Agencies unite to boost cassava production

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is partnering with Ehka Agro Farms Limited, a cassava glucose processing farm to empower cassava farmers to increase their yield for both commercial and industrial purposes.

The agency, also working with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), provided a thousand-hectare worth of cassava stems to farmers last year through private public partnership, and supported the processing farm with more raw materials to help the company run on full capacity.

Robin Sanders, the U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria, during a visit to the Ekha Agro Farms in Ogun state on Tuesday, said the collaboration shows how private-public partnership between the U.S. Government and Nigeria is boosting the nation's food security.

The partnership
Ms Sanders argued that with more of such partnerships, the private sector has the power to transform the agriculture industry not only by enhancing food security but also increasing farmers' income.

"It is important that the farmers improve on their activities and their yield in order to enhance their income and provide more food security for the country as this is one of the means through which the country can acquire its dream of food security.

"USAID is ready to help the farmers increase more of their yields and generate more income opportunities than their effort last year because we are willing to expand our activities with the farmers by providing more cassava stems to the farmers.

"This will also encourage the supply to the plant by allowing them have a steady and stable source of raw material to increase their production capacity," Ms Sanders said.

Even though Nigeria is the largest producer of cassava in the world, the crop is rarely used in higher-value commercial food processing as most of it is processed for local food consumption or export.

Sam Osarenkhoe, Managing Director Ekha Agro farms, said the glucose company started operations in 1990 with the importation and sale of feeds and food additives such as amino acids, vitamins and sweeteners before diversifying into the production of glucose syrup using cassava as a major substrate for value addition and economic growth.

"We deviated to producing glucose locally because we realised that there is a local market for it and our dream is to establish a profitable cassava-based glucose syrup factory that will enhance human development and promote economic growth in the host communities."

Business challenges
However, the shortage of cassava tuber is a major setback hampering the plant's optimum capacity operations.

Yemisi Iranloye, the Executive Director Ekha Agro Farms, added that, "Though at the start there were various other challenges such as the availability of water and power supply as well as marketing. We have been able to overcome most of these problems except those relating to farming, cultivation, harvesting and the market but we are gradually stabilising and solving the problems.

"That is where USAID (markets) comes in and they have been helping us get supply for the raw materials by creating a platform for further investments to meet the demand for the product. We use about 15-20 trucks of cassavas every day for production and we are not yet operating at full capacity," she added.

Ms. Iranloye said the meeting between the ambassador and the farmers will encourage them to cultivate more, as the US agency is planning to assist the farmers cultivate 3,000 hectares this year to make the factory run nonstop and also supply to the end users.

"Right now the company is operating at less than 10 percent capacity and we are hoping that by 2011, after the 3,000 cassava hectares have been harvested we should be producing at about 75 percent capacity," she said.

The company which was originally designed to run on gas is presently been run on 24 hours self generated power supply using diesel, although the use of gas will reduce production costs by 20 to 25 percent.

The factory
Mr. Osarenkhoe said the ultra modern factory was completed at the cost of N3.4 billion in 2007. The project was funded by the Bank of Industry and the Nigerian Export Import (NEXIM) Bank with additional funding from some domestic banks including Zenith Bank, Intercontinental Bank and the Nigeria Agricultural Rural Cooperative Development Bank Ltd.

Ms. Sanders said the U.S. mission in Nigeria will continue to support economic growth, particularly in agriculture, which dovetails with the federal government's objective to ensure food security and reduce poverty among the people.

Ms. Sander said the Ekha Agro-USAID partnership is a successful example of American promotion of commercial agriculture in Nigeria through maximizing agriculture revenue and key enterprise for target site (markets) programme.

Farmers respond

Olaosun Comfort, President, Cassava Growers and Processing Association, Osun State chapter, while commending the collaboration which encourages farmers to cultivate more through the provision of better variety stems, however, identified finance as a major challenge for pre and post cultivation activities. He said most of these activities are still done manually due to lack of funds.

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