As the country awaits the introduction of higher duty on the importation of wheat flours and grain from next month of July as one of the measures to encourage the use of cassava flour in the country, there are indication that millers are fighting to maintain the status quo.
From next month , Wheat flour will attract a levy of 65 per cent to bring the effective duty to 100 per cent, while wheat grain will attract a 15 per cent levy to bring the effective duty to 20 per cent.
Recently, the rejection of the bill on cassava inclusion in bread by the National Assembly was traced to the fight back by the millers.
In fact the Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, while refuting the claims that a bill on 40 per cent cassava inclusion in bread production was sent to the National Assembly, said that the flour mills and their surrogates are doing all they can to misinform Nigerians so as to protect the super normal profits they siphon out of Nigeria.
The information that cassava consumption was bad for patients suffering from diabetes is one of the misguided information being passed around by the milers so as to truncate the government policy of including cassava in wheat flour.
The Minister said the statement is scientifically baseless and maintained that "cassava flour has low glycemic indices of 59.34 percent compared to wheat flour having 70.10 per cent."
He continued: "The statement credited to some people that cassava consumption is not good for those with diabetes is wholesomely untrue, scientifically baseless and is a deliberate attempt to misinform Nigerians.
"In the Glycemic indices of selected Nigerian flour meal products in male type 2 diabetic subjects published in Diabetologia Croastica 36: 2, 2007, the authors compared cassava flour with yam, maize, and wheat flour among diabetic patients. The Glycemic indices show that yam flour is 49.81, cassava flour: 59.34, Maize flour 54.83 and wheat flour: 70.10."
Quoting the President of the Nutrition Society of Nigeria, Prof. Ignatius Onimawo, he said: "cassava flour will not increase the glycemic index of bread. It will not aggravate diabetes. In fact, it may lower it. The glycemic index of flour is higher than that of cassava. It is only whole wheat bread (i.e wheat flour with bran intact) that has lower glycemic index."
Some flour millers are said to be giving ridiculous excuse that the wheat flour being imported into the country had low protein content, and that mixing it with local cassava flour would rob the finished product of adequate protein content. Some flour millers even stockpiled cassava flour to deceive Standard Organisation of Nigeria, SON and Nigerians that they were complying with government directive while they are not.
The minister said the nation had depended so much on wheat importation which, according to him, "costs the country N635 billion annually at the detriment of Nigerian farmers."
He added "The issue of use of cassava bread is also an economic decision. Nigeria spends N635 billion importing wheat and keeping farmers of wheat exporting countries employed, exporting jobs, while displacing jobs at home."
In 2011, estimates show that Africa spent more than $50 billion on food imports. The rising prices of food does not make the situation better in the years ahead, according to Dr. Akin Adesina, Nigeria's Agriculture Minister who is also an economist.
This probably informed why as the President of Nigeria between 1999 and 2007, Obasanjo promoted a 10 percent cassava inclusion policy in wheat bread in an effort to promote agricultural growth and diversify the economy through the Cassava Initiative project.
It was envisioned that Nigeria, being the largest producer of cassava in the world, could engage in a more effective utilisation of the crop through value addition with a view to promoting the agro-allied industrial sector.
Sometimes in 2005, Obasanjo's government made it mandatory for bakers to include 10 per cent of cassava flour in the production of bread and all other flour-based products. Unfortunately, his effort was frustrated by the millers who said it was not possible to include cassava in wheat flour.
Even out of office, President Obasanjo, now International Institute of Tropical Agriculture's Ambassador, still believes in the policy as he said recently that Africa needs to rethink its food import burden and consider 'local content' options, such as the inclusion of cassava flour in wheat to reduce the rising import bills.
"If we want to develop, we must change our consumption habits. We must consume what is our own, what is around us in Africa. In this way, we will be able to make progress," Obasanjo added.
The policy, backed by improved agricultural practices from IITA and national partners, increased cassava production in Nigeria by 10 million tons within 6 years, making Nigeria the world's top producer of cassava.
Building on that success, researchers from IITA, working in a pilot bakery, have raised cassava content in bread to 40 percent without compromising quality.
Upon tasting the 40 percent cassava bread, Obasanjo exclaimed, "The taste is good!"
"We need to promote it to make people adopt and consume it," he said. Besides relieving the burden on food imports, the adoption of cassava flour offers several benefits to Africa. It promises to make cassava competitive by creating markets for the root crop and offering fair prices to farmers.
With climate change taking a negative toll on most grains, cassava production is fast becoming an option. The crop's tolerance of extreme weather such as drought and its ability to thrive on poor soils are increasing its appeal.
In Nigeria, for instance, the government estimates that the 40 percent inclusion of cassava flour in wheat bread could help the country save about N254 billion ($1.7 billion) annually.
"But more than savings, this will also provide jobs for our youths," said Adesina.
The success of the cassava policy in Nigeria aims to radiate benefits to larger aspects of the economy including helping in stabilizing the exchange rate of the naira to the dollar and more importantly, making the farmers proud and richer.
So, one major challenge, which advocates of cassava flour said they are facing is how to convince flour millers that Nigeria's cassava flour is of good quality. Many of them expressed the fear that not many processing companies abound, and that the cassava flour may not be adequately processed to meet the desired quality.
But, Dr. Akinwumi said the private sector has expressed readiness to substitute cassava flour for wheat flour, citing UTC Plc and Food Concepts as few of the bread and confectionaries companies.
This was confirmed by the management of the United Trading Company (UTC) which said that it has set out plans to cooperate with flour manufacturers and leading corporate bakers to achieve the Federal Governments drive for the inclusion of 40 percent High Quality Cassava Flour (HQCF) in the production of bread.
Folusho Olaniyan, managing director of UTC said "We can confidently reveal that, we have the capabilities to partner with the Federal Government, particularly meeting the 40% inclusion."
She noted that UTC is positioned to be part of the initiative is based on the company's first demonstration -test run of cassava-based bread, which dates back to 2007, saying that the company has actually gone ahead to match the quality of the bread produced from the High Quality Cassava Flour (HQCF) with that of 100% wheat flour.
She said they are going to start an enlightenment campaign as there are " market interest group that are interested in the cassava project and we are going to enlighten people, we are going to hold meetings and discussions.
"What we are doing now is educating most of our customers of the benefit of the products and that of the project to the nation. And any patriotic Nigerian should buy into this project. Because ultimately, it is wealth, job creation for the country, as well as food security and it will give a boost to the profile of the nation. "