interview with Orient FM, Owerri, said many cassava farmers only care about subsistence consumption like garri, fufu etc, forgetting the huge potentials for revenue that exists in the cassava value chain. He listed industrial bye products such as glucose, ethanol among others that could be derived from processed cassava.

“More than two million tons of maize is used annually on grits production, cassava can substitute up to one million tons” he said.

During opening remarks at the forum, Oderinde said that the current increase in the prices of rice and maize turned the market dynamics in favour of the cassava sector. According to him, “the demand for cassava products domestically is on the increase but the industry is faced with a weak processing base; resulting in supply gap of essential cassava derivatives for industrial consumption.”

Oderinde, who blamed the deficit on inadequate farm machinery, noted that “this situation is exacerbated by absence of appropriate processing technology, but a well established, aggregated market channels, trade finance and appropriate financing options will reverse this ugly trend”.

As participants lamented on the cost of agricultural machineries and scarcity of forex, Dr Paul Ilona, Country Director, Harvest Plus, allayed their fears, stating : “All equipment for the cassava peels and leaves processing into livestock feeds are locally produced and very affordable.”

Shedding light on the huge potentials of  the cassava value chain, Dr. Ilona told participants that there were ready markets for both cassava, its derivatives and untapped conventional waste.

He said,  “we have many farms in the western part of the country that support the breweries with carbohydrates. 11 million metric tons of leaves are wasted annually, just 20 percent utilization will amount to N540 billion,” he added.

Analyzing the dynamics in cassava leaves and stems utilization; he said virtually all cassava farmers allow the leaves and stems to rot away while only few use it to feed their ruminant farm animal directly. He said a state-wide collection of these wastes is possible at no cost except for haulage and other logistics costs.

Stakeholder agreed that the high cost of equipment procurement coupled with current economic recession have made resort to locally designed and fabricated machines inevitable.

Kelechi Okere, who represented AFEX Commodity Exchange, stated that “While farmers think about what technology to deploy for cassava processing, they should also think about the commodity cost on the buyers with a view to discourage importation.”

The Managing Director of Access Bank, represented by Mercy Ifeoma who moved to erase negative insinuations projected by SMEs about the financial institutions, said “the forum is business oriented; our bank is all out to partner with interested value chain actors she premised.”

 Ini-Idiok Williams, shared her poultry farm challenges and how MADE’s cassava grits capacity building workshop turned the tide, revived her farm and transformed her into cassava grit processor.

“When I was introduced to Mr Chyka Ukarter, manager, MADE’s cassava value chain, I was broke and on the verge of selling off my poultry birds worsened by the high price of feeds. I never thought much about MADE, because I thought they just sit in their offices enjoying ACs, not until I was called by Ukarter to attend a MADE’s workshop in Benin City. This very workshop changed my life and perception, I put into practice what I learnt coupled with late night researches, I revived my poultry and as we speak, I produced local feeds for my livestock,” Chyka narrated.”

Her testimonies created a ripple effect on all stakeholders and at the end of the events, acouple of deals were made with a whole lot of business linkages geared towards exploring opportunities in Cassava as Live Stock Feeds/Pellets as well as it derivatives.