Vanguard (Lagos)

Nigeria: Cassava As Giant of Export Produce, Can Modibbo Make a Difference?

opinion

The President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo in the recent cabinet reshuffle saddled a Journalist and a broadcaster with the responsibility of overseeing the Ministry of Commerce in the next ten months left in the life span of the present administration.

The Ministry has, as its major role the task of engaging in an aggressive marketing of Nigeria commodities to the outside world with the overall goal of wooing them to Nigeria. Dr. Aliyu Modibbo Umar of Kumo origin of Gombe State took over from his predecessor, Idris Waziri who manned the ministry from July 2003 --June 2006.

The 48-year-old Aliyu Modibbo Umar holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Broadcast Journalism from California State University, Long Beach, USA, a Master of Arts degree in African Area Studies and Doctorate degree in Comparative Education respectively from University of California, Los Angeles, USA.

The vision of the ministry is to reposition commerce as the hub of the nation"s economy while the mission statement is to play a decisive role in the diversification of the resource base of the economy by promoting trade and investment with special emphasis on increased production and export of non-oil and gas products that will lead to wealth and job creation, poverty reduction and enhanced service delivery in a manner that will stimulate the growth of the domestic economy for self reliance and export and its integration into the global market, taking full advantage of globalization. Bearing in mind the vision and mission statements of which platform the ministry was established, the former Minister did not relent in his oars towards ensuring that the goals were achieved, no wonder he traveled the length and breadth of this country as well as a host of other countries especially China. China became a melting pot for the market of our commodities especially that of Cassava an d marketing the product was so dear to the former minister with the hope that the new Minister will take very seriously.

The president, while recognizing the role Waziri played in the Commerce ministry, had mandated the new minister who is on his second mission as a minister, first as a Minister of state, Ministry of Power and Steel to identify ten commodities that Nigeria would expedite its energy on in the next one year geared towards diversifying the economy.

During Waziri, the President in his bid to actualize his vision of unlocking the economic potentials of the cassava crop into a commercially viable commodity for both the domestic and export markets, Thursday 26, February, 2004 constituted a Committee on Cassava Export Promotion with Idris Waziri as the Minister presiding.

The objectives of the cassava initiative include to expand primary processing and utilization to absorb the national cassava production glut; to identify and develop new market opportunities for import substitution and export, to stimulate increased private sector investment in the establishment of export oriented cassava industries and to ensure the availability of clean {disease free} planting materials targeted at the emerging industries.

It also has as its objectives the need to increase the yield productivity and expand annual production to achieve global cassava competitiveness; to advocate for conducive policy and institutional reforms for the development of the Nigerian cassava sector and to integrate the rural poor especially women and youths into the mainstream of the National economy.

Cassava is produced mainly by farmers in the rural areas in smallholdings using their primitive tools, thus making it very difficult to make any appreciable profit from such venture, as it will not be possible to produce enough for value-added products.

According to the FAO report of 1991, between 1988 and 1990, the production of cassava had increased by 30% making Nigeria the world"s largest cassava producer, estimated at about 35mt per annum, and $2.5 bn due to the adoption of high yielding varieties by these small scale farmers. In this case, cassava has thus become the main source of food, cash and employment for the people, most especially those in the rural areas of the producing states, which constitute about 70% of the population.

What this means is that if Nigeria should continue in this pace and the necessary encouragement, both financial, material and other incentives are given to the farmers, it is most likely that by 2020, the figure would move to 60-65mt by 2020.

From untapped cassava, commodities like hard Pellet, Starch, Portable Ethanol, Fuel Ethanol and Convenience food can be derived and its export opportunities and job creation potential is put at $20.6 million while it is estimated that the untapped Nigerian domestic and export market opportunities for the product and its revenue generation potential stands at $4,510,700,000 per annum.

The government for this reason, dispatched a 3-Man Contact Committee to understudy the Ghanaian Presidential Initiative on Cassava with a view to drawing useful lessons from their experience as well as use the opportunity to discuss with who were then in Ghana on the possibility of importing Cassava from Nigeria. Subsequently, there was the confirmation by the Chinese Ambassador in Ghana that there is bright prospect of Chinese Companies importing up to 500,000 metric tones of cassava chips annually from Nigeria.

A Nigerian Agro-allied firm secured contract for the supply of 200,000 metric tons of cassava chips to the United States at $250 per ton and the Federal Government entered into agreements with China, South Africa and Botswana as targets for its Cassava export to boost non-oil earnings. The first shipment of Cassava chips left the country for China on Saturday, 30th April 2005.

The Nigerian Export --Import Bank {NEXIM} established a special Cassava Export Credit Facility to provide 35 million dollars, which would allow for direct disbursement of approved loans to qualified exporters of cassava products.

Nigeria, which derives only 10% of its foreign exchange earnings from the non-oil sector, produces 120,000 tons of Cassava annually, out of which 5,000 tons have been billed for export to China and the country hopes to realize N5 billion {about 38 million Us dollars} from Cassava export yearly.

One of the challenges that Modibbo who was a news reporter with NTA, Bauchi, later as a substitute teacher at Compton Unified School District, USA, a lecturer at the University of Abuja and doubling as Chairman, Board of Directors, Peugeot Automobile Nigeria Ltd, has to contend with is to ensure that the euphoria that accompanied the marketing of cassava does not die a natural one.

The new Minister has no choice than to work with his counterpart in the Agriculture Ministry to ensure that farmers are encouraged and empowered, if Nigeria must meet with Mr. President"s dream of moving Nigeria away from a mono economy nation and if Nigeria must realize the set 5 billion annually as well as the demand from China of 500, 000 metric tons.

As the Chairman, Presidential Committee on Cassava Export Promotion, Dr. Modibbo in achieving this, will ensure that real cassava producers have assess to the loan from NEXIM.

The initiative is a good one and its objectives must be achieved and as this may be your last ministry in this dispensation, the nation is looking up to you, the tempo of moving from the oil to the non-oil sector is very high, Nigerians want to know where we are on the cassava initiative and cassava initiative must outlive Ambassador Idris Waziri.

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