In spite of huge investments made by the Federal Government in the cassava bread initiative over a period of 34 years, the project has remained a pipe dream, NIKE POPOOLA writes.
The founder of Idera Oluwa Super Bread in Ibadan, Mr. Abass Abiodun, was one of the bakers that were excited about the promotion of cassava bread initiative by the Federal Government. That was many years ago.
Abiodun had participated in a series of training organised by a government agency on how to produce cassava bread with composite flour (wheat and cassava), with the hope of accessing the intervention funds provided by the government to attract a lot of investors into the cassava bread production chain.
But today, the baker is disappointed as the government has dampened his enthusiasm in the initiative with its woeful implementation.
“Enough experiment was not conducted on the cassava flour before trying to supply. When (we) bakers tasted the product and were not satisfied with it, we stopped patronising cassava flour and the millers stopped its production.
“They failed big time to experiment it well so no baker is using it right now; it’s a big loss because the bread was not fine and no bakery or flour mill is producing it now,” he said.
While speaking on loans provided by the government to promote the initiative, Abiodun said the bakers only heard about the intervention fund but could not access it.
“On the intervention fund, I even partook in a programme introduced by former President Goodluck Jonathan but the conditions attached to access the loan by the Bank of Industry were too high for young entrepreneurs to benefit from it,” he said.
The first attempt by the Federal Government to introduce cassava bread into the country, with the ultimate aim of making it the national bread, was in 1982.
As Nigeria was fast becoming the world’s largest producer of cassava, the government decided to develop it and produce cassava flour from it.
Bread being eaten in the country has always been wholly made of wheat flour; but the government has been pushing to achieve the national bread by encouraging the bakers to mix locally made cassava flour with wheat in the baking process.
In 1982, the Federal Institute of Industrial Research, Oshodi, presented the first cassava bread, which was it produced with 10 per cent of cassava flour and 90 per cent of wheat flour from its research work to the Federal Executive Council, under the administration of ex-President Shehu Shagari.
FIIRO is a parastatal under the agency of the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology.
Information obtained from the agency showed that FEC members ate the bread made from cassava and wheat flour at the meeting in 1982.
It was after years that the Federal Government gave a directive that cassava flour should be included in bread making in the country. It also introduced measures to increase cassava cultivation.
Unfortunately, the directive faded away with the Shehu Shagari administration in December 31, 1983.
Again, in 2004, a new interest in the cassava bread was ignited after former President Olusegun Obasanjo paid a visit to FIIRO and renewed the process to achieve 10 per cent cassava flour inclusion in bread making in Nigeria.
According to FIIRO, Obasanjo directed the institute to hold a meeting with the major flour millers in Nigeria and teach them how to include cassava in their flour production to achieve the national cassava bread objective.
It was learnt that the flour millers used to import wheat and showed no interest in the cassava bread issue. They therefore reportedly showed strong resistance to the scheme, asserting that the inclusion of cassava in their flour would not allow the dough to rise.
Apart from FIIRO, some other bodies such as the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture and the National Root Crops Research Institute have also played important roles in promoting sufficient cassava production in the country.
In the past three decades, the IITA disclosed that its research programmes led to the production of high quality cassava flour.
According to the NRCRI, the combined efforts of the two institutes led to the release of improved cassava varieties to farmers in Nigeria.
These bodies noted that the cultivation of the improved cassava varieties had increased the local production and made Nigeria the world’s largest cassava producer.
Ironically, while cassava cultivation has continued to grow, efforts to develop cassava bread appears to have become weakened with the exit of Obasanjo.
Another initiative to revive the cassava bread initiative began in February 2014 when a former Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, visited the premises of FIIRO.
Adesina had eaten a sample of the cassava bread, which was produced with both wheat and cassava. Impressed with the taste, he named it Cassy bread, and commenced another move to change the story of the cassava bread and make a success out of it. The target was for four years.
Efforts were geared towards training stakeholders in the production process such as the bakers and flour millers on how to include between 10 and 20 per cent cassava flour in the baking process.
Like the previous administrations had attempted to develop cassava bread, the Goodluck Jonathan government saw that it was relevant for the flour millers to embrace the scheme by voluntarily including cassava flour in their wheat flour mixig right from the factory level.
This, it reasoned, would automatically make any baker buying flour to have cassava in the content he was buying.
If this was achieved, it was hoped that 20 per cent cassava flour inclusion in bread would be achieved within four years.
A former director, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Ademola Efuntoye, said that some of the flour millers were not patriotic and ready to embrace cassava flour, but only wanted to continue to import wheat to frustrate the plan.
The resistance by the millers, he noted, made the government to introduce the method of teaching and encouraging the bakers to pick up the cassava flour themselves and mix it while baking.
