Trade in cassava stems hits N150million

Researchers estimate that farmers in Nigeria traded improved cassava stem worth more than N150 million in five years.

Lateef Sanni, a professor at the International Institutes for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) said this at the Food and Culture lecture organized by the Public Affairs Section of the United States Consulate General, Lagos and IITA in Ibadan. Mr Sanni said that this increase came between 2003 and 2008, and attributed it to the cassava revolution in Africa. He added that the cassava stem is a part that is often neglected for having no commercial value. The lecture brought together experts in the food and agricultural sector. Stakeholders reviewed the US agricultural experience and brainstormed on areas that Africa could tap into. In his presentation, ‘Roots and Tubers: Food Security Crops in Nigeria,’ Mr Sanni said cassava was a food security crop in Nigeria and a major provider of employment and income. He said the crop appeals to farmers because of its affordability, ease of cultivation, and high return on investment. “Apart from the stems, cassava roots and leaves are now offering additional income streams to farmers,” he added.

More funds

Despite cassava’s role in the food web, Mr Sanni said more attention by way of support to research was still needed; more importantly, in cutting down post-harvest losses through investment in processing technologies and the creation of an appropriate policy framework were necessary to sustain cassava’s role in ensuring food security in the future. William Masters, professor from Tufts University said that the US government was reviewing its commitment to African agriculture with plans to increase funding for the sector and to achieve productivity growth. Mr Masters, an agricultural economist, explained that consumers in wealthy societies no longer need higher farm productivity for their own prosperity, but instead are seeking foods that embody their cultural values. Giving a scenario of killing the ‘golden goose that laid the golden eggs,’ he, however, expressed fears that consumer preferences for organic, local and traditional foods in the US might limit their support for the kind of agricultural innovations that are needed in Africa.

Agricultural revolution

According to him, the agricultural revolution in America and Europe which sustained industrialization was a product of technological improvement in agriculture and that campaigning against new advances that hold the key to cutting down hunger and poverty in Africa was synonymous to killing the golden goose that laid the golden eggs of new crop genetics and agronomic methods.

Notwithstanding the limiting preference of the US market, African experts at the session agreed that taking Africa’s agricultural sector out of the woods would require the adoption of new technological tools. Paul Ilona, IITA Senior Cassava Trials Manager, said farmers needed improved seeds, fertilizer and other farm inputs such as pesticides to boost productivity. “Anything to the contrary was a disservice to farmers in Africa,” he said.

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