11 June 2012

Should You Buy Into The New FG Cassava Initiative?

By Lordson Okpetu

Before you attempt to answer the ‘big’ question raised above, you need to have a background knowledge to help you make an informed decision.

In case you’re not too familiar with what the Cassava initiative is all about, the policy, in a nutshell, is about using Cassava to move Nigeria closer to becoming a self-sufficient food-producing nation, and also to give hope to the huge number of Nigerian Cassava farmers and processors most of who toil endlessly and earn little for their efforts.

The Obasanjo’s composite flour policy mandated all flour mills in Nigeria to include 10% Cassava flour for bread production. 


If successful, this policy could have translated into massive economy boost, substantial job creation, and make Nigeria self-sufficient in food production.

So, in October 2004, Nigeria's No. Business opportunity newspaper, SuccessDigest, decided to spearhead the gospel of the Cassava Initiative launched in July 2002 by the then President Olusegun Obasanjo. But little did it know that it was in for a rude shock!

The headline in that October edition of SuccessDigest screamed ‘How To Join The Coming 7 Billion Naira Cassava Harvest...plus How To Get Agric Loan Without Collateral’.

Yes, SD could visualise the massive wealth Cassava can create for Nigerians if properly harnessed. So, like it always does, it did all it could to encourage its readers to position themselves early to stand a better chance of reaping bountifully from the opportunity before others wake up to it.

Of course, a large number of SD's community of readers caught the vision immediately and invaded the arable farmlands God has blessed Nigeria with, toiling very hard to prepare the land for Cassava planting and thereafter the harvest.

Expectations were sky high. It’s time for cassava revolution.

Then without warning, the Cassava Initiative hit the rocks!
The pain, sorrow, and devastation that followed as many cassava farmers and processors count their losses are better imagined than experienced. Cassava tubers grown by some investors who had gone into Cassava farming on a large scale were left to rot on hectares of land.

What about SuccessDigest that led the believing entrepreneurs into embracing this particular business opportunity? You can’t really fathom the level of disappointment unless you’re member of the team. I was.

SD saw a promising business opportunity and revealed it to its community of readers who bought into it because they believe in SD's mission and vision. And then, due to no fault of theirs, they ended up leading those aspiring entrepreneurs into losing their hard-earned money, and in some cases, borrowed money. It was a bitter pill to swallow; one SD prays should never come its way again.

Now, that is a brief background of where we are coming from. So now that you know where I am coming from, and why I chose that unusual headline for this kind of story, we can now attempt to answer the big question: ‘Should you buy into the new FG Cassava Initiative?’

But wait a minute, before we rush off trying to answer the big question, would it not be wise to look at some critical issues associated with the new Cassava Initiative by President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration vis-a-vis the failed Cassava Initiative by the Obasanjo administration? 


Doing this will, in no small way, help us make a better decision whether to embrace the new Cassava Initiative or to shun it totally.

Let’s try to find out exactly what went wrong with the failed Cassava Initiative of the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo-led government.

Let’s try and identify what steps have been taken by the present administration to prevent a repeat of this failure.

We need to know what structures have been put in place to ensure that this new Cassava Initiative succeeds.

We deserve to know whether what the government is promising now is different from past promises. Don't we?
And I’ll even go the extra mile in digging up more vital facts that will help us in making the best decision whether to embrace the new cassava initiative or not.


President Goodluck Jonathan eats locally-made Cassava bread at FEC meeting in Abuja
What Exactly Went Wrong With The Cassava Initiative Under President Olusegun Obasanjo?
Reports were rife that those who were ‘privileged’ to taste the cassava bread made by bakers during the Obasanjo’s Cassava policy confessed that it was not an easy bite. For this reason flour millers went to work and started lobbying for a reduction of the cassava content of the bread and succeeded as government slashed the percentage by half, and, even worse, eventually threw out the entire policy. 

So, while some stakeholders feel that the flour millers are to blame for killing the Obasanjao’s Cassava Initiative, others feel that the Obasanjo government should be blamed for not putting in place adequate measures and support to see the policy through. 

But according to the Special Adviser to the Chairman of the defunct Presidential Committee on Cassava Initiative Programme under the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime, who also doubles as the Chairman, New Partnership for African Development’s Pan African Cassava Initiative, Mr Boma Angar, the inability to back the Cassava policy with a legislative bill was what really killed it. 


“What really went wrong with the Cassava Initiative under the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime was its failure to push the powerful Cassava policy into becoming a legislated bill that will outlast any government that comes or goes. That was why as soon as the Obasanjo government stepped out of power, the entire policy was reversed by the late President Umaru Musa Yar’ adua’s regime,” Mr Angar told me in a telephone chat.

He continues, “Projects like this usually take a long time before they reach maturity. But, unfortunately, before this particular one reached maturity, it was reversed. It now became a thing of choice for Flour mills to include Cassava flour in their products or not.

"Unfortunately again, the Flour millers, for reasons best known to them, prefer to use Wheat over Cassava flour. So they stopped buying Cassava flours from the processors and the market for Cassava flour dried up. Just imagine the hundreds of millions of naira that was so lost by farmers and investors!”

What can be deduced from such expert opinion, therefore, is that if the Cassava flour inclusion policy was legislated into a bill by the Obasanjo Government, it would’ve succeeded irrespective of the government in power. This is because every new administration would’ve been required by law to keep implementing the Cassava flour inclusion policy.

This also means that if the President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration is really serious about creating wealth for Nigerians through Cassava farming and processing, it should go all out and ensure that the policy is signed into a bill before the end of its tenure. This, and only this, will ensure subsequent governments pick up and continue implementing the Cassava flour inclusion policy.