He said, “There were a lot of activities to ensure that it succeeded. Master bakers were taught how to use the composite flour with wheat and cassava because it was not the same thing as when they just have straight wheat flour.”
Efuntoye said the government tried to make some funds available from a wheat levy to develop cassava bread initiative and channelled the funds through the Bank of Industry.
“The funds were to be disbursed in such a way that the beneficiaries will also be committed. They were asked to pay 50 per cent of the cost so that it could be a kind of revolving funds. In order to make the process transparent, the funds were transferred in bulk to the BoI. But they still subjected it to their own process, which did not give easy access to the intended beneficiaries,” he said.
Efuntoye also said the government negotiated with suppliers of equipment needed for the project to make it cost effective to the entrepreneurs in the cassava bread process.
“If we were able to get 10 per cent inclusion, we were going to save about N127bn annually and if we could go up to 20 per cent, we could save N254bn annually,” he said.
According to him, this can be used to empower Nigerians instead of developing other countries with continuous importation of wheat.
Some of the cassava farmers faced huge challenges such as drought, flood and inability to access loans of the government. Aside from that, many of them lost a lot to the menace of herdsmen attacks who have continued to destroy their farms.
A cassava farmer in Oyo State, Mr. Falade Agbatan, said that many farmers in the region wanted to be part of the cassava bread initiative but were not encouraged by the government.
He said, “Many of us in this region heard about the loan government was disbursing to assist the farmers but the loan did not get to us. We tried, we went to the Bank of Agriculture here in our state but they said they could not offer us the loan so we had to leave.”
According to him, if the government can distribute the stem to grow the special cassava to the farmers and give them addition training on it, it will support the initiative.
The State Chairman, Nigerian Cassava Growers Association in Cross Rivers State, Mr. Augustine Oqua said during the government of Jonathan, there was a programme on how to increase quality cassava flour in order to include 20 per cent of cassava in bread.
By this, he said it was hoped that wheat importation would be reduced in the country to accommodate more of the locally produced cassava.
Oqua said the government empowered a lot of farmers across the country to cultivate this high quality cassava through the farmers’ association at the national level.
This farmer said this initiative yielded result because the improved variety such as the high yielding variety PMS 419 had been cultivated on more than 10,000 hectares.
He however worried that after producing this special cassava, the flour millers were offering to pay the farmers just about N80,000 per tonne while the cost of production was well over N100,000.
This disequilibrium in pricing, he noted, was making the millers to refuse to take the cassava while the farmers were at a loss and just trying to process the little they could to gari.
He said, “The farmers are not able to sell the products and these products are rotting away in the bush. If we go into gari production, a tonne of gari is sold for N120,000 so people will prefer the gari production to selling their cassava to the millers and the millers will not even buy it because they are not making profit from it.”
According to him, the farmers could not even produce the gari in large quantity because they did not have the equipment to process it.
“We also have the problem of the herdsmen who are attacking the farms because once these cows come to your farm and even eat the leaves, it affects the tubers,” he said.
Oqua said loans were made available to farmers’ association and other stakeholders in the cassava bread production process but he noted that the challenges confronting them made it difficult for the farmers who got the intervention loans to repay when due.
Oqua urged the Nigerian government to go back to the drawing board and see how the cassava bread plan could be realised because it was a laudable idea.
“Let the President set up a committee and look critically into it and make it workable; some people sat down and came up with it and it was supposed to work,” he said.
The Financial Secretary, Association of Master Bakers and Caterers of Nigeria, Lagos Chapter, Mr. Oyegade Adeyemi, said the flour mill producing cassava flour ought to introduce the cassava flour to the bakers and not for the bakers to buy cassava flour and blend it.
For now, he said they were still trying to maintain 10 per cent inclusion.
“It ought to be in phases; we started with about five per cent; we are now at about 10 per cent; but because of the inadequate production of cassava flour, it is not possible for them because there is a certain level of quality they require for it to blend perfectly with the normal wheat flour,” he said.
According to him, they have a four-year development plan for the inclusion of at least 20 per cent cassava flour in bread.
He said it was difficult for the milers to include a large quantity of cassava in bread.
According to him, they were trying to gradually increase the quantity because if they used low quality cassava flour, it would affect the entire bread production.
Again, he said because people were not responding well to the cassava bread campaign, they had to reduce the inclusion of the cassava flour in their bread making to the minimum.
“People were used to a particular taste over the years and the quality they get from wheat bread; so, it is difficult for people to change to another taste,” he said.
Despite the fact that Nigeria is the largest producer of cassava in the world, Adeyemi said the cassava being cultivated was not enough because people still had to produce gari and other food items from it.
