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Nigeria's cassava conundrum

Keen to advertise self-sufficiency, Nigeria's government needs to clamp down on rice and wheat imports and promote the usage of cassava. The plan appears sound, however farmers stay sceptical.

Every day, on the outskirts of Abuja, Nourou Salisu produces practically 10,000 loaves of bread in his conventional clay ovens. Nigeria's buzzing capital offers a prepared-made market for his output, however that may very well be about to change following the federal government's announcement of insurance policies designed to wean one fifth of Africa's inhabitants off its dependency to wheat.

Africa's most populous nation, once seen as the regional breakbasket, wants to curb persistent dependence on overseas meals by clamping down on rice and wheat imports and introducing a raft of monetary incentives ahead of subsequent yr's budget. The intention is to kick the sluggish agriculture sector into life.

Salisu, nonetheless, is sceptically in regards to the plans, even when they are aimed toward lifting millions like himself out of starvation and poverty. "No one will chop [eat] cassava bread. The cassava starch won't permit the bread be tender," he said, when instructed of insurance policies that can compel bakeries to start substituting wheat flour for cassava flour.

"We do not have the science [technology] to grind the cassava, to make the bread soft. Our customers won't purchase it and it will spoil," he added, gesturing in the direction of the handfuls of luggage of flour stored within the sweltering bakery.

Final month, President Goodluck Jonathan - eager to persuade his people to patronise locally-grown merchandise -publicly shared a loaf of unsweetened cassava bread together with his vice-president and ministers. Nonetheless, his try and open an inside marketplace for the world's largest cassava grower isn't new; virtually a decade ago, former head of state Olusegun Obasanjo tried and didn't pressure bakers to use no less than 10% of the tuber in breadmaking.

Billed as a central a part of the brand new administration's "transformation" agenda - a sign of how badly Nigeria's agriculture sector wants fixing - proposals in a preliminary finances to slash a $68bn import bill embrace a 100% levy on rice and wheat imports subsequent year. Wheat prices the federal government a staggering $3.9bn annually, while Nigeria is the world's largest rice importer - at a cost of $6.25m a day - though its local weather is ideal for rice growing.

Cassava is being touted as a possible source of food self-sufficiency for Nigeria. By banning its import from next yr, and providing tax rebates for millers who use a minimum of 40% of cassava flour in breadmaking, the federal government hopes to encourage manufacturing and spur businesses to purchase it.

With the continent still reeling from meals riots over the previous two years, agriculture and water resources minster Akin Adesina believes these policies might spark the sort of "green revolution" which has largely bypassed Africa.

"We have now a situation the place we are coping with large numbers of unemployed people and high ranges of poverty, and these are the priorities of the federal government," he said. "We must create jobs regionally through import substitution."

In accordance with the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation, Africa has greater than doubled cereal imports over the past three decades, a trend some countries have begun making an attempt to reverse by proactive policies. In Uganda, for example, rice output more than doubled in the area of 4 years after a seventy five% tax was imposed on imports. The responsibility additionally spurred the development of latest mills, lowering the value of domestically refined rice. Malawi, meanwhile, one in every of Africa's poorest countries, reversed its meals deficit in simply two years via a targeted subsidy programme that helped finance fertiliser for farmers.

Brushing off criticisms of protectionism amid a global downturn, Adesina argued Nigeria could follow go well with: "Each nation on the earth protects its markets and farmers. Nigeria's farming population is made up of more than 70% of smallholder farmers. Our policies are directed at creating new market alternatives for them."

Plans are underway to duplicate a 2009 authorities-funded scheme that resulted in maize yields rising from 1.5 tons to 4.2 tons per hectare in taking part farms. But experts say a scarcity of funding will make it troublesome to produce 2.5 million metric tons of rice - enough to feed the nation and go away an extra of 500,000 tons - by 2015.

Nigeria was once a net food exporter, but poor infrastructure, lack of finance and misguided policies meant agriculture was progressively shunted aside as the main target shifted to oil. However the nation's vast oilfields have enriched solely a tiny minority, leaving many of the country's a hundred and fifty million farmers poor and hungry.

Past form has left many doubtful that the federal government has the potential or political will to implement effective change. "The problem we have now is that a few of the financial institutions and a lot of the infrastructure is weak," mentioned Kamar Hamza, a Nigeria-based financial consultant. "On paper, the insurance policies are very good. But in relation to implementation, we've a parasitic civil service whose primary curiosity is earning money from government policies. They will easily hijack the plan."

Another issue is the federal government's monetary commitment to agriculture. It has only allotted 2% of the price range (around $500m) to agriculture, making it considered one of eight nations that have didn't assign a minimum of 10% of annual price range to agriculture, as agreed below the phrases of the Complete Africa Agricultural Development Programme adopted on the African Union summit in Maputo in 2003.

A string of failed agricultural insurance policies has bred skepticism among farmers. Many complain that micro credit funds allotted to them routinely disappear into the nation's labyrinthine political system. "And anyway, there are no roads. There is a fuel shortage. Are we to hold all the pieces we develop on our backs to market?" muses Sunday Alachi, a subsistence cassava farmer.

His fears maybe echo these holding again potential private-sector buyers, who're needed if government insurance policies are to bear fruit.

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