In another reaction to the new Cassava Initiative, Hon. Commissioner Of Agriculture, Ogun State, Engr. Ayo Olubori has this to say: “I have not identified any crop that has economic potential as much as cassava for Nigerians, therefore the Cassava flour inclusion policy should be embraced by Nigerians whole-heartedly. 


"This arrangement is working in Ghana, it is working in Cameroon, it is working in Congo and Malawi, and these are small Cassava-producing nation, Nigeria is the largest Cassava producer in the world. We should concentrate and make the initiative work and get cottage cassava based companies established.

“The lack of necessary supportive political will on the part of the policy drivers in the country coupled with many other factors that try to frustrate the implementation of the policy was the major reason why the first Cassava Initiative under President Olusegun Obasanjo did not become fully established. I think there is a cabal that is working against the success of Cassava development in the country, and they should be exposed”, Engr. Olubori concluded.



Measures Put In Place By The Federal Government To Ensure That This New Cassava Initiative Succeeds
Just before the commencement of one of the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting at the Council Chamber of the State House, Abuja, in December 2011, President Goodluck Jonathan displayed an uncommon passion for the cassava flour inclusion policy when he pledged that he’ll continue eating Cassava bread in the State house till he vacates office. 

He said, “When the Agriculture Minister brought some samples to me about a week ago, that is the only bread I have been eating. I think it is proper for us in Council to formally present this bread to Nigerians. I have been eating this bread for the past one week and I will continue to eat only this bread until I leave State House.

“We must encourage what we have. Other countries that became great did not wake up one day and become great. For us to move forward, we must also tame our exotic taste. Some of the things we bring from outside are not as good as what we have within our country.”

And then on May 29, 2012, in his Democracy Day speech, the President confirmed that he has faithfully kept to his pledge of eating Cassava bread in the State House till he vacates the State House.

With this type of enthusiasm displayed by the President, it’s obvious that this administration won’t just fold its arms and hope that the new cassava policy will miraculously succeed. 

Indeed, the government has put in some measures to ensure that the Cassava Inclusion policy succeeds. Listed below are some of such measures:

-All equipment and machinery for processing high quality cassava flour and composite flours will attract zero taxes.

-All flour mills, producers of high quality cassava flour will receive a 12 percent tax rebate.

- With effect from March 31, 2012, the importation of cassava flour became prohibited.

- All bakers have been given 18 months to move towards 40 percent substitution of high quality cassava flour.

-Increase in Tariff and Levy on wheat, and proceeds set aside to support promotion of high quality Cassava flour and composite Cassava bread. This will include technical training and equipment for corporate bakers and master bakers, support for needed Cassava enzymes etc.

- Secured markets for Cassava products, both locally and outside the shores of Nigeria. Most notably the approximately 1million metric tons of Cassava chips that will be shipped to China this year.

That’s not all. I also gathered from Eng. Olubori that one of the measures the present Minister for agriculture has proposed is the establishment of Nigeria Cassava Development Corporation. It is going to be private sector driven, and will handle all that has to do with Cassava development in Nigeria.

Whether these measures put in place by the present administration, plus the President’s enthusiasm will be sufficient to make the new cassava policy fly without the backing of a legislative bill is entirely another subject that is somehow outside the scope of this topic.

Cabinet members have a taste of cassava bread
So, Should Nigerians Buy Into The New Cassava Initiative?
Though globally recognised as the highest producer of Cassava, Nigeria is not yet among the ‘Advance Cassava Economies’ that transform Cassava into hundreds of diverse uses. There are many countries that are successfully implementing the Cassava policy. Thailand, Brazil, Indonesia and Vietnam all operate this policy with so much to show for it today.

Based on these facts, the Cassava flour inclusion policy can be said to be tested and proven. It’s fantastic. It’s world class. There is nothing wrong with the policy. That it will succeed is not in doubt. As a matter of fact, experts say Nigerians should be thankful for this government for resuscitating the policy.

A closer look at this policy, however, reveals that for it to succeed, it has to be established as a long term program.

Why long term?

Because it will require the participation of capital investors who need to be assured that their long term investments are safe and secured. Investors need to be re-assured that the type of monumental losses recorded as a result of their investment in the first failed Cassava policy will not repeat itself again. And this type of assurance is only possible if the Cassava policy is legislated into a bill.

However you look at it, the composite flour policy is a noble and laudable initiative with massive wealth and employment potentials. If well managed and implemented, it could be part of the panacea Nigeria is looking for to alleviate our unemployment problems.

It is estimated that to sustain 5 percent Cassava flour inclusion in our wheat flour, Nigeria will need about 225 processing plants producing 560 metric tonnes of Cassava flour per day at about 2.5 tonnes per plant per day.

It is estimated that this will create 6 million job opportunities per annum. When the inclusion is increased to 10 percent, the job opportunities will automatically increase to 12 million. By extension, it therefore means that the 40% Cassava flour inclusion being proposed by President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration has the capacity of drastically reducing unemployment in Nigeria. Do the mathematics yourself.

But despite all the prospects and potentials of the Cassava flour inclusion policy, a few days ago, May 31st, 2012, to be precise, there were articles in some print media that the House of Representatives rejected a bill from the Executive arm on mandatory inclusion of 40% Cassava flour in bread. 


In a swift but thought-provoking reaction, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, Honourable Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, came out to debunk the allegations, stating that no such bill emanated from the Executive.

As it is right now, no one knows where exactly these political antics concerning the new Cassava Initiative will lead us to. But even as the drama plays on, one thing is clear to every smart ‘agropreneur’, and that is unless the new FG Cassava flour inclusion policy is backed up by a bill, investing in it would be a highly risky venture.

The choice is yours!
*****The End*****

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