Beyond Oil: How cassava could transform the Nigerian economy

Friday 4 September at 1615: This week ‘CNN Marketplace Africa’ reports from Nigeria, exploring how a simple plant, cassava, may be transforming the Nigerian economy and the livelihoods of Nigeria’s cassava farmers.
Nigeria is the world’s largest producer of cassava, a starchy and versatile root which is a staple food in the developing world and can be baked, fried, boiled or steamed. Now, the plant is being used for something else – flour.
In 2012, in an effort to reduce Nigeria’s wheat import costs, the Nigerian government implemented a policy which stated that companies must add 10% cassava flour to all wheat flour.
Louw Burger, Chief Executive and Managing Director of Thai Farms International - a Nigerian company that buys cassava from local farmers and processes it into flour, tells ‘CNN Marketplace Africa’ that cassava is widely grown in Nigeria and around the world.
He explains to the programme: “It's almost an indigenous plant. It's grown right across the world in the equatorial belt. It grows like weed, and a farmer with a $3 cutlass can become a cassava farmer. We found at our factory we have nearly 4000 small farmers who supply us with cassava, very few have mechanised, and they can effectively grow large volumes of cassava.”
Burger believes that the cassava industry has the potential to help create jobs in Nigeria. He tells ‘CNN Marketplace Africa’: “Looking at the whole of Nigeria, Nigeria grows around 50 million tons of cassava a year. You put all these things together, you've got huge unemployment, a need for work for the young people, you've got a crop and a plant that lives here, that can be used to create industrial products, and the elements are all there for a good recipe to develop this thing and to put people to work.”
However, Burger tells ‘CNN Marketplace Africa’ that there wasn’t always such a demand for cassava: “When we started we struggled. In the first year we probably produced 900 tons. Last year we produced 8000 tons. This year we'll produce 16000, 17000 tons. And the policy wasn't the only factor; this awakening to the fact cassava you can do more with it than just make curry out of it, but the policy and the drive has made people sit up and take notice.”
The positive effects of the flour policy have also been felt by the cassava farmers. Alhaji Sherif Adewale Adenuga tells ‘CNN Marketplace Africa’ that the cassava market has grown since he first began farming: “I have been in farming since 1986. Though then it was on a very small scale. Until recently when we began to have a market for our cassava… This policy has helped farmers a lot. We are able to cultivate more area, and as such we are able to employ more people, our own lives have been better.”
The Association of Master Bakers and Caterers of Nigeria is also positive about cassava’s future.
Jacob Adejorin, Lagos Chairman of the body, tells ‘CNN Marketplace Africa’: “You know, locally made products, it's going to be cheaper than the imported ones. That's what we are expecting. If all bakers start using the cassava flour, included in bread, the price of bread will come down. And we've embraced it…The future of cassava bread is going to be very bright.”
Though it is still not clear whether the cassava flour policy will have a significant impact on Nigeria’s economy and its import costs, Burger thinks that the basic concept of fostering a strong cassava industry is one that could be replicated in other countries.
He tells ‘CNN Marketplace Africa’: “I think it's got huge potential. The countries we've looked at, and we've looked at a few countries in East Africa, these folks are all importing the same things we are. And we're looking to have a look at some of the other countries to see if we can replicate what we've done here. Gather a few thousand farmers, get them to grow cassava, put up a plant, process that cassava into an end product that the multi nationals are importing at the moment in those countries, with the same benefits. Create employment, domestically in agriculture, and on the other side save on your imports. So it's a double winner for the country that looks at that.”