According to him, without sufficient quality, it will be difficult for cassava processors because they need a particular level of quality that cannot be compromised so as not to affect their own production.
Mrs. Ronke Daudu is the owner of Kingsmill Bakery in Lagos and was one of the bakers trained at FIIRO to promote cassava bread.
Despite the training, she said she was not using cassava flour for making bread.
She said, “I went to FIIRO to learn about the making of cassava bread among other things, but it is not well accepted by the people and I have not seen it in the market. Even when they tested it for, it was just 10 per cent cassava; the flour was 90 per cent so you won’t really feel the cassava flour there.
“It won’t be like the normal bread. We want to protect our business but maybe later if they are able to get it right and it is well accepted, then I can go into it.”
Cassava flour producers
Flour Mills Nigeria Limited is a major organisation that had been at the forefront of supporting the Federal Government’s initiative in the provision of the composite flour into the market.
The Group Managing Director, Flour Mills Nigeria Limited, Mr. Paul Gbededo, said over the years, it had made significant investment and partnered with the Federal Government to develop quality cassava flour and actualise the policy.
“What we need from the government is consistency and not a situation where we wake up tomorrow and the government has reversed the policy, knowing all the investment we have made which could then go down the drain,” he said.
He also said the cassava bread initiative is a laudable one, adding that bakers were buying the composite flour from it and it was making progress.
He however noted that it was unable to get enough cassava for processing flour.
Gbededo said, “Cassava prices have risen; it used to be N5,000 to N10,000. Today, cassava flour is going for N20,000 to N25,000 per metric tonne. There has been an increase in the prices of high quality cassava flour. Before now, they were selling high quality cassava flour for N80,000 per metric tonne, but today, we are paying N120,000 to N125,000 per metric tonne for high quality cassava flour.”
According to him, the firm has to increase the prices correspondingly so that farmers and other stakeholders in the process will benefit and everyone in the value chain can be happy.
He observed that the government had been supporting the farmers through the provision of loans, fertilisers and different schemes to in order to lower the cost of production and motivate them to produce more.
“We have started the (renewed) cassava campaign for almost 10 years now and we have been working to upscale the skill of bakers on how to bake composite cassava flour and teach them the ingredient to use.
“We partnered the government in introducing this cassava flour to the market and others have joined. Among the flour millers’ association, we have a committee that monitors the inclusion of cassava flour in bread.” He said.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture, Dr. Olukayode Oyeleye, said the cassava bread initiative was a good one, which was meant to save the nation tremendous foreign exchange.
He also said that a number of high quality cassava producers had sprung up and that more awareness was being created on the subject matter.
According to the Director-General, FIIRO, Dr. Gloria Elemo, cassava is a crop of relative advantage for Nigeria, being the largest producer in the world with current annual output of about 54 million metric tonnes.
She, however, said over 90 per cent of the annual output was consumed as food items with little quantity reserved for industrial use.
Elemo said, “The nation can reap the benefits this golden crop offer only if it can find industrial utilisation for the crop. High quality cassava flour has been developed for this purpose for partial substitution of wheat flour for bread baking and confectionery production.
“The attendant benefits at 20 per cent inclusion level for cassava bread baking and confectionery production include: potential annual foreign exchange savings of N127bn; generation of three million jobs within the next three years through direct employments by stakeholders operating within the value chain and multiplier effect; industrial development through creation of about 3,000 SME cassava processors; reduction in the cost of bread by about 15 per cent in the short run and greater reduction in the long run as well as establishment of about 19,350 commercial bakeries within the next three years by entrepreneurs taking advantage of new business opportunities and robust government incentives.”
She also said scientific experiments had confirmed that cassava bread had no health and nutritional side effects and its consumption might not pose any threat to blood glucose response of individuals as being insinuated.
“The technology of cassava bread production is already established in Nigeria with different knowledge centres playing complimentary roles,” Elemo said.
She recalled that in 2011, the nation imported about 3.9 million tonnes of wheat, out of which 3.3 million tonnes came in from the United States.
“The current annual value of wheat importation is about N635bn; whereas the total importation from 1999 to 2010 is N1,087tn ($6.792bn). This is a clear indication of high prospect for developing local substitutes for partial substitution of the wheat flour,” she said.
She also said it was obvious that cassava bread industry could stimulate the economy of Nigeria better than it could be imagined.
“What is left is the political will and appropriate legislation to drive the cassava bread industry so that the nation could start reaping the benefits of the golden crop. Vision 20:2020 cannot be realised without home-grown industries like the cassava industry with high potential for rural development, employment creation, wealth creation and value addition to local raw material,” she said.