It may have been well intentioned but if there is a prevailing opinion, it is that the success rate of the policy is doubtful. President Goodluck Jonathan recently, in front of television cameras, shared a loaf of unsweetened bread with 40 percent cassava flour input with his vice president and ministers.
He has vowed the bread would become a staple on his breakfast table. "The best way we can grow our economy and create jobs for our people is for us to patronise Nigerian made goods," he said. Last week, the president formally launched the commercialisation of this bread to boost the government's policy and encourage the substitution of quality cassava flour for wheat flour in bread baking.
There are some form of incentives and fiscal measures to encourage the policy. Millers will enjoy a corporate tax rebates, and equipment for processing the cassava flour and composite flour blending will attract duty free regime. The bakeries will have 18 months to make the transition. And to discourage and curb Nigerian appetites for 100 percent wheat bread and other confectioneries (which cost the government a staggering $3.9billion annually in imports) wheat flour will attract a further levy of 65 percent to bring the executive duty to 100 percent; while grains will attract 15 percent more in addition to the existing 5 percent.
"Our policies are directed at creating new market opportunities for farmers," said Dr. Akin Adesina, the agriculture minister. But many are still not convinced that the government has the political will to see the policy through. For one, the 40 percent canvassed cassava flour input is ambitious. Some few years back, President Olusegun Obasanjo approved and pursued the policy of 10 percent cassava flour inclusion in bread baking. Many of those who were "privileged" to taste the bread confessed it was not an easy bite. Soon, the millers went to work and started lobbying for a reduction of the cassava content of the bread and succeeded as government slashed the percentage by half and even worse, eventually threw out the entire policy. What then makes the present government think it can enforce a 40 percent cassava policy?
Even at that, there have been other policy reversals with regards to cassava. Indeed, as far back as the early years of the structural adjustment programme, the country's trade policy was targeted at promoting agricultural exports and curtailing agricultural raw material imports. But after the initial success the policy was more or less abandoned.
And in 2002, the federal government launched the Presidential Initiative on Cassava, aimed at creating awareness among farmers on the vast opportunities in the world market. Measures were put in place for farmers to increase their area of cultivation while the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture came in to support the initiative by introducing and promoting wide varieties of cassava to the farmers and further facilitated the establishment of processing centres and fabricating enterprises. Much was invested, but not much was reaped because there was no follow-up. By the projections of that period, Nigeria should by now producing some 150 million tonnes of cassava annually.
One of the reasons touted for the failure of the 10 percent cassava policy was shortage of flour supply. Even though the country is still the world's largest producer of Cassava at 34 million tonnes, the difference in the figures between when the so-called initiative started and now is measly, because we lost the momentum. Moreover, such cassava products like flour, starch, chips included in import prohibition list were reversed.
Indeed the common external tariff that was running before the present appropriations allowed any cassava products except the tuber to be imported. Failed policies, and there are strings of them on cassava, discourage business while holding back potential investors.
There is no doubt that if properly implemented, the cassava initiative can create jobs and stimulate the development of the rural communities. But this government has to prove that it can succeed where others have failed.