Dr. (Mrs.) Gloria Nwakakego Elemo is the first female Director General/Chief Executive Officer of the Federal Institute of Industrial Research, Oshodi (FIIRO). She talked to Financial Vanguard on why the Federal Government introduced the cassava bread policy. She also explained why the Institute wants to go into commercial production of cassava bread and the impact of the Institute's Resarch and Development on the industrial sector, among other issues.
Cassava bread has become a burning issue in Nigerian. What informed the Federal Government's decision to initiate the policy?
Thank you very much. It is on record that in 1984, the Federal Government mandated the use of cassava flour for bread making. Unfortunately, the policy faded then with the administration of President Shehu Shagari. However, the birth of the current interest in 10 percent cassava bread came into being during the visit of the former President Olusegun Obasanjo to FIIRO on the 22nd March, 2004.
During his inspection of some products on display by the Institute, he was attracted to the cassava products especially cassava bread/confectioneries. He ate various samples (0 percent-30 percent cassava wheat bread) and finally chose the 10 percent HQCF/Wheat Flour Bread.
Having eaten the bread, he developed interest in promoting the production of Cassava/Wheat Bread and getting it to the market. Obasanjo gave a directive to the then Director-General of FIIRO, Dr. O. Olatunji to summon a meeting of the well known Flour Millers like Dangote Group and others to watch the proceedings as they claim that no matter how low the percentage, cassava flour will not allow the dough to rise.
Thereafter, the President summoned a meeting of all stakeholders in bread production - the Legislature, the Executive, the Research Institutions, the Cassava Farmers Association, the Flour Millers Association and the Master Bakers to the State House on "Incorporation of 10 percent Cassava Content into Wheat Flour."
As a follow up to the State House Meeting, a number of activities took place: The President constituted a Committee on Cassava in bread which the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice then, inaugurated. The Honourable Minister of Science and Technology then, made a financial request to the President for FIIRO to demonstrate the innovation of 10 percent Cassava Composite Bread Production in all states of the federation.
A draft bill for the legislation needed for actualising a policy on 10 percent cassava content in bread was prepared. By 1st January, 2005, legislation on the policy took effect, but due to shortage of cassava flour to the millers, the federal government then instructed that the implementation of the policy should take off with 5 percent.
Also, a minimum quality requirement for cassava flour inclusion was set by the Standard Organization of Nigeria (SON). The Institute has worked on this innovation for over three decades and has since been training many prospective entrepreneurs including cassava processors on the technology of High Quality Cassava Flour (HQCF).
This was done to ensure steady supply of high quality cassava flour to the flour millers. The Institute was also mandated in 2005 to train Nigerian master bakers on the use of 10 percent cassava flour for bread and confectionery products. Till- date,bakers in Akwa Ibom, Oyo, Ogun, Rivers and Lagos States have been trained accordingly. So, FIIRO made cassava the golden crop it is today.
Is your cassava bread now available in every market in the country?
Our products are not generally available in the market yet,but we have samples and we produce them on regular basis to show that they are commercially viable using our technology. For quite sometimes now, we have been selling our 10 percent of cassava infusion bread in the Institute and it's environ and that is what we have been eating.
Indeed, FIIRO baking laboratory has been producing composite (cassava/wheat) bread which it sells to staff on a daily basis as a demonstration of the feasibility and economic viability of the technology. Now we are scaling up by going into commercial production of the commodity in order to make the bread available to more Nigerians.
Many people are complaining that they don't have the bread, they don't know what it looks like and they don't know how it tastes. So, the whole idea is to showcase this technology for people to see the prospects of investing in commercial cassava bread production , and because of the dimension and the direction we are going now, very soon you will be seeing these products in the markets.
FIIRO alone cannot satisfy the population of 160 million people; we can't satisfy the population of Oshodi let alone the entire country. Indeed, it will be my joy if all of us can buy one or two of this technology and establish them in the market. Again, at the Institute, we don't work on assumption. So, we want to tell Nigerians that they can make big amount of profit by investing in cassava bread making.
What about quality?
