With over 38 million tons of harvested fresh cassava roots per year, Nigeria is by far the largest cassava-producing country in the world. Estimates are that between seven and eight million Nigerian farming families grow the tuber. Cassava is an important staple food for both rural and urban populations in Nigeria, as well as many other nations in Africa. Production in the West African cassava belt has expanded rapidly over the years, but the sustainability of cultivation and therefore further production growth are threatened.
Traditionally, farmers have practiced rotating cultivation. This is a process of cultivating crops for a two- to three-year period, then fallowing the land for at least 20 years to allow soils to regain their fertility. However, as a result of increasing populations and expansion of urban areas into former farming lands, farmers can no longer observe the necessary bush fallow cycles. In many locations, rotating cultivation has all but disappeared. The consequence is severe and often irreversible degeneration of once arable soils, with annual nutrient depletion rates in the absence of fertilizer application often exceeding 60 kilograms per hectare. It is therefore imperative for economic and soil nutrient sustainability that smallholder cassava farmers utilize more effective and sustainable agricultural practices, with a focus on quality agro-inputs and increased market capacity.
The increased production capacity of cassava in Nigeria could have major implications. Currently, 50 percent of Nigeria’s urban population regularly consumes the traditional foods processed from cassava, particularly gari. But agricultural imports continue to rise as the nation consumes increasing quantities of imported wheat (currently over 4.0 million tons annually), Asian rice and other foodstuffs.
As a sustainable alternative to these imports, cassava can be used as a substitute for grains such as wheat and maize in the production of bread, pastries, seasoning cubes and snack foods. It is also a prime source for starch derivatives such as sugars (high fructose syrup) for the soft drink industry. The Government of Nigeria quickly recognized this possibility, and in 2005, passed a law requiring a gradual increase of the cassava flour content in bread to 10 percent. As a result, the nation’s market demand for cassava flour grew to over 300,000 tons. Yet, with this progress, the lack of market infrastructure and suitable processing technologies has hindered the scaling of cassava to an industrial level. For Nigeria and other countries to make progress in the commercial development of cassava, agricultural value chain intervention is required.
The Cassava Plus Project
Cassava Plus is a public-private partnership to commercialize cassava production by linking farmers to value-added markets. The project (2010-2013) is financed by the Schokland Fund, which was established by the Netherlands’ Directorate-General for International Cooperation (DGIS). Cassava Plus is implemented by IFDC and the Dutch Agricultural Development and Trading Company (DADTCO), a private enterprise specializing in large-volume commercial agricultural products with high trade potential.
The aim of Cassava Plus is to strengthen the market capacities of 164,000 cassava farmers in Nigeria. The crop is popular among African farmers because it is relatively drought-resistant and can survive in poor soils. However, cassava is primarily a subsistence crop, grown for home consumption and for sale in local markets. The tuber has not been widely produced as a commercial crop due to several factors, including extensive labor requirements, rapid spoilage and few stable linkages to processing and storage facilities.
Cassava roots are noted for their short shelf-life after harvest. Deterioration begins within 48 hours, making it difficult for traditional processing companies to collect and process the tubers prior to spoilage. This has slowed the shift of cassava from a subsistence crop to a cash crop. To address the issue, DADTCO has developed an Autonomous Mobile Processing Unit (AMPU), which reduces the need for farmers to transport the perishable cassava over long distances. The mobile unit has a self-sustaining power supply, which allows it to move to within 20 kilometers of farmers. The AMPUs are creating a stable supply of cassava for the wholesale market while increasing village-level employment opportunities through expanded cassava production and AMPU operation. To further assist targeted farmers and to motivate others to participate in the project, DADTCO has created a guaranteed-purchase program for those who process their cassava yields locally using the AMPUs.
To further build market capacity, IFDC is assisting farmers to access quality agro-inputs (fertilizers, seeds, crop protection products and water), and adopt more beneficial farm practices designed to increase productivity and return nutrients to depleted soils. IFDC is also training agro-dealers in improved production techniques and high-quality inputs supply. These agro-dealers then are able to introduce these new technologies and educate their farmer customers in the proper use of inputs. In addition, to meet the most immediate project challenge, IFDC is organizing and mobilizing farmers to comply with and support the new supply chain, addressing local harvesting, transport and other logistical issues.
Cassava Plus is implemented in Kogi, Kwara, Osun, Taraba and Rivers states in Nigeria. Cassava farmers in the targeted areas produce about 13 metric tons per hectare (mt/ha). Through the project, production will increase to at least 23 mt/ha. As a result, average annual net income will rise by about US $250 per ha per farmer, a 62 percent increase from current income levels. Cassava Plus is expected to also help increase farmers’ incomes from rotational and staple crops such as soybean and pigeon pea, raising annual incomes by another $250 per farmer, more than doubling average incomes. Cumulatively, the project is expected to generate an additional US $81 million in net income for farmers, and create an increase in annual supply of fresh cassava roots by 2.2 million mt, a six percent increase in average national production.
Project activities are now being transferred to other countries in Africa’s cassava belt.
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