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Cassava Unleashed!, By Adewale Ajadi
To work in different areas and subjects for Nigeria and in the world has been most exciting. In my present role, I work on and with agriculture, and there is no better time to do such – under a government that cannot rely on the laziness that has paralysed Nigeria into cake-sharing complacency; under a president whose mission orientation is to neutralise corruption persistently and persuasively; during the time of a minister whose clarity and purpose can fundamentally change the future of agriculture from development and subsistence to an industry that has micro, small, medium and big businesses along its entire value chain.
The challenge to get where we need to be from a nation in which prosperity is defined by access and who you know to one wherein the future is shaped by what you produce and the value you create is crucial. An incredible change is required from where we are. Our farmers are largely over the age of 60. We import about $5million of rice daily. Most of our farm workers are women but they are five times less likely to own land. Yet we will be doubling our population by 2050. Even then, our government revenue, highly dependent on oil, is down by double digits. Even more critical, people are leaving rural areas in their droves and fighting for space and employment in choice cities.
In the middle of all these, the “humble” cassava calls for attention. Many do not know Nigeria is the largest producer of cassava in the world. Even more interesting is that Brazil, the second largest producer, gets more products from processed cassava than Nigeria, the leader, currently does.
Amazingly, even the leaves of cassava that has much protein and is consumed across Africa is not widely considered as food by Nigerians. A recent visit to the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) on cassava and rice was a genuine eye opener. The nutritional possibility of cassava, especially from Vitamin A bio-fortification is quite a promise. More revealing is the opportunity to use cassava peels as primary products in livestock feed production. Yes, cassava peel that is treated as environmental waste is potentially the foundation for an industry that can and will reduce conflict between pastoralists and farmers. It will also recruit many women who are now just poor paid peelers into a better paid cottage industry. Remember this is cassava, the poor relative of rice, the mass produce of the poor.
This same cassava is now used to produce beer in Mozambique. In Ibadan, I ate “akara” produced primarily from cassava and drank its tea. Simply put, cassava needs to be unleashed, its full potentials realised, processed and marketed. We have it in abundance and it can be the foundation of food security and a nutritional platform against invisible answer. It is a zero waste crop that calls us to a revolution in gender and increasingly establishing our ability and future for self-sufficiency. The humble cassava should be the platform for changing our agriculture and establishing our potential.
I am humble to this call to action and as Country Director for Synergos in Nigeria working in Kogi, Benue and Kaduna States, I am not only conscious of the responsibility that I and my colleagues bear, but the rare opportunity to build a legacy for generations to come. What we do now with our partners in the States and in alignment with the federal government will be a foundation for generations to come. Our State leads recognise this and in the past two days have been building the foundation. We all need a new day in Nigeria where we produce and our brand is decided, as Mr. Segun Awolowo, the MD of the NEPC affirmed. We must turn our capacity into strength and our strength into competitive advantage. Cassava is our strength and we must unleash it as a down payment for our future.
Adewale Ajadi is Country Director for Synergos in Nigeria.
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