The composite bread produced by FIIRO has been adjudged by all those who eat it to be of very high quality. In addition to baking bread with the 10 percent composite cassava, FIIRO has also successfully baked various acceptable confectionery products with over 20 percent cassava flour inclusion in wheat flour.
Cassava contains chemical called cyanide. What is your take on the health implication of eating cassava bread?
The policy of substituting cassava in wheat flour for bread making and other confectionery products has come under serious criticism. Those opposed to the policy argue that cassava is a major cause of diabetes and that it can worsen the health of people who are already diabetic because of the presence of cyanide in it. These assertions do not really tally with scientific facts.
In contrast to generally held view, results from several studies by FIIRO and different organizations have shown that white wheat flour (which is the preferred flour for bread making and confectioneries) has a very high glycemic index of 71, which implies that it is unsuitable for diabetics.
Cassava, on the other hand, has a glycemic index of 46. Cassava/wheat composite flour GI is between 59.34 & 60.46, placing it in the medium range, and making it a better choice for bread making for health conscious diabetics than white wheat flour. So, cassava bread is not poisonous; it has no negative health implication on consumers; rather it is an avenue for wealth creation.
You talked about commercialisation of FIIRO research results?
FIIRO being an old organisation that came into existence in 1956, we have done a lot and have achieved landmark results. We have more than 50 commercialisable research and development results, which are mostly lined on the shelf. Why we are having most of the results on the shelf is due to poor funding.
The new policy direction for Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, which happens to be the parent ministry for FIIRO is commercialisation of our research findings. Before that policy direction, when I came in as the Director General, I had a vision of commercialisation. I didn't plan to sit back and watch our R&D results gather dusts on the shelf. My target is the commercialisation of our research and development results.
Now, looking at your R&D, what are their impacts on the economy, especially manufacturing sector?
They cut across different sectors of the economy. For instance, the10 tons/day mechanized garri plant designed at FIIRO was licensed to Newell Dunford, UK to mass produce with plants sold at Brazil, Ghana, Sierra-Leone and royalties paid to the federal government.
Also, the proliferation of Instant Pounded Yam Flour (IPYF) production companies in Nigeria is as aresult of the pioneering activities of the Institute in R&D. Based on our current survey of 45 IPYF companies in Nigeria, over 1,500 jobs were created directly by the IPYF companies like Ayoola Foods, and it is estimated that over 4,000 jobs were created indirectly.
Foreign exchange is also earned through export of pounded yam flour. Furthermore, as a result of our R& D efforts, local production of ginger powder has reduced its importation significantly and foreign exchange has been saved.
In the '80s, importation of Barley malt by the breweries was over $500m. FIIRO's collaborative research led to production of Sorghum malt, Sorghum beers, Burukutu and Pito drinks from Sorghum. Upgrading of indigenous production of Burukutu and Pito drinks had generated many rural jobs especially amongst women.
Our research findings indicated that Sorghum malt was a better substitute for the imported Barley malt for brewing. This gave rise to the ban on barley malt importation which saved the country $570 million between 1987 and 1988 alone. Multinational companies especially Nestle Plc, Cadbury Plc, Glaxo Laboratories, etc took advantage of the Institute's R&D results in the areas of soybean processing (Some of the products developed from Soybean are: Soy Ogi, Soy milk, Soy flour, Soy dawadawa, Soy garri, Soy ice cream, Soy yoghurt, Soy bread, Soy snacks, Weaning foods) to produce popular brands of weaning foods and breakfast cereals such as Nutriends, Golden Morn, Cerelac, Babeena, etc, thus reducing importation of such products, and stimulating domestic industrial production and utilisation of local raw materials and indigenous technologies.
Lastly, how many offices do you have across the country?
With regard to our spread in the country, we have actually for a long time been here In Oshodi, but we have spread now to the north. We have opened liaison offices in Kano and in Abuja that handle the central part of the country. Our flagship project in Kano is tomatoes. We are hoping to establish in all the six geo-political zones of the country, and we have actually requested for approval so that we can establish offices in all the geo-political zones. Ideally, there should be FIIRO offices in every state of the country.
I know we will get there, we have taken the first step and the most important thing is to see that we are there.