Experts have identified cassava as a multi-purpose crop that could serve not only as food but as raw material for manufacturing.
They say that cassava is an important component for the production of adhesives, wall paper, bio-fuel, stain remover and drugs, among others.
Aware of the economic importance of the crop, research institutes have been collaborating to develop pest-resistant, high yielding and early maturing cassava species.
The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) Ibadan, and the Nigerian Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI) Umudike, Abia, recently released two improved cassava varieties which they jointly developed.
Mr. Godwin Aster, IITA's Corporate Communications Officer, said the new varieties would enable the country maintain its lead as the world's largest producer of cassava.
He said that the maximum yield of the two varieties was between 49 tonnes and 53 tonnes per hectare, according to pre-varietal release trials conducted from 2008 to 2010.
Aster said that local varieties produced less than 10 tonnes per hectare.
"The varieties are also resistant to major pests and diseases such as cassava mosaic, bacterial light, anthracnose, mealy-bug and green mite," he said.
Dr. Chiedozie Egesi, Head of Cassava Breeding at NRCRI, also said that the "next generation cassava" would enable smallholder farmers to have access to best cassava varieties.
Egesi said that Africa's smallholder farmers produced more than half of the world's cassava.
"The tough woody plant is predicted to be one of the few crops that will benefit from climate change.
"It requires few inputs and can withstand drought, marginal soils and long-term underground storage.
"No other continent depends on cassava to feed its people as Africa, where 500 million people consume cassava daily," Egesi noted.
The Lagos State Chapter of Cassava Growers Association of Nigeria, however, wants the federal government to enforce the implementation of cassava inclusion in bread baking.
Mr. Funmi Dawodu, the chapter treasurer, said that the policy would impact positively on the nation's economy if religiously implemented.
Dawodu said that the federal government should also put appropriate infrastructure in place for its effective implementation.
"The truth is that farmers do not have access to infrastructure. A common farmer cannot afford to buy necessary machinery to process cassava into flour.
"The government should buy this equipment and give to farmers on lease to encourage them," he said.
Dawodu said that flour dealers constantly import flour and urged the government to reverse the trend by devising ways to enforce the 10 per cent cassava inclusion in bread baking.
"This is not beyond the government and until we remove the bottle-neck, we should not talk about cassava bread," he said.
Many states are also showing interests in cassava production to boost their internally-generated revenues as well as to create employment.
Kogi Deputy Governor Yomi Awoniyi said there were plans to resuscitate the abandoned cassava processing plant in Ijumu Local Government Area of the state.
Awoniyi stated this when he received Nigerian representatives of Korean International Cooperative Agency (KOICA), who were in the state to explore areas of possible collaboration.
He noted that cassava was a major commodity in the ongoing Agricultural Transformation Agenda of the Federal Government.
Awoniyi said that the state government had approved the electrification of the community where the project was located to fast-track its completion.
Prof Martin Anikwe, Enugu State Commissioner for Agriculture, said that the state government had dedicated 100,000 hectares at Isi-Uzo Local Government Area for cassava cultivation.
According to him, Enugu State will benefit from the cassava processing projects meant for cooperative cassava farmers in the country.
Plateau government and a Brazilian firm, EBS Fedeta de Fedates, recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the establishment of a cassava-processing factory in the state.
Gov. Jonah Jang signed on behalf of the state government, while the President of EBS Fedeta de Fedetes, Mr Waldfried Schurt, signed for the firm.
Jang said that the collaboration would stimulate economic growth.
"We produce well over 431 tonnes of cassava annually and with the establishment of the factory, the number can be doubled.
"When the industry comes on board, it can produce 50 tonnes of starch per day, even though we will need 500 tonnes of cassava to meet up," the governor stated.
The Minister of Information, Mr Labaran Maku, also restated the importance of promoting cassava cultivation as the country would save about N300 billion annually through the use of 10 per cent cassava flour for bread baking.
Maku said the amount spent on wheat importation had been brought down by N200 billion, following improvement in the production and processing of cassava flour.
He said that the "Ministry of Agriculture is expanding market for cassava through the development of high quality cassava flour to substitute 40 per cent of wheat importation into the country."
Maku said that a market had been secured for 2.2 million tonnes of cassava chips in China, while the exportation of one million tonnes has commenced.
Although experts and stakeholders commend the current drive to boost cassava production, processing and export, they want government to sustain the effort. (NANFeatures)