THE CASSAVA BREAD IMPASSE

Cassava grows in the 6 geographical zones of the country and we produce over 46 million metric tons annually making us the highest producer in the world. In many developing countries, bread consumption is continually expanding and there is increasing dependence on imported wheat. Nigeria consumes over 100 million loaves of bread on daily bases and that has made her wheat import bill to grow out of proportion. Most developing countries grow staples other than wheat that can be used for bread. Some grow starch tubers such as cassava, yam or sweet potatoes while others grow cereals such as maize, millet or sorghum. It would be advantageous for these countries to minimize the importation of wheat by using other locally produced starch tubers for bread instead of wheat.

FOOD AND AGRICULTURE ORGANIZATION (FAO) OF THE UNITED NATIONS
Composite flour or bread is not a brain child of Nigeria. It was initiated by FAO in 1964 to develop bakery products from locally available raw materials, in countries that could not meet their wheat requirements. Experiments in some countries show that bread from non wheat flour alone or mixed with wheat are as good in quality and appearance as those of wheat flour. The Federal Institute of Industrial Research, Oshodi (FIIRO) and the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development are in the fore front of the cassava bread initiative in Nigeria. The initiative has not taken roots because it has no might of law. In December, 2009, FIIRO sent a memorandum to the National Assembly on 10% cassava flour inclusion in bread. The Federal Ministry of Agriculture also sent a similar bill to the House but two of them suffered serious setbacks. The excuses for non-passage of the bill is that cassava bread will cause diabetes. But FIIRO has disputed that vehemently.

RENEWED THRUST FOR THE PASSAGE:
The Director General of FIIRO has emphasized that they will push for the passage of the bill. They will employ advocacy and sensitization exercise in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture to ensure that the bill is passed. The executive should also lend its weight to this exercise to ensure that the bill in passed so that our wheat import bill is reduced drastically. The flour millers association are the biggest hindrance to the passage of the bill. They are organized and are a formidable lobby group. They suggest that only 3% cassava flour Inclusion is feasible instead of the government’s 20%. Is is a question of national interest versus corporate interests. Our legislators must be sensitized and called upon to defend and protect the national interest.

ADVANTAGES OF THE 20% CASSAVA FLOUR BREAD:
• Over N127 billion will be saved from our annual wheat import bill of N635 billion.
• About 3 million jobs will be created in the up and down stream sections of the cassava industry.
• It will stimulate mechanized cultivation of cassava whereby large hectares will be cultivated instead of the peasant farming that is presently done with hoes and knives.
• It will stimulate the production of larger quantities of cassava tubers. There will be more for food and more to be processed as raw materials for industrial production. We can now export at a more competitive price with other cassava producing countries.
• All cassava related businesses will increase by over 50%.
• More cassava value chains and derivatives like starch, sugar, ethanol and other grades of sweeteners shall be produced.
• Rural prosperity shall be rekindled because cassava grows in the rural areas where poverty and unemployment are rampant. It will create local livelihood opportunities that will enable businesses and households to thrive in their local domains rather than to be forced to migrate to the overcrowded cities. These will lead to empowerment.
• It will create about 19,350 additional bakeries in all the local government areas of the country within the next 3 years and these will create about 135,450 jobs.
• It will encourage local content utilization; several cassava processing equipment, parts, ancillary instruments and inputs shall be secured locally.
• It will encourage economic diversification and industrialization.

SOME PROBLEMS THAT CAN SLOW DOWN THE 20% CASSAVA BREAD:
• Lock of adequate cassava flour.
• Lack of adequate cassava tubers to be processed into flour. Presently, 70% of our tubers are processed into food such as garri; fufu etc. We need to grow extra 20 million metric tons to accommodate the composite cassava flour.
• Lack of adequate processing outlets. The N4.3 billion MOU with BOI is a move in the right direction, however, more money should be made available for mechanized commercial cultivation of cassava on large hectares. Peasant farming of cassava as a strategy for cassava bread feed stock is not sustainable.
• Lack of adequate working capital, for processors. Commercial Banks should be encouraged to participate actively. Big processors should be encouraged to apply backward integration by owning commercial mechanized farms to ensure sustainable source of feedstock.
CONCLUSION: Cassava bread is a policy whose time has come and all hands must be on desk to ensure its passage and implementation. A policy that will save us N127 billion annually from our obnoxious food bill is progressive and should be encouraged